2 big elephants in the GPH-MILF peace talks

Dominant idea.

The parties can profit if both of them discuss the “dominant idea” that organizes their thinking on the matter. The dominant idea, of course, has been called a lot of names in the past, i.e. the big elephant in the room, the black sheep sibling whom nobody introduces to friends, the glass ceiling, the invisible line, etc. The dominant idea is the idea, usually unexamined and uncritically accepted as a given, that organizes everyone’s thinking and perception- how they characterize the problem and the solutions that they propose. The dominant idea is about how participants look at things.

What is the dominant idea for both the Government and the MILF? What is the idea that lies at the bottom of their proposals? The dominant idea is the same for both, albeit viewed from different perspectives: The 1987 Philippine Constitution.

The Government’s big elephant: No amendment to the 1987 Philippine Constitution

For the Government (and it might be a good thing for them to lay bare their reasons one of these days), a peace agreement with the MILF is possible as long as it does not include amending the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The present Constitution provides the limits (as far as substance is concerned) of what they can offer the MILF. It is not hard to see this. The Eleven Characteristics of the Government Proposal is replete with allusions to said limits:

“The proposal works with what is available and doable within the next few years.

“The proposal shows government’s awareness of the extent of the legal and political powers of the President.  However, it is also a political document that is intended to cause public discussion that can support future debates, when it becomes necessary, in other constitutional forums such as the legislature and the courts.

“This proposal takes this history into consideration but avoids simplification of the solutions for a complex and myriad problem.  The Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) may have been a failed experiment in the past; but the current proposal is based on a more balanced understanding of whether its past failure was due to its structure and the systems that it spawned or the quality of the past national or regional leadership.

More importantly, the silence or the lack of statement by the Philippine Government on the possibility of amending the 1987 Philippine Constitution, when such has been a central issue of the negotiations for the past 14 years, is most eloquent proof that the 1987 Philippine Constitution (or making sure that there is no talk of amending it) is a dominant idea.

Making sure that the Philippine Constitution will not be amended is the big elephant in Government’s thinking. Reading the Eleven Characteristics, one gets the sense that everything is being done in good faith to respond to the aspirations of the MILF as long as it is, in substance, within the 1987 Philippine Constitution. In fact, there seems to be lack of opening even in the possibility of discussing charter change.

The MILF’s big elephant: Amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution

For the MILF, an essential element of any future agreement should include amending the 1987 Philippine Constitution. This has been a consistent message since the beginning. The MILF have rejected from the start any and all Government proposal that seeks to implement only what is allowed by present laws or by the 1987 Philippine Constitution, including an enhanced and better functioning ARMM. The succession of Chief Negotiators can attest to this consistency: Dureza, Ermita, Afable, Garcia, and Seguis.

The 11 General Features of the MILF Comprehensive Compact Draft is also replete with proof that they are looking at nothing short of an arrangement that necessarily implies amending the 1987 Philippine Constitution:

“The MILF proposal provides for an “asymmetrical state-substate relationships, wherein powers of the central government and state government are clearly stated, aside from those powers they jointly exercise, which are also defined in this draft.

“It is a formula of peace through the exhaustion of all democratic remedies to solve a home-grown sovereignty-based conflict, which, following the same approach, other similar global sovereignty-based conflicts have also been successfully resolved, such as in South Sudan and Northern Ireland.

“It is a proposal to correct and solve the one-sidedness or imbalance of totality of relationship between Filipinos and Moros, the former continue to be rulers and sole decision-makers, while the latter as mere second class citizens without any role in national decision-making.

The Two Elephants: Constitution and Independence

Actually there were two big elephants in the room when the negotiations started and these two blocked the negotiations. Negotiations could not even start at all with those 2 big elephants present in the room.  Thus, the need to park first the 2 big elephants in order for negotiations to begin. The 2 big elephants were: the 1987 Philippine Constitution and Independence.

Both parties agreed, for purposes of peace talks, not mention the two big elephants so that negotiations can begin. And negotiations did begin, flourished and progressed. But I guess since the negotiations is nearing its completion and the discussion is now on the substantive matters, the parties need to revisit the 2 big elephants.

To be fair, the MILF has already dealt with the dominant idea, the big elephant called Independence and in its place, aspires for the highest form of autonomy under Philippine citizenship. The question now is what to do with the other elephant called 1987 Philippine Constitution? Philippine Government cannot continue to ignore it. An answer is needed.

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