Yes, Virginia, peace talks will always be “extra-constitutional”

One can view “social conflicts” as arising from a dissatisfaction on how a particular “game” is played. It is the assertion of a disadvantage region or group of people (the “losers”) that the “rules” of the game are heavily stacked in favor of another party or parties (the “gainers”). To resolve “social conflicts” then requires a change in the “rules”. And since the ultimate rule in a constitutional state is the constitution, then peace process necessitates a change in the constitution. Peace process cannot be subject to the constitution. It is by nature extra-constitutional. To insist that peace talks should be in “accordance with the Constitution”, i.e. subject to the very “rules” that it seeks to change, is to completely misunderstand the essence of talking peace. Again, peace talks is about “rule-change”. It will always be “extra-constitutional”!

It is the assertion of the MILF that the “rules” of the game has led to the political and social marginalization and the economic disadvantage of the Bangsamoro people as a whole. They assert that the present “game” is defective because, whatever the configuration, whatever the arrangement, in the end, the “Bangsamoro people” will always be the “losers”. For the MILF, the present “rules” has led to grinding poverty and powerlessness of the Bangsamoro people vis-a-vis Philippine mainstream society. It is for this reason that they are asking for a change in the “rules” — greater political autonomy, greater control of resources, a defined territory, etc.

The Philippine Government has basically 2 ways to respond to this demand. First, they can dismiss the demand outright, insist that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with “rules” and require absolute compliance to it and if the MILF remains recalcitrant, to compel obedience to the “rules” by the use of force.

On the other hand, Government can go into peaceful political negotiations with the MILF by admitting that there is something fundamentally wrong with the “rules” of game, negotiate new “rules” to respond to the Bangsamoro problem and then, change the old “rules” accordingly.

Government has clearly chosen the second track and has put forward the MOA AD as part of the package of “new rules” that are offered to end the long-standing conflict in Mindanao. To demand that the Government’s talks with the MILF be within the ambit of the Philippine Constitution and prohibit it from discussing matters which are prohibited or not allowed by the present Constitution is to call for a reconsideration of Government’s chosen track. It calls for a re-evaluation of the policy of the “primacy of the peace process”. It is to say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the “rules” of the game, that they do not need any changing at all.

Will this track of insisting that there be no discussion of “rule change” lead to durable peace in Mindanao? Will it solve the basic social conflict? ###

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