“Autonomy” in the eyes of GPH and MILF

The problem with big words like “autonomy” is that it can be broad enough to cover everything and anything and thus, is not a big help in trying to solve a problem like the internal armed conflict in Mindanao between the MILF and the Philippine Government. The logic has been that since “independence” and “integration” (being two extremes in a continuum of relations between peoples) are not on the table then there must be “common ground” in that space between the two which is then labeled as “autonomy”.

In these negotiations, “autonomy” has to be further defined in order to clarify the challenges ahead and to “close the gap”. Looking at the positions of the parties, the real boundary is still the Philippine Constitution and this is where the discussion of the parties should focus. The difference between what the MILF and the Government want is in the kind of “autonomy”. The Government is offering an autonomy that fits the present Philippine Constitution. The MILF, on the other hand, wants a set-up that is cannot be put in place without amending the Philippine Constitution. This is the reason for the present difficulties in the negotiations.

Perhaps the way to do it is to first discuss the features of the “autonomy” that will respond to the problems without any preconditions or prior limitations as to what can be discussed. No idea should be prohibited. To do this, the parties need to park the concept of the “Constitution” and proceed to design “autonomy” they seek. The Constitution can then be examined when the design is almost complete and in discussing the implementation of the design.

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