The single biggest stumbling block to a comprehensive political settlement with the MILF is the present Philippine Constitution (as currently designed and structured) which deprives the Bangsamoro people of their fundamental right to meaningful and effective self-determination. Thus, when the Government says that charter change is not a priority, it is a cause for concern. It means that Government has not yet fully appreciated the reality that a viable political settlement with the MILF requires, as a minimum, amending the present Constitution. It also means that the Government have other urgent issues on its mind, i.e. fighting corruption, eradicating poverty, achieving MDGs, etc. and peace in Mindanao is just one of those issues. Clearly, the challenge is not to set aside these equally vital concerns but to put the issue of peace negotiations with the MILF as a primary concern on the table together with these other concerns. The MILF will only sign an agreement that would radically alter and restructure the present unequal relationship between the Filipino people and the Bangsamoro people and that would require amending the Philippine Constitution.
A viable peace agreement in the future would essentially require new arrangements that recognize the Bangsamoro people as a distinct, separate yet equal to the Filipino people, acknowledge historical injustice, allow the Bangsamoro people to freely determine their political status, pursue their political, economic, social and cultural goals, and manage and dispose natural resources within their domains while, at the same time, being citizens of the Philippines. All of these are not be possible under the present Constitutional setup. We need then to amend the Constitution to allow and accommodate these new “rule sets”. To be not open to amending the Constitution is to close oneself to the possibility of signing a peace agreement with the MILF.
I understand that the issue of charter change is a Pandora’s box that could potentially set free other “misfortunes”,, i.e. unnecessary distraction, shift to parliamentary system, an opportunity for political adversaries to consolidate and return to power, opening up foreign ownership of natural resources and wealth, allow foreign military bases, etc., But that would be telling half of the story, opening Pandora’s box of charter change will also set free hope – hope for peace in Mindanao, peace in our land. ###