I rarely attend conferences on peace talks because I have very little confidence in them. Third parties could hardly influence negotiations between the two contending parties. For some reasons, I attended the National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao on Aug. 13-14 at the University Hotel in UP Diliman.
Mohager Iqbal, the MILF peace panel chair, was represented by Mike Pasigan, a young, articulate Maguindanaon. Mike is a son of Grand Mufti Sheikh Omar Pasigan. I was pleasantly surprised at the straightforwardness of his speech and his answers during the open forum.
CALLING A SPADE A SPADE
Mike Pasigan did not mince words. He told it as it is. He emphasized that the Philippine Constitution is the main stumbling block to the negotiations and that if the Constitution is not changed or amended, then the “peace process will go nowhere.”
As to the criticism that MOA-AD would have dismembered the country, Mike’s answer was: “The Republic is already dismembered.”
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, Pasigan said that a peace agreement would make the country whole again.
The conference program was scheduled in such a way that the MILF representative and the Philippine Peace Panel chair would be together on stage, hearing each other and answering questions from the floor together. But Atty. Marvic Leonen, the Peace Panel Chair chose to arrive after lunch when Mr. Pasigan had already left.
It would have been interesting to hear Mr. Leonen debate with Mr. Pasigan. Nobody among the participants questioned Mr. Pasigan’s statement. This does not mean that the participants were pro-MILF or pro-Moro. They simply knew the veracity of the statement.
One participant even asked Mr. Pasigan if the CIA is in control of MILF because, according to him, people don’t really know who is truly in-charge of the MILF.
Politicians, the Media, the Supreme Court and practically all opponents of the MOA-AD claim that the MOA-AD or any constitutional change would bring about dismemberment of the Republic.
Truth hurts. And the truth is: The Republic of the Philippines has been dismembered since the early 1970s.
Philippine laws do not hold sway in MILF and even MNLF territories. Ordinary Filipinos could not enter these territories. Even the Armed Forces of the Philippines could not enter these territories without first asking permission from the groups. The 2007 massacre of Philippine marines in Basilan is a case in point. The fully armed Marines went into MILF territory without warning, allegedly in pursuit of kidnappers.
It is very important for the Filipino majority to acknowledge that the Republic is dismembered. Even in ARMM and other Moro areas, Philippine law is practiced more in the breach than in the observance.
ACCEPTING THE DISEASE TO FIND A CURE
It is a great disservice to the Filipino people if the elites continue to tell the public that the Republic is whole when it actually is not. If we do not accept that there is a disease then we could never find the cure.
The fact that a rag-tag band of kidnappers like the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) could wreck havoc in Mindanao with impunity can only mean that something is definitely wrong with the country. For more than a decade now, the Armed Forces of the Philippines keep on promising that they will eliminate the ASG. But they could never do it.
The present conflict in Mindanao has been going on for about 40 years. And because of this actual dismemberment of the Republic, the country could never progress. Before the start of this conflict, the Philippines was next only to Japan in Asia in economic progress and development. From the time the Bangsa Moro conflict erupted in early 1970s, the Philippines became the Sick Man of Asia.
CONSTITUTION AS THE SCAPEGOAT
So as not to implement the Tripoli Agreement, then President Marcos used the phrase “constitutional process” to circumvent the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. Although it was Martial Law and Marcos couldn’t care less about the Constitution, he used the phrase to mean that he needed to call a plebiscite and thus defeat the purpose of the Tripoli Agreement.
When Mr. Marcos was deposed, then President Corazon Aquino created her Revolutionary Constitution. She then created a Constitutional Commission that drafted a new Constitution. Despite the promises of the late Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. and other opposition politicians in the early to mid 1980s that the Tripoli Agreement should be respected, this 1987 constitution of President Aquino merely contained a provision that an autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao would be created.
Eventually, Ms. Aquino created an Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is nothing like the one envisioned in the Tripoli Agreement.
When the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was about to formally sign the MOA-AD with the MILF, the great majority of the Christian Filipinos went up in arms (so to speak) and demanded that the signing be aborted. The government thus aborted the signing of the MOA-AD. Not content with that, the Supreme Court then declared it as unconstitutional.
While the Filipinos keep on changing the Constitution to suit their purpose, when it comes to changing the Constitution to accommodate the aspirations of the Bangsa Moro, the Constitution immediately becomes sacrosanct.
I was thus pleasantly surprised to hear in the Conference that this time, the government of President Noynoy Aquino might agree to constitutional change. Atty. Marvic Leonen said as much. And Secretary Ging Deles, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process reminded everyone that, “Constitutional change is constitutional.”
Unfortunately for everyone, the minute the advisers of Pres. Aquino 3rd started saying that constitutional change is a possibility, the critics of the peace talks like veteran journalist Armando Doronila, lambasted Aquino’s people as amateurish and incompetent. The politicians and the media are again one in treating the Philippine Constitution, which has been changed 3 times, as sacrosanct or something unalterable and made in heaven.