Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mindanao Situation and Charter Change

I. Background

A.The BANGSAMORO struggle

The situation in Mindanao is a complex experience of economic, political, and demographic factors flowing into a social context of cultural and ethnic diversity. Professor Randy David aptly describe the situation when he did an article on the Mindanao situation using sociological concepts: “The Bangsamoro problem is entangled in so many historical, legal, cultural and political questions that it is irresponsible to talk about it in a simplistic way. Every attempt to capture the issues in a single frame is bound to inflame passions and exacerbate prejudices. Reason demands that we step back and attempt to sort out the issues.”

To further understand the emergence of this situation in Mindanao, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI of the Archdiocese of Cotabato outlined the historical developments which lead to the present realities in Mindanao: (1.)Islam arrived in the Philippines 200 years before Christianity arrived. Eventually and before the Spaniards came a regime of sultans began. From that time on the Bangsamoro people have asserted and exercised self-determination and sovereignty over their ancestral domain, until the effective political power of the sultanates faded away. The Bangsamoro people came under the control of the Americans. The ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro people became public domain. (2.) But even when the Americans gave independence to the Philippine, many of the Bangsamoro people continued government. Successive waves of migrants from the Visayas and Luzon in the 1900s, authorized by a series of public laws, gained land titles in the form of torrens titles as against the native titles of the Bangsamoro people. (3.)The population pattern in Mindanao significantly changed from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the 1930s the great majority of Mindanao people were Muslims and Indigenous Peoples (IP), with a small minority of Christians. By the time the waves of migrations ended in the 1960s, Christians constituted the great majority of Minadanao people, with a minority of Muslims and IPs. In other words the Bangsamoro bacame a minority in their own ancestral domain. Difference in concepts regarding land ownership also contributed to these major changes in the ancestral Bangsamoro ancestral domain.

It is within this historical context and contemporary social complex that the Bangsamoro people sought to regain their ancestral domain. In the proposed MOA-AD, Bangsamoro refer to “those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization and their descendants whether mixed or full native blood.” Spouses and descendants, including the Lumads (indigenous peoples), under the agreement, are also classified as Bangsamoro “unless they choose otherwise.” They are the ‘First Nation’ with defined territory and with a system of government having entered into treaties of amity and commerce with foreign nations,”

The struggle over ownership and control of the rich terrain of Mindanao continues. Such struggle has included both armed fighting and negotiating for sustainable peace.

B. The peace process in Mindanao

The prolonged armed conflict in Mindanao has been depicted in various ways: either as ideological/political war, religious war, ethnic/clan war, or even a combination of all. As a political war, it is sometimes viewed as the struggle to attain independence from colonizers including those from “Imperial Manila”. The conflict is sometimes also viewed as a battle between the Muslims and the Christian settlers who have driven them away from their land. There are also instances when the conflict is viewed as a war among competing clans vying for political spoils or vengeance. But the different perspectives simply underlined the persistent conflict in the island.

Given the persistent armed confrontations, several initiatives to attain peace have been undertaken, both in the domestic and international arena. To cite some, the Mindanao Peace Solidarity, an advocacy network of local government units, non-government and peoples organization in Mindanao identified the following milestones in peace-building efforts: (1.) 1976 Tripoli Agreement – An agreement to create autonomous region in Mindanao, including 13 provinces and 9 cities as possible areas under the autonomous region. The creation of the Autnonomous Region will follow the Constitutional process. This agreement was signed on December 23, 1976 with the help of Libya and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). (2.) 1996 GRP-MNLF agreement - It provided for the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and its coverage area. It also created the transitory mechanisms (SPCPD and Consultative Council, SZOPAD) for development. The agreement was Signed in Manila on September 2, 1996 with the help of Indonesia and OIC. (3.)The GRP-MILF Peace Talk – The formal talks with MILF was initiated by former Sec. Ruben Torres in December 1997 upon instructions from Pres. FVR; followed by the signing of a truce between MILF-GRP. In 2000, Erap launched all-out war against MILF and openly insulted Muslims by roasting pigs in Camp Abubakar. In March 24, 2001, the Tripoli Peace Agreement was signed calling for a General Framework for the Resumption of Talks between GRP-MILF. In Feb-March 2003, PGMA launched an attack in the Buliok Complex, the new HQ of the MILF resulting to renewed hostilities.Truce was again declared and both GRP-MILF established the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring committee and calling for the establishment of the International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia.

It is within the latest GRP-MILF peace talk that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was drafted and finalized. After almost twelve years of fighting, the document purports to recognize the aspirations of more that eight million Muslims and indigenous people of Mindanao.

C. The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD)

The MOA-AD is an agreement of the GRP-MILF signed last 27 July 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by Mohaqher Iqbal of the MILF negotiating panel and Mr. Rodolfo Garcia, head of the government negotiating panel and Secretary Hermogenes Esperon of the Office of the presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. The signing was witnessed by the Malaysian special adviser to the Prime Minister.

In general, the document aimed to to define/recognize/undertake the following: (1)defined the Bangsamor people, (2)outlined their territory and the resources therein, guided by the Bangsamoro claim on ancestral domain;(3)provided for the government structure and sovereignty; (4)laid out timeframe and conditions for the completion of a Comprehensive Compact, including the conduct of a plebiscite and eventual referendum. Many of the provisions in the agreement are premised on the introduction of changes to the 1987 Philippine Constitution and amendments to the Organic Act of Muslim Mindanao.

After the signing by both panels in Malaysia, and when the provisions of the agreement reached the public, there was immediate public uproar over the alleged secrecy. A case challenging the constitutionality of the agreement, and a petition for Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which was eventually granted, was filed in the Supreme Court by local government officials from Mindanao and several national leaders including Senator Mar Roxas and former Senator Frank Drilon.

The issuance of the TRO, and the GMA administrations decision to abide by it, prompted outrage by some MILF leaders. This eventually led to the attach on several towns in Minadanao, to the continuing battle between the rebels and government forces, and to the displacement of thousands of families because of the continuing armed conflict. The situation has prompted Malacanang Palace to announce that it will be reviewing its decision to sign the MOA-AD.

II.Issues Involved

A.In the Mindanao Situation:

1. Perspectives on the Bangsamoro Struggle and the MOA-AD: paradigms, nation-building, constitutionality, and the peace process

The proposed MOA-AD attempted to steer the peace process towards the recognition of a fundamental element in the prolonged armed conflict: the Bangsamoro claim over their ancestral land. Technically, the document is upholding the Bangsamoro claim, even in a limited sense, over ancestral domain. But it must be noted that Mindanao at the moment is populated by the Christians, Muslims, and the indigenous peoples known as Lumads. These phenomenon is more often called the tri-people character of Mindanao. There are distinct differences in the paradigms or world view among these people, each group having their distinctive way of looking at realities around them. A classic case would be that on land ownership. The Christians would look at it in terms of land titles and the corresponding rights it gives to the owner. Muslims and the lumads however would rather look at it from the point of view of ancestral ownership. It is not surprising then that Christians would be up in arms against the perceived taking of what is “rightfully” theirs, as shown by land titles and several generations of their families having occupied the land. Nor will it be surprising that several lumad organizations are now coming out to speak against the proposed MOA-AD. They are claiming that if the Muslims can claim ancestral domain, so can the lumads. In fact, they were in the island long before Islam came into the territory.

Even as the MOA-AD predicament is uncertain because of public pronouncement of the Philippine government to review the decision to sign it, the document still deserved closer scrutiny. The impact and implications of the issues it triggered are too grave to be ignored. Whether it is a boon or bane will depend on whose talking and what perspective is used. For the Bangsamoro, the agreement would have signified a limited advancement in their struggle to regain ancestral domain. As cited by the U.P.-based Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CENPEG): “The MILF views the MOA as step forward for the Bangsamoro goal of self-determination. Its leaders can always invoke the general concepts and principles of the MOA-AD to pursue the MILF'S political goal more so if they choose to declare unilaterally a separate state later on.” But for others, the MOA signified an arrogance and abuse of discretion by the government negotiating panel. Atty Barry Guttieres pointed out: “What is bothersome about the current situation is that apparently the negotiations was conducted without recognizing the conditional nature of certain points contained in the agreement...And perhaps this is one point where the GRP panel can be called to task – for failing to adequately delimit the actual parameters of its authority to negotiate.”

The question of whether the agreement is constitutional or not would also have contending views. Senator Mar Roxas argued that it is unconstitutional: “This MoA initialed and sought to be formalized, in Malaysia, violates at least three major articles of our Constitution. Unang pahina pa lang, hindi na papasa ito sa ating Saligang Batas. Rather than respect our national territory, this MoA breaks it up into already smaller bits. Rather than uphold the ideal that all government authority emanates from the people, the government had the gall to enter into an agreement that would partition our country, and create a state within a state, all without prior consultation with the people of Mindanao, or with the people in the rest of the country. It had the gall to shroud this agreement in secrecy. Rather than uphold one sovereign people enjoying the equal protection of law, the MOA effectively splits the citizenry in two, each clothed with differing political and economic standards.” But Atty. Soliman Santos, a Bicolano human rights lawyer countered: 'To seek constitutional change and reform has not usually been treated as unconstitutional, except it seems when it has to do with the Moro question.” And Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., a prominent constitutional expert clarified: “MOA is not a done deal: elaborate collection of “wish list” of those who want to revise the Organic Act of Muslim Mindanao and event the Constitution...But amendment proposals cannot be illegal and much less unconstitutional”

2. On the Peace Process

Thus the main issue now is what will bring lasting peace in Mindanao. Cotabato Archbishop Quevedo is convinced that the MOA-AD can lead to lasting peace: “But the MOA-AD, no matter how one looks at it, is a remarkable document. It is a very serious attempt to balance national sovereignty and Bangsamoro aspirations for self-determination and freedom. For this reason, I believe that the MOA-AD can bring lasting peace.” Unfortunately, Macanang Palace is now rethinking the decision to sign it because of the recent atrocities committed by renegade MILF troops.

Allegations of abuse and indiscretion against the government panel is starting to surface. Mr. Mon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms observed:“Where did the President and her negotiators got their authority to promise what they cannot give?...If what they are thinking of doing is to change the 1987 Constitution in order to shift the Philippine state from its current unitary system to a federal state system with local states, then they are putting the cart before the horse. They should do this before negotiating on a federal framework for the peace process”.

With the current peace process being haunted by difficulties in the national political landscape, particularly the spectre of its being used to compel charter change and extend Arroyo's term, the tendency to rely on the military solution is expected from the government side. But several organizations have spoken openly against military solutions, and called for a broader dialogue. They argue that the other stakeholders must be involved in the peace process, going beyond the emphasis of peace process on the armed groups. Special attention must be given to the marginalized sectors, such as women and children who suffered most in the present situation.

Unfortunately, while no effective strategy is being adopted and no decisive action is undertaken, the number of civilians displaced by the on-going battle in several areas of Mindanao will continue to increase. The situation in Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, North Cotabato , Sarangani, Basilan and other areas of conflict may turn out to be extremely serious humanitarian problem.

B. Charter Change

1. Federalism will bring lasting peace in Mindanao?

Many of the provisions in the MOA-AD will require changes in the 1987 Philippine Consitution to be viable and do-able. For example, the establishment of the BJE will entail a set up akin to federalism, wherein the Bangsamoro will be one state in a federal system. Thus, with the MO-AD being peddled as the blueprint for peace in Mindanao and charter change as the tool to implement that blueprint, the government was quick to play it up and push for federalism and charter change.

Unfortunately, many sectors felt that the situation is not right and the process is so hurried. Thus, instead of focusing on intelligent discourse on the impact of a political set up such as federalism to the persistent armed conflict in Mindanao, critical awareness, inherent caution and even paranoia prompted strong opposition to any discussion of charter change. Such public reaction effective exclude significant discussion on the viability of federalism as a solution to the persistent armed conflict in Mindanao.

It is thus unfortunate that intelligent discourse on alternatives and proposed structural changes in Mindanao is effectively hampered by political considerations.

2. When do we introduce changes in the 1987 Philippine Constitution?

Several provisions in the present Constitution have been identified for possible changes. Among these are the form of government and economic provisions. But as important as the substantial changes being proposed is the debate on the timing for initiating these changes.

There are several options being floated among those who seek structural reforms through charter change. Majority of the legislators seem to have attained consensus on the matter of transforming themselves into a constituent assembly to work immediately on the changes to be proposed in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, allegedly taking into consideration the urgency of the situation in Mindanao. In fact, there are pending bills in the Senate and in the House of Representatives proposing the immediate constitution of a constituent assembly.

But civil society organizations, religious groups, and even the business sector seem to agree on the position that charter change may be undertaken only after GMA is out of Malacanang Palace. From their point of view, it is imperative that discussions about changes in the Philippine Constitution be undertaken only at the right time and in the right situation. It must neither be used for political gains or for entrenching local elites. Charter change must be a tool for broader citizen participation and empowerment of the basic sectors of society.

3. If changes will be made, how will it be done?

Another persistent issue related to charter change is the mode of introducing change. Although the Constitution provides for three options, the more prominent options being considered are Constituent Assembly and Constitutional Convention. This is probably because of the difficulties encountered by those who previously attempted to initiate charter change through peoples initiative.

Constitutional Convention, though admittedly more costly, is more popular among the citizens because people get to elect their delegates to the body that will deliberate on the proposed changes. The other option, Constituent Assembly (which converts the Senate and House of Representatives into deliberative body for charter change), is less attractive because of the perceived political and partisan interests already displayed by congressmen and senators during their term.


The situation in Mindanao and the resurgent move to introduce changes in the 1987 Philippine Constitution are two significant developments that must be understood, analyzed, and acted upon by the Filipinos. The predicament of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao (the lumads, Muslims, and Christians) must be understood from the informed perspective so that solutions and actions may be guided accordingly. It should also heighten the sense of solidarity with our fellow Filipinos in that island. The charter change initiative must be taken on and exposed for whatever it is: a sincere initiative for structural change and reform or an instrument for manipulation and political interest. Thus, the following challenges are posed to the university community:

1. The education we experience in the university is supposed to enlighten us with the truth and inform us of the actual social conditions. What do we know about the situation in Mindanao? How do we distinguish factual information from biases and stereotypes? Do we understand the charter change issues? What is our take on these issues? Do we have an appreciation of the impact of these issues to our lives as Bicolanos, as Catholics, as Filipinos?

2. Our knowledge and awareness is expected to condition our convictions and principles. Including our notion of what is right and what is wrong; what must be done and what must be discouraged. But most important is the shaping of our social conscience, when we go beyond vague generalizations and learn to train our sight on actual and empirical circumstances. Our paradigms and framework significantly affect how we perceive reality.

3. Most importantly, knowledge/awareness and convictions/principles should inform our action. It triggers a certain response from us. It leads us to ask: What have I done? or What will I do? The question increases in difficulty and complexity when elevated to the societal level. But the impetus to act will not go away. The need to actualize and live out or become witnesses of our principles and convictions will demand a certain response, whether as individuals, as a group, or as an institution.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Waging peace!

What makes peace so attractive? It is because everybody yearns for a condition of relative tranquility, wherein one is free to express oneself, and to pursue one's interest. What makes peace so elusive? It is because many would look for peace from the outside, without realizing that peace comes from within.

Anyway, I attended the 1st Naga City Peace and Order Summit today and the perspectives presented were as varied as the participants gathered in the said event. But what struck me most is the interest manifested by people who are not in the formal structures of the government.

It never cease to inspire me whenever I witness such enthusiasm for citizens participation in governance. It may not always cause miracles, but for me, the phenomenon of active citizenship by itself is extraordinary.

I only hope that the government, including all of its units/sub-units, would continue to sharpen their tools for openess to citizen participation. It will not take a single act to perfect the art, but with patience and perseverance, good things usually come out.

Thus waging peace is not only about catching criminals or silencing the guns. It is also about our growing up, as a people, in the respect for diversity and in the understanding of complexities.

May peace thrive in the heart of Naguenos.