This morning, a full-page ad by the Mindanao People’s Caucus was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Entitled “A Call for Discernment and Unity,” the MPC called on “all to be responsible enough to tackle [the MOA-AD] issue in an intelligent and dispassionate manner, bearing in mind that we are all brothers and sisters, and that everyone in this country has the right and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
My sentiments exactly. I could not have said it in any other way. The issue of peace is too important to be tackled in a politically partisan manner, in a highly-charged emotional context. Lives and people’s livelihood and well-being are at stake and are simply too precious to play with.
Talks, negotiations, and public discussions are better than talking through arms. In fact, the statement should have emphasized this if it also called for the protection of and adherence to the current ceasefire agreement by all sides.
Having said this, let me point out some fallacies and biases in the statement, thereby rendering it less effective in its central message of discernment and unity.
One, the statement obviously took the side of the MOA-AD, defending its core thesis of “Moro ancestral domain.” The MOA-AD has basically gone beyond the concept of ancestral domain and strayed into the realm of Moro statehood. No amount of calling it “ancestral domain” will change its substantive treatment, particularly when framed within the “human right of self-determination of peoples.” The statement should have made this clear at the start to avoid useless debate on the concept and thereby tackle the more substantive right to self-determination.
In insisting on the fiction of “ancestral domain” for the Moro people, the statement made an awkward point (as the MOA-AD itself): It cited the agreement’s provision that “the freedom of choice of indigenous peoples shall be respected.” There are two points here. First, it recognized that the Lumad are not part of the Bangsamoro, and their claim to ancestral domain is inferior to that of the Moro claim. Second, choice is not the same as recognition or respecting their claim. This is the reason why a Lumad conference held recently denounced the MOA-AD. The statement should not have glossed over this basic weakness of the agreement.
Two, it should have made clear that only federalism can be the state framework for the MOA-AD. It would have immediately joined the whole issue. Again, it should not hide behind the fiction of “ancestral domain” in doing so. If federalism is really desirable as the framework solution for the Moro conflict, then say so. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has just said so yesterday, why not the MPC? The political problem, of course, is that federalism is a completely different issue altogether and straying into this territory will embroil the peace advocates in another front where they may not be prepared to engage in–they themselves do not have a unity on the subject.
Three, the issue of the envisioned expansion of the BJE outside the present ARMM will be decided in a plebiscite of affected people. This arrangement necessarily has to tackle the possibility of a patchwork result: some would vote yes to inclusion and some would vote no. In an autonomy situation where the essential lines of governance remain intact, this is not a problem. You only guarantee Moro or other minority representation in government.
In a statehood situation, the lines of governance of “yes” areas will be the BJE. Those areas, particularly at the barangay or even town level, within non-BJE territory will have almost insurmountable problems of independent administration and in delivering government services as well as difficulties co-existing with the majority non-Moro people. The non-BJE areas within the BJE territory will likewise have the same problems.
A possible solution may be to undertake the plebiscite for Category A areas as one solid entity. However, this has its own problems that may even be worse than if barangays vote independently. Those areas where the local citizens vote “No” may not like to be deprived of their right to say “No.”
Fourth, the statement is dead wrong when it insisted that the required charter change to implement the MOA-AD will not happen during the watch of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is Malacañang’s line–the civil society peace advocates should have been the last to believe its credibility. The pace, in fact, towards charter change is quickening because of the objective limited window of opportunity for it.
GMA has already let the cat out of the bag yesterday when she said Cha-cha is necessary to put in place a federal system of government in the country, noting that the MOA-AD requires it. Preparations are already underway to hold a constituent assembly, ostensibly to pass a single amendment for federalism to accommodate the MOA-AD. Palace spokespersons are speaking of pledging not to bring up the extension of the president’s stay in power.
Peace advocates should note that a constituent assembly is a plenary body–once in session, it can very well set aside even the provisions of the law that created it. The 12-month and 15-month timelines cited in the MOA-AD are maximum deadlines–charter change can occur in much less time, well within the term of GMA. There is no guarantee that it will only tackle the requirements of the MOA-AD. It can as well tackle the question of the president’s extension in power, either in the transition provisions–her own and Marcos favorite provision–or by simply approving provisions for her to run as president or prime minister, as the case maybe.
Federalism and charter change are national issues beyond the level of the MOA-AD and even the Moro right to self-determination. If these come into play and be connected to the peace process, these would inevitably (and unfortunately for peace advocates) affect the national consensus on the peace process. In the present situation of a lameduck presidency with huge popularity deficit, any campaign for the public approval of the MOA-AD will meet stiff resistance.
What I am saying is this: Federalism may need to be revisited if it is touted as the framework solution to the Bangsamoro demand for their right to self-determination and to the question of just and lasting peace in Mindanao. It may bring more problems than it solves.
The only political path the peace process can take under the present situation is for government to undertake widespread and intensive national discussions, not to sell the MOA-AD but to discern the national consensus (particularly the limits of national concessions), go back to the negotiating table, and redraft a document based on this consensus. For the MILF, the same process should likewise be done among the Bangsamoro people, including the MNLF and other political groups within the community and bring their own consensus to the negotiating table. For the peace advocates, the main thing is for them to take a step back, to undertake the same national discussion with all stakeholders, and to disclaim their own biases in order to achieve a just and lasting peace based on a national consensus of all major stakeholders.
Less than this, we will have no peace in Mindanao.