Johan Galtung’s comments on the Philippine internal conflicts

(Prelude: Last week, in yet another roundtable on the Mindanao problem, I chanced upon a good friend from way, way back, Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi and Transcend Philippines. Seeing Cesar, I was immediately reminded of the observations of  Johan Galtung on the conflicts in the Philippines. When I reached home, I searched for that file of that speech of Galtung made in February 2009. Here it is. Such a gem, such insight. Reading it again, after over two years, one can sense how things have changed and how things have also fundamentally remained same.)


(Johan Galtung)

The comments heard about the vertical peace process dialogues between the Government panels and the parties for social change in class and nation relations are: limbo, paralyzed, no prospects, stuck, insincere, broken, not implemented. And yet the parties are mesmerized by the process and want to get unstuck. How?

The key positions of the parties, lifting the most needy out of misery, and some autonomy for the bangsamoro nation (the Muslims + in Mindanao who arrived long before today’s Christian majority) are anchored in the basic human needs and rights for well-being, and for identity. But the government of a modern state has other priorities than the basic needs of the citizens.

Modernity is a secular version of the traditional rule of the rex gratia dei, a King by the grace of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God. The State became the carrier of omnipotence, the Market of omnipresence and Science of omniscience. The top priority became monopoly on force against any armed resistance, a unitary state against other power centers, and power growth. The second priority became a unified market within the state and economic growth, seeing poverty as the root cause and economic growth as the remedy for most social problems. And the third became rationality, and scientific growth as opposed to religion.

This sets the stage for failure. Poverty is not the cause. Inequity —I am poor because they are rich — is. And repression — I want to be ruled by my own kind however imperfect but am ruled by somebody else – is. The issues of equity and autonomy have to be solved to bring about an equitable and sustainable peace. The road to disarmament –demobilization-reintegration (DDR), reconciliation and development passes through solution, not vice versa. Putting the cart before the horse aims at pacification, not peace-building.

Rule of Law, Primacy of Constitution, Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and National Unity matter, but Universal Human Rights matter more. Laws can be changed, constitutions can be amended ( cfr the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 28 ), state  sovereignty is shrinking in a regionalizing and globalizing  world, subsidiarity- autonomy-federalism strengthen territorial integrity against independence, and the Philippines has at least three nations (Christians, the bangsamoro, the non-Islamic Indigenous, and more languages beyond English and Tagalog). But State Unity, and shared Filipino Citizenship, make sense.

 A government would tend to privilege DDR, and if necessary go for “a war of rapid conclusion”, Sri Lanka style. Military victory in a war will be confused with conflict solution. For the parties engaged in centuries long struggles it is only a lost battle, and the struggle continues fed with more bitterness and determination.

If disarmament is achieved root issues may be left unattended. A government is many-headed. A signed panels MOA may be blocked by executive power higher up (including the military), by the legislative powers (senators and local representatives) seeing their power curtailed, by judiciary power (the Supreme Court) declaring a MOA unconstitutional, by a referendum with majorities neither in misery nor moro, or by the international community (eg., the US and other embassies) listing parties as “terrorist”.

This is today Philippine reality. The conclusion is not that a governmental panel is insincere but that there are more parties involved. The same applies to the non-governmental side of the class and nation issues , today left unsolved, making that rich –in natural and human resources – country, so much less than it could be, running around in a process that is none. This shows up in the division into more parties, also because of issue complexity.

 Here are some points about getting the peace process unstuck:

[1.] Get out of the verticality and the limitation to two parties (fatal in Israel-Palestine and Sri Lanka) into multi-party, multi-channel and horizontal dialogues. Issues my be related and better served by round table dialogues all over the country.

[2.] Ask the people for advice, for instance by essay contests in schools and dialogues all over on “The Republic of the Philippines I would like to live in” , aiming at creativity, not consensus.

[3.] Aim at compelling images of future solutions, not only verbal agreements drawing on the Spanish-Roman Law tradition.

[4.] Let hundreds of peace zones, social experiments in equity and harmony etc blossom, gain experience, public and inspiring, more drawing on US style pragmatism. Mas hechos, menos  pactos.

[5.] The Government should be unpackaged, placing arguments on the table for open dialogue, including the arguments of certain foreign powers, not as backdoor politics.

[6.] The class struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring with other parties, for instance

  • openings for middle men who may be  losers under marketing from cooperatives to consumers, for fair prices to the producers;
  • the Millennium Development Goals, MDG, are basic needs oriented, aiming at lifting the bottom up—but it should be remembered that the issue is not only to take away poverty but also injustice.
  • those high up who feel threatened that if those lower down come up “ they will treat us like we treated them” to design non-threatening social and economic strategies;
  • fair distribution keys for the proceeds from mining and minerals between local communities, regions and the state (cfr Art 1 of the Human Rights Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

[7.] The nation struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring

* directly with the Christians—with whom the Moros will continue to live together–equitable and sustainable forms of co-existence like above as examples, in no way an exhaustive list.

** economic cooperation, such as joint enterprises;

**military cooperation, such as joint patrolling-peacekeeping;

**cultural cooperation, such as ecumenical work, mutual religious learning, joint worship, joint religious texts acceptable to both, revised history books acceptable to both, and- or leaving contentious issues to the judgment of the readers;

 **  political cooperation, such as joint decision-making in neighboring autonomies, subsidiarity and the varieties of federal options combined with sharing power in the Center;

* with groups in Indonesia for a possible formal or informal Indo- Fil condominium over islands between the two countries;

* with ASEAN (5 Buddhist, 3 Muslim, 1 Confucian and 1 Catholic member) for observer status and aseanization of some of the issues;

* with  OIC (56 members) for associate membership;

* with former sultanates from Aceh-Pattani to Mindanao for ways of blowing new life into a historically important archipelago.

* with all of the above formal or informal consulates representing the bangsamoro, not embassies, that is for the State.

And all of the above in the Islamic dar-al-ahd tradition, not dividing the world in a dar-al-harb and dar-al-Islam only.

And  all of the above in the gandhian spirit of being the future you want to see, not only waiting for an agreement to give a legally binding shape, with very many if often very small steps.

And keeping in mind that along the road traveled so far there are traumatized masses, including the displaced persons, downtrodden minorities and others – in  need of the consolation of reconciliation and the inclusion religion offers so much better than scientific rationality—learning from the Australian model.

And upholding the dignity of each person created in the image of God who deems the peacemakers blessed as they reflect His character.

(Johan Galtung, 13 February 2009)


Government needs political negotiators in Talks with MILF

Upon the invitation of the British Embassy in Manila, International Alert and AIM, I listened to Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy, former Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, share his experiences and thoughts on “Post-settlement and Powersharing in Divided Societies: The Experience of Northern Ireland and Insights for Mindanao and the Philippines” at the Asian Institute of Management.

Paul Murphy shared a lot of interesting insights that could trigger our thinking on the Mindanao peace process. One of these is that the negotiators must have the trust and confidence of the real stakeholders. Fact is that in the Northern Ireland case the negotiators were elected. Now, that seems to be an interesting idea.

Of course, we cannot have “elected” negotiators representing the Filipino people but the core idea is that those negotiating must have the mandate, the trust and the confidence of the real stakeholders. There must be no doubt on the part of the people that those who are negotiating in their behalf are people who would have to live with the consequences. The negotiators must be THEIR negotiators. The negotiators must be of their own.

One of the problems of the peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine Government (and this applies not just the present but also to the past negotiations as well) is that the negotiators are mostly non-stakeholders in the real sense of the word, i.e. they will not have to live or be affected directly by the consequences of their actions.

We take for granted this essential element of trust and confidence of stakeholders in their negotiators. The legal logic is that since the President has the mandate of the people, therefore his appointed negotiators and peace advisers, by extension, have this mandate as well. Logical in theory but not true in reality. They may have the mandate of the President but they do not necessarily have the mandate of the people.

As I see it, the people in Mindanao do not trust Manila and its negotiators to negotiate in their best interest. They are wary of Manila and its negotiators because, while clearly they want to do good and solve the problem, they are, on the whole, disastrously naïve. Having not lived in Mindanao, they do not understand the problems, the hopes and the fears of the real stakeholders. These Manila negotiators would have to rely on a bevy of consultants and third parties to give them a sense of the situation and the probable solutions. They do not have a constituency to back them up. They would have to rely on others, especially the President, to back them up. These Manila negotiators have no capacity to mobilize political support for any agreement. While the people in Mindanao respect the prerogative of the President to appoint his negotiators, the people in Mindanao seriously doubt their capacity to understand the problem. For them, the actions of Manila negotiators will lead to more harm than good because their perspective would largely be academic, second hand and disconnected from Mindanao’s complex reality.

While finding a durable solution for peace in Mindanao is national concern and therefore, must involve the whole country, it is first and foremost a problem of the people of Mindanao (and not even of the whole of Mindanao at that but to the people in the ARMM, in North Cotabato, in South Cotabato, in Lanao del Norte, in Iligan City, in Zamboanga City.) The rest of the country (Luzon, Visayas, and christian Mindanao) has a weak attachment to the issues on the table. They do not really care. While they support a vague view of “peace and harmony” and thus would attend peace concerts, do peace art or wear peace baller bands, their lives are not directly affected by whether the negotiations succeed or fail, whether hostilities erupt or not, whether there are a million of internally displaced persons or only a few thousands.

In the next round of negotiations, the President may consider appointing as negotiators people who clearly have the trust and confidence of the non-Moros of Mindanao (and not just a general mandate by legal extension). Thus, the President may consider appointing as government negotiators MinDA Chair Lu Antonino or even her daughter, Gensan Mayor Darlene Antonino Custodio, former South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance Fuentes, North Cotabato Governor Lala Talino, former North Cotabato Governor Manny Pinol, Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz, Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and Zamboanga City Representative Beng Climaco. Perhaps the President can also consider a high cabinet official to lead the talks, somebody in the stature and caliber of a Mar Roxas or even Vice President Jejomar Binay, who both clearly have the trust and confidence of the President and the non-Moros of Mindanao.

If any of these persons are appointed as negotiators, I am sure that, while the negotiations may be hard and difficult, it will have movement and traction and that any future agreement hammered will have less possibility of being brought to the Supreme Court. The non-Moros of Mindanao consider these people – Binay, Roxas, Antonino, Fuentes, Talino, Pinol, Cruz, and Lobregat – as their champions. From their point of view, these champions are not naïve, understand their hopes and fears and, more importantly, is one of them. xxx

Implications of Kumander Kato

The recent decision of the MILF to declare Ameril Omra Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as not part of the MILF is an interesting development in the conflict in Mindanao. The obvious immediate implication is that Commander Kato, the BIFM/BIFF are not anymore covered by the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the Government. What Government will do now that it has been officially informed that Kumander Kato and the BIFF/BIFM are not part of the MILF is going to interesting. Will they serve the warrants of arrest issued about the actions done in 2008? Will they launch offensives against the BIFF/BIFM now that they can be considered an armed insurgent group outside the peace process? The MILF’s response will also be crucial. Will they now partner with the Government to arrest Kato? Will there be joint operations between the MILF and GPH against Kato under the mechanism of the AHJAG? The issues may be clear on paper but they are more complex on the ground.

Some other implications are:

Pushes the MILF not settle for anything less than substantial. The MILF will be now be wary more than ever in accepting Government’s “doable” offers. My sense is that if pushed to the wall, i.e. Government insisting a hardline position on their “3+1” solution, MILF would rather put the negotiations on “hold” (not break the talks but let it drift) and wait for the next panel or next administration rather than sign an agreement. This is clearly logical because a weak agreement will “delegitimize” them in the eyes of the Bangsamoro people and consequently, will legitimize Kato and the BIFF/BIFM by proving that they are correct in viewing the negotiations as not bearing fruit. If the Government and the MILF sign a “non-responsive” agreement, i.e. a fruit of “let’s-do-what-is-doable” attitude rather than real problem solving, Commander Kato’s movement will gather strength and more adherents.

Places independence back on the table. As far as Government is concerned, one of the clear gains of the peace process (from the MNLF to MILF) has been to contain the negotiations within the limits of territorial integrity and one Philippine country. Philippine Government has failed to see and seize on this opportunity. Now, Kumander Kato and the BIFM/BIFF place back the option of independence as a viable solution to the problems of the Bangsamoro.

Offers a wider range of options. While the development can be seen as a “split” and therefore a weakening of the MILF as an organization, the development can also be seen as further refinements of options within a continuum. There are now five (5) options available to those seeking a resolution of the Bangsamoro problem: Autonomy (Government), Autonomy (MNLF), Substate (MILF), Independence (BIFM) and Islamic State (Abu Sayyaf Group).

Is this a trend? An interesting idea would be whether this development will become a trend. Is the trend towards the splitting of big and centralized formations with clear command structure and leadership into small, multiple, leaderless, autonomous armed organizations? The thesis is that the frustration and fatigue over the failure of the formal peace process to come up with durable solutions will push super-empowered individuals and small tight groups to take on a more aggressive (perhaps more violent) means of action. Right now, there are at least 4 groups advocating the Moro cause vis-a-vis the Philippine State: MNLF, MILF, BIFM, and ASG. If this trend continues, there will be no one to talk to even if we wanted to talk. And the solution most probably, if you can call it that, would be perpetual

If we create a Bangsamoro “substate”, what constitutional provisions would need revising?

Now that the House of Representatives and the Senate have agreed in principle to adopt a bicameral constituent assembly as a mode of amending the Philippine Constitution (limited at this point to the “economic provisions”), it is a good time to think about charter change to accommodate the Moro right to self-determination. In my view, charter change to bring peace to Mindanao is, in the fullest sense of the word, an “economic provision”.

“Constitutional change” in relation to the negotiations Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is an amorphous idea. It means everything, anything and nothing. Thus, we need a “bill of particulars”. Since the present draft of the MILF and the GPH are held in secret and not revealed to the public, we cannot say for sure what they contain. So if information is denied us, we speculate.

If we take the provisions of the “initialed yet unsigned” MOA-AD document as articulating a specific form of a “substate”, what are the specific constitutional provisions that would require amendment if we are to implement it?

I can make my own list but a list has been drawn already by the Philippine Supreme Court. It is a good and interesting list. From the perspective of Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio, he sees 35 constitutional provisions that need amendment in case the provisions of “initialed yet unsigned” MOA-AD (assuming it is a particular type of “substate”) are implemented. In his concurring opinion in the landmark case of Province of North Cotabato, he lists the following:

“Clearly, under the MOA-AD, the Executive branch assumes the mandatory obligation to amend the Constitution to conform to the MOA-AD. During the oral arguments, Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria admitted that the implementation of the MOA-AD requires “drastic changes” to the Constitution.[12] As directed by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, Atty. Candelaria undertook to submit to the Court a listing of all provisions in the Constitution that needed amendment to conform to the MOA-AD.[13] In their Memorandum dated 24 September 2008, respondents stated: “In compliance with the said directive, the constitutional provisions that may be affected, as relayed by Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria, are the following — Sections 1, 5, 18, 20 and 21 of Article X under Local Autonomy.”[14]This listing is grossly incomplete. A more thorough scrutiny shows that the “drastic changes” are amendments to the following provisions of the Constitution:

  1. Article 1 on the National Territory.[15] During the oral arguments, Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria stated that this provision would have to be amended to conform to the MOA-AD.[16]
  2. Section 3, Article II on the role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as “protector of the people and the State.”[17] Under the MOA-AD, the AFP’s role is only to defend the BJE against external aggression.[18]
  3. Article III on the Bill of Rights. The MOA-AD does not state that the Bill of Rights will apply to the BJE. The MOA-AD refers only to “internationally recognized human rights instruments”[19] such as the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. No reference is made to the Bill of Rights or even to the Constitution.
  4. Section 1, Article VI on the Legislative Department.[20] Legislative power shall no longer be vested solely in the Congress of the Philippines. Under the MOA-AD, the BJE shall “build, develop and maintain its own institutions” [21]like a legislature whose laws are not subordinate to laws passed by Congress.[22]
  5. Section 1, Article VII on executive power.[23] Executive power shall no longer be vested exclusively in the President of the Philippines. The BJE shall have its own Chief Executive who will not be under the supervision of the President.[24]
  6. Section 16, Article VII on the President’s power to appoint certain officials, including military officers from the rank of colonel or naval captain, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments.[25] All public officials in the BJE, including military officers of any rank in the BJE internal security force, will be appointed in accordance with the BJE’s own basic law or constitution.
  7. Section 17, Article VII on the President’s control over all executive departments.[26] The President will not control executive bureaus or offices in the BJE, like foreign trade missions of the BJE.
  8. Section 18, Article VII on the President as “Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines.”[27] Under the MOA-AD, the President will not be the Commander-in-Chief of the BJE’s internal security force. The BJE’s internal security force will not be part of the AFP chain of command.
  9. Section 21, Article VII on the ratification of treaties and international agreements by the Senate.[28] This will not apply to the BJE which, under the MOA-AD, has the power to enter into economic and trade treaties with other countries.[29]
  10. Section 1, Article VIII on judicial power being vested in one Supreme Court.[30] Since the BJE will have “its own x x x judicial system,”[31] the BJE will also have its own Supreme Court.
  11. Section 2, Article VIII on the power of Congress to define and apportion the jurisdiction of lower courts.[32] Under the MOA-AD, Congress cannot prescribe the jurisdiction of BJE courts.
  12. Section 5(2), Article VIII on the power of the Supreme Court to review decisions of lower courts and to promulgate rules of pleadings and practice in all courts.[33] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE will have its own judicial system. Decisions of BJE courts are not reviewable by the Supreme Court.
  13. Section 5(6), Article VII on the power of the Supreme Court to appoint allofficials and employees in the Judiciary.[34] This power will not apply to courts in the BJE.
  14. Section 6, Article VIII on the Supreme Court’s administrative supervision overall courts and their personnel.[35] Under the MOA-AD, the Supreme Court will not exercise administrative supervision over BJE courts and their personnel.
  15. Section 9, Article VIII on the appointment by the President of all judges in the Judiciary from nominees recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council.[36] This provision will not apply to courts in the BJE.
  16. Section 11, Article VIII on the power of the Supreme Court to discipline judges of all lower courts.[37] This power will not apply to judges in the BJE.
  17. Section 1(1), Article IX-B on the power of the Civil Service Commission to administer the civil service.[38] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE will have “its ownx x x civil service[39] The Civil Service Commission will have no jurisdiction over the BJE’s civil service.
  18. Section 2(1), Article IX-C on the power of the Commission on Elections to enforce and administer all election laws.[40] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE will have “its own x x x electoral system.”[41] The Commission on Elections will have no jurisdiction over the BJE’s electoral system.
  19. Section 2(1), Article IX-D on the power of the Commission on Audit to examine and audit all subdivisions, agencies and instrumentalities of the Government.[42] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE can “build, develop and maintain its own institutions[43] without limit. The BJE can create its own audit authority. The Commission on Audit will have no jurisdiction over the BJE or its subdivisions, agencies or instrumentalities.
  20. Section 1, Article X on the political subdivisions of the Philippines.[44] A new political subdivision for the BJE will have to be created.
  21. Section 4, Article X on the power of the President to exercise general supervision over all local governments.[45] Under the MOA-AD, this provision will not apply to the BJE.
  22. Section 5, Article X subjecting the taxing power of local governments to limitations prescribed by Congress.[46] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE shall have “its own x x x legislation.”[47] The BJE’s taxing power will not be subject to limitations imposed by national law.
  23. Section 6, Article X on the “just share” of local government units in national taxes.[48] Since the BJE is in reality independent from the national government, this provision will have to be revised to reflect the independent status of the BJE and its component cities, municipalities and barangays vis-à-vis other local government units.
  24. Section 10, Article X on the alteration of boundaries of local government units, which requires a plebiscite “in the political units affected.”[49] Under paragraph 2(d) on Territory of the MOA-AD,[50] the plebiscite is only in the barangays and municipalities identified as expansion areas of the BJE. There will be no plebiscite “in the political units affected,” which should include all the barangays within a city, and all municipalities within a province.
  25. Section 15, Article X on the creation of autonomous regions within the framework of the Constitution, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.[51] This will have to be revised since under the MOA-AD the BJE has all the attributes of a state.
  26. Section 16, Article X on the President’s power to exercise general supervision over autonomous regions.[52] This provision will not apply to the BJE, which is totally independent from the President’s supervision.
  27. Section 17, Article X which vests in the National Government residual powers, or those powers which are not granted by the Constitution or laws to autonomous regions.[53] This will not apply to the BJE.
  28. Section 18, Article X which requires that personal, family and property laws of autonomous regions shall be consistent with the Constitution and national laws.[54] This will not apply to the BJE which will have its own basic law or constitution.[55]
  29. Section 20, Article X on the legislative powers of autonomous regional assemblies whose laws are subject to the Constitution and national laws.[56]This provision will not apply to the BJE.
  30. Section 21, Article X on the preservation of peace and order within autonomous regions by the local police as provided in national laws.[57] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE shall have “its own x x x police[58] to preserve peace and order within the BJE.
  31. Section 2, Article XII on State ownership of all lands of the public domain and of all natural resources in the Philippines.[59] Under paragraph 3 on Concepts and Principles of the MOA-AD,[60]ancestral domain, which consists of ancestral lands and the natural resources in such lands, does not form part of the public domain. The ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro refers to land they or their ancestors continuously possessed since time immemorial, excluding the period that their possession was disrupted by conquest, war, civil disturbance, force majeure, other forms of usurpation or displacement by force, deceit or stealth, or as a consequence of government project, or any voluntary dealings by the government and private parties. Under paragraph 1 on Concepts and Principles of the MOA-AD,[61] the Bangsamoro people are the Moros and all indigenous peoples of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. Thus, the ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro refers to the lands that all the peoples inMindanao, Sulu and Palawan possessed before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521In short, the ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro refers to the entire Mindanao , Sulu and Palawan. This negates the Regalian doctrine in the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions.
  32. Section 9, Article XII on the establishment of an independent economic and planning agency headed by the President.[62] This agency is the National Economic and Development Authority. Under the MOA-AD, the BJE will have its own economic planning agency.
  33. Section 20, Article XII on the establishment of an independent monetary authority, now the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.[63] Under the MOA-AD, the BJE will have its own financial and banking authority.[64]
  34. Section 4, Article XVI on the maintenance of “a regular force necessary for the security of the State.”[65] This provision means there shall only be one“Armed Forces of the Philippines” under the command and control of the President. This provision will not apply to the BJE since under the MOA-AD, the BJE shall have “its own x x x internal security force[66] which will not be under the command and control of the President.
  35. Section 5(6), Article XVI on the composition of the armed forces, whose officers and men must be recruited proportionately from all provinces and cities as far as practicable.[67] This will not apply to the BJE’s internal security force whose personnel will come only from BJE areas.
  36. Section 6, Article XVI on the establishment of one police force which shall be national in scope under the administration and control of a national police commission.[68] The BJE will have “its own x x x police[69] which is aregional police force not administered or controlled by the National Police Commission.”
Of course, this view of Justice Carpio is premised on the idea that creating a substate would need a line-by-line, provision-by-provision type of retail amendment. But it is possible however to think also of other means of revising the Constitution without necessarily going into such a tedious manner. The whole Constitution as we know it today can be changed entirely. The Constitution is a living document. Its primary purpose is not to be permanent but to secure for its people peace, development and happiness.

MILF proposal is designed to keep the country intact, not dismembered

The MILF proposal is designed to make sure that the country is not dismembered. Its purpose is to make sure that national integrity and national territory is preserved. This is the clear common ground of both the Philippine Government and the MILF.

But we do miss the obvious. We miss the things right in front of our very noses. Why? Perhaps because precisely it is how our minds are designed. We are constantly on the look out for what is complex. We are enamored by complex solutions and the more complex articulation of these complex solutions. If a solution is too obvious, our minds dismiss it right away as way too simple to be of any value. If it is too obvious, it must not be that important or effective.

Why do miss the point that the MILF proposal seeks to preserve the national integrity and territory of the Philippines? Because the MILF use big, threatening words that immediately strike fear and anxiety in the hearts and minds of the super majority and which, in turn, is stoked and fanned by individuals and organizations that profit from the conflict in Mindanao. The word “substate”, for example, is a word that sounds like “state” and triggers fear of Muslim domination and rule. Judging by the reaction of people to the proposal, everyone has a strong opinion on it. My question: how many of the political pundits, commentators, op-ed writers, radio talk show hosts, politicians, government officials, “twitter” revolutionaries and the population at large have seen or read the details of this so-called “substate” proposal? None. Zero. Nil. Why? Because only the GPH negotiating panel has seen it. Yet despite the clear ignorance, many people have strong opinions on it.

Clearly, both the GPH and MILF panels need to rethink this policy of confidentiality. Why keep the initial documents (GPH’s “3+1” and MILF’s “substate” proposals) secret when it would benefit the negotiations if these were made public. If the parties continue to deprive the public of information about what these proposals really contain, the prejudices and the biases of the people will supply the details.

Lastly, negotiations they say is all about “trade-off” – you give up something valuable, important, an advantage, something that you possess dearly and the giving up of which diminishes you – all for a higher purpose. The MILF, based on their proposal, gave up its demand for independence and seeks a solution that corrects the imbalance of the political relationship between the Filipino and the Bangsamoro under one Philippine citizenship, one Philippine flag and one Philippine territory. They are seeking the exercise of genuine self-determination within the context of one Philippines. Giving up the demand for independence is risky for any revolutionary secessionist group as the demand for independence is a source of power, myth and mobilization. Such decision opens the organization to internal splits and thus weakens it in the long run.

What is not clear to me however in this initial exchange is what the Philippine Government, in its “3+1” proposal, gave up?

“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.

Amend the Constitution to accommodate Moro rights and aspirations

We need to amend the Constitution to accommodate Moro rights and aspirations. One of the blocks 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 (although in the same breath, it says that peace is a priority), it is a cause for concern. It means that Government has not yet fully appreciated the reality that a viable political settlement 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. Will the Philippines ever experience peace and development without solving the internal armed conflict in Mindanao?

Based on their history and public pronouncements, it is clear that 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. For them, a viable peace agreement 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 new “rule sets”. To be not open to amending the Constitution is to close the possibility of signing a peace agreement with the MILF.

While it is true 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. ###

Negotiating self-determination

In negotiating self-determination agreements, there will be a need to mint new words to capture new arrangements. The traditional logic is to think of a big word like “autonomy”, “self-rule” or “self-determination” and then pattern the agreement to hew closely to these boxes of “concepts”. The task would then be to cut off or reject anything that does not belong to the box of “autonomy” or “self-rule”. I am reminded of the exercise that my niece, who is in Grade 1, is “forced” to do: select the one that is unlike the other. Well, this is might be harmless when one is in Grade 1 but the consequences are dire when this kind of thinking is extended to peace negotiations.

Do the reverse. First describe and agree on the arrangements, structures, processes that you want to happen and then name it. Design and creation is the first act. Naming is the second act.

When an agreement is made on the design and it is time to name it, the parties need not be limited to the usual words which are inadequate anyway – being formed in a state of relative ignorance or in a different context. The parties need to invent new words to capture the essence of new design.

Thus, in the future, instead of “autonomy” (which has a lot of unnecessary baggage) or “substate” (which evokes fear of being a heartbeat away from becoming an independent State) it will be a must for the parties to use new words, words like “co-governance”, “co-determination”, “self-reliance arrangements”, “parity government”, “mutual governance”, “shared governance”, “freedom arrangement”, “shared power-shared responsibilities”, etc.

Imagination is the only limit and the lack of it being the greater tragedy.

Open the doors of the Constitution

The way forward for the peace negotiations between the MILF and Government is through the consideration of options and alternatives beyond the contemplation of the present 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Past and present Government offers, from Cory Aquino to Gloria Arroyo and even to the recent submission by the Government panel, i.e. enhanced ARMM, integration, massive economic development, cultural-historical acknowledgment, were and are premised on the assumption that the values and interests of the Moros can be accommodated within the Philippine Constitution. The MILF has consistently responded to these proposals with a NO.

If negotiations (and not force) is the route to peace, then Philippine Government will have to open its doors to solutions beyond the present Constitution. Government cannot avoid it. There is a universe of possibilities waiting to be discovered and all that is required is the courage and the compassion to open the windows and for Government to create its aggiornamento.