Category: Mindanao Peace

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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Imagining a map for the “new” Bangsamoro

A lot of people may disagree with me. They may wisely counter my arguments with the question: What is the best alternative? To set things straight, I am not against the MOA-AD. However, I am against the process of limited consultation of the stakeholders within the proposed territory or the absence of it. For example, the MOA-AD had contained the engagement of the Philippine Congress in the negotiation process to a minimum; this may prove to be problematic since members of Congress will be instrumental in implementing the MOA-AD. Also, I am against the idea of not drawing lessons from the ARMM experience, upon which many essential analyses can be made to help formulate better terms for the agreement. The MILF spokesperson, Atty. Musib Buat, says that it is their strategy to get the endorsement of the International Monitoring Team, which recently gave a statement that it would call off their endorsement if the MOA is not signed by the last day of August 2008. This is an excellent strategic framework, but again, both the MILF and the GRP camps lack an operational framework that can prevent the ARMM tragedy from recurring. Thus I am inclined to call BJE as ARMM II, just as Filipinos conveniently coined EDSA II.

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Retrograde retrofit

At his press briefing last week, Secretary Eduardo Ermita assured everyone that a final peace agreement with the MILF will be under a “totality clause” that will say, “[A]ny conflict in the interpretation of this agreement shall be within the light of the Constitution of the Philippines and existing laws.”

He meant he hopes our Constitution will be retrofitted to accommodate a new type of state, one with two central banks, two armed forces, two police forces, two Comelecs, and two Supreme Courts among other symptoms of national schizophrenia. Ermita’s hope will realize Gloria Arroyo’s nightmare vision of two Philippines.

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Negotiating beyond the Constitution, not unconstitutional

The unsigned Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is under attack now for being unconstitutional, because some of its provisions go beyond the framework of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. We beg to disagree that this is necessarily unconstitutional. To seek constitutional change and reform (e.g. a shift to federalism) has not been usually treated as unconstitutional, except, it seems, when it has to do with the Moro question. In fact, it is normal for peace processes, as shown by the experience of many countries, to seek and effect constitutional change and reform as needed, for a negotiated political settlement.

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Role of a peace “treaty” device in the MOA and beyond

In the MOA-AD, the GRP and MILF Peace Panels preferred to use the term “Comprehensive Compact” in lieu of “Final Peace Agreement” largely in order to avoid confusion with the 1996 FPA with the MNLF. If we go back to the early quoted definition of treaty in the MOA-AD, it can be gleaned from the wording “For the purpose of this Agreement, a ‘treaty’ is defined as a solemn agreement in writing that sets out understandings, obligations, and benefits for both parties which provides for a framework that elaborates the principles declared in the Agreement” that the “treaty” referred to here is not the MOA (which is the “Agreement”) but the envisioned Comprehensive Compact (“that elaborates the principles declared in the Agreement”). It is the Comprehensive Compact which would be the real deal “that sets out understandings, obligations, and benefits for both parties.” Let’s not overlook this now with all the sound and fury, and so much ado, about the MOA-AD.

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Just a Piece of Paper

“It’s just a piece of paper. There’s nothing to worry about,” replied Fr. Joaquin Bernas when asked by the Philippine Inquirer about the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the Arroyo administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Any change in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) or territory has to go through Congress and a plebiscite. There is nothing to implement. They cannot move without Congress,” he explained.

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