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Beyond Maguindanao

Using the measures and regulations of one generation or one age to govern the world is like the case of a traveler in a boat who drops his sword in the middle of the river and notches the edge of the boat to mark the spot where the sword fell; then he goes back to the riverbank that evening to look for the sword below the notch on the boat. He is far from knowing what is what. – Huainanzi

In declaring martial law, the Constitution gives the President three kinds of discretion. The first is the discretion to determine what facts are relevant. The second is to determine whether, based on such facts, there is an “invasion or rebellion, and the public safety requires it”. The third is the discretion whether or not to actually declare martial law.

The first two kinds of discretion relate to whether the President can declare martial law, while the last relates to whether the President should declare martial law.

The Constitution provides for two checks to the exercise of these discretions.

The first is a legislative check wherein Congress, in joint session, can make a de novo or fresh or new review of all three discretions and make an independent determination not only whether the President can, but more importantly, whether the President should have declared martial law.

The second is a judicial check by the Supreme Court, but it can only review the first two discretions to determine whether the President can declare martial law.

The Maguindanao Massacre, the Bangsamoro Problem and the Peace Process

As a peace advocate who has considered Muslim Mindanao as my second region (after Bicol), I join so many others in their shock at and condemnation of what is now called the Maguindanao Massacre of 23 November 2009, likewise in expressing sympathies for the close relatives and friends of those who were killed, especially two fellow human rights lawyers, and calling for speedy justice and other necessary measures of redress and reform. There will never be enough words to describe this almost unbelievably depraved and inhuman incident.

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A Philippine Problem

The Maguindanao Massacre has been rightly explained as the tragic, though rather extreme, consequence of the Philippine central government’s or the Arroyo administration’s well-known deliberate cultivation and patronage of the Ampatuan political warlord clan and dynasty as its main instrument for political control in Maguindanao province, if not also the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Political control vis-à-vis political rivals or opponents of the Arroyo administration, and also vis-à-vis the main Moro rebel groups, notably the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whose main provincial and ethnic base is Maguindanao. Thus, the characterization by some analysts of the Ampatuan clan as “political entrepreneurs” who have become “Malacanang’s monster (or Frankenstein).” This has been a symbiotic central-local axis of power, with mutual benefits also extending to wealth. The analysts have situated such local warlordism, apparently becoming more voracious and brazen in its arrogance of power, in the context of a conversely ever-weakening Philippine state.

Remembering in a Time of Violence

The current violence in Mindanao must be understood in light of a history of aggression that saw its beginning in the 1890s. If the current Bangsamoro struggle is about an assertion of a national identity, this is an identity solidified and strengthened by brutalities committed against it by both Philippine and American military forces. There is no inherent rift between “Christian” Philippines and Muslim Mindanao. That rift was one enabled by the collective trauma brought about by the horrors of war.

War-mongering civilians

The draft peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was flawed from the start, but aborting the peace process altogether and shackling the hands of future negotiators is not the way to go. From Day One, the MILF should have known that it was negotiating with an impostor government that bore a spurious mandate (thanks to Garci) and harbored questionable motives (thanks to Charter change), and— given the public outrage and suspicions—was terribly out of touch with the pulse of the sovereign people it purported to represent.
However, the anti-ancestral domain rhetoric is getting out of hand, and we must rein in the over-zealous and over-legalistic. Let us remind ourselves of the genuine grievances that historically have pushed Islamic Filipinos to wage war. We mustn’t effectively block peace negotiations in the future just to stop the deficient Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain with the MILF now.

A Call for Cessation of Hostilities, Transparency and Broadened Participation

We are sad that the GRP and MILF failed to ensure the participation of people, especially those living in areas included in the MOA-AD. Moreover, the absence of transparency in the negotiations has exacerbated the existing divisions and prejudice between the Moro and non-Moro populations. These fundamental processes could have helped our national and local leaders and the Christian settler-population to realise the essential purpose of the peace process, that is, to correct the historic injustice inflicted by the colonizers upon the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples.

The Theory of Civil War

The armed struggle being waged by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is essentially a civil war. So was the armed resistance of the Moro National Liberation Front, (MNLF), which culminated in a political solution, the creation of a new, expanded regional autonomous government. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) likewise describes its nationwide protracted armed struggle as a type of civil war.