A friend and colleague of mine asked me the following:

Can it be implied by previous and contemporaneous conduct, deed and action of the Bangsamoro people, i.e. participation in elections, referenda, in administration, in having representatives, etc. that there is overwhelming proof (or atleast must be taken to be indicators as well) of agreement to be part of the national territory?

Who speaks for whom? Should a member of the GRP actually privilege one group (in this case, the MILF) as the sole spokesperson for all Bangsamoro constituents? Would the Bangsamoro constituents who are followers of the traditional datus and of those in government be subsumed under this designated sole representative of the Bangsamoro?

My answers:

1. I do not think that actual historical practice – like participating in elections, referenda, plebiscites, representatives in legislative bodies, acceptance to appointments to the government bureaucracy – outweigh the so-called statements. I agree with you however that these can be “indicators as well of agreement to be part of the national territory.”

This is because one can use actual historical practice to point out the contrary opinion, i.e. that practice will show a history of a long line of resistance and struggle against colonizers. And this is contained not just to one statement or statements by one historical agent but by a host of agents, uprisings, statements and actions, i.e. the “Sulu petition”, the “Dansalan Declaration”, the numerous revolts, i.e. Bud Daju, Taglibi, Bud Bagsak, etc., the formation of the MIM, MNLF, MILF and yes – even the Abu Sayyaf Group -that clearly show the resistance of the Bangsamoro people to their colonization.

In the end, I think that the most important thing is to let the Bangsamoro people to decide their fate, their future and their political status as a people. No one – not the MILF, not the political leaders, not even the President of the Philippines – can make that decision for Bangsamoro people. And we should not surmise or deduce from acts or statements. We need to directly ask the Bangsamoro people in clear terms what is their wish.

This is the reason why I support a free and independent referendum to ask the Bangsamoro people once and for all whether they want to be part of the Republic of the Philippines or not. And if yes, by what terms, by what relations, should, we continue this journey of a united yet separate and distinct peoples.

Theoretically then, it is possible that a Bangsamoro group will emerge in the future with a clear political message and agenda of integration into the Philippine State as opposed to the MILF’s call for self-determination. In the end, the people will decide.

2. Any group can claim to speak for the Bangsamoro people. There is no exclusive spokesperson. The MNLF is claiming to be a spokesperson by virtue of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and its recognition by the OIC as an “observer”. The ARMM Government can claim to be the spokesperson, being the elected leaders of the Bangsamoro people. The NCMF can also claim to be spokeperson. In fact, the Philippine Government is claiming that it is the spokesperson of the Bangsamoro people and it is for this reason that it has applied as an “observer” to the OIC.

In the end, it is not the one who claims but the one that is claimed by the Bangsamoro people as their voice and sentinel. It is legitimacy, acceptance and active support by the Bangsamoro people that will determine which group or groups speak of their dreams and aspirations. The people is always the prize.

Philippine Government is talking to everyone, not just the MILF. This was reiterated by P-Noy in his first SONA. However, it is just the MILF that we have peace negotiations because the MILF, which has a reported strength of 13,000, has taken up arms against the Philippine Government. This is not giving the MILF the privilege. From the Government’s point of view, it is borne out of sheer necessity. xxx

Constitutional change needed for peace in Mindanao

“Social conflicts” arise from a dissatisfaction by a significant group of how a particular power “game” is played. It is the assertion of the “losers”, i.e. the disadvantaged region or group, that the “rules” of the game are heavily stacked in favor of the “winners”. For the “losers”, the problem lies with the “rules” themselves. The “rules” are seen as, at the onset, determining the “losers” fate and forever relegating them to the position of “losers”. To resolve “social conflicts” then requires “rule” change. New “rules” that promote fairness, justice and equal opportunities must be designed. In our society, the “rules” of the game are embedded in the Philippine Constitution. To obtain peace (or at least a modicum of chance of securing peace) in Mindanao, the Philippine Constitution must be changed to give way to new “rules”, to new relations between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine State.

For peace negotiations to be “constitutional” all that is needed is that substantive agreement requiring constitutional amendment must comply with the procedural requirements laid down in the Constitution. Theoretically, there is no limit on what can be agreed substantially by the parties.

It is the assertion of the MILF that the “rules” of the game has led to the political and social marginalization and the economic disadvantage of the Bangsamoro people as a whole. They assert that the present “game” is defective because, whatever the configuration, whatever the arrangement, in the end, the “Bangsamoro people” will always be the “losers” vis-a-vis the Philippine State and the Filipino nation. For the MILF, the present “rules” have led to grinding poverty and powerlessness of the Bangsamoro people vis-a-vis the Filipino nation. It is for this reason that they are demanding for a change in the “rules” — greater political autonomy, greater control of resources, control over regional security, etc.

The Philippine Government has basically 2 ways to respond to this demand.

They can dismiss the demand of the change of “rules” outright, insist that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with “rules”, offer minor rearrangements of the present rules, e.g. offering expanded ARMM autonomy, and require absolute compliance to the said “rules”. And as a last resort, Government will compel obedience to the said  “rules” by the use of force.

On the other hand, Government can go into political negotiations with the MILF, agree that there is something is need to change the present “rules” and negotiate new substantive “rules” that mirror a vision of new partnership between the Bangsamoro and the Filipino nations and then must comply with the procedural requirements laid down in the Constitution for its amendment.

Constitutional Negotiations

If there is one thing that President Noy Aquino can do that will send a strong signal that the Government has the political will to solve the Bangsamoro problem (which, in turn, will create a groundswell of support for peace in Mindanao), it is to declare the present negotiations between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as constitutional negotiations.

At its core, the Bangsamoro Problem is sovereignty-based and requires a restructuring of the basic relationship between the Filipino people and the Bangsamoro people. Since that basic relationship is defined by the Constitution, then an amendment of the Constitution to reflect a changed relationship, a common vision is needed.

As Sol Santos eloquently puts it:

“The need for some constitutional restructuring becomes further evident when looking at legal and scholarly studies which show that Philippine constitutional arrangements have been a major part of the Bangsamoro problem. The structural relationship between the Philippine state and the Bangsamoro people is a basic part of this problem.  Such kind of structural relationship is a constitutional matter. “

The MILF, in behalf of the Bangsamoro people, have always insisted that the present conflict is sovereignty-based and stemmed from their illegal and immoral incorporation into the Philippine State without their “plebiscitary consent”. Stated in simple terms, the argument of the MILF is that the exercise of sovereignty by the Philippine Government over the Bangsamoro people is illegal and without basis since Spain never exercised actual sovereignty over them and therefore, no sovereignty was transferred to the United States by virtue of the Treaty of Paris. Ultimately and by the very same logic, no sovereignty over the Bangsamoro people was transferred by the United States to the Philippine State by virtue of Tydings-MacDuffie Law and the consequent ratification of the 1935, 1973, Freedom and 1987 Philippine Constitutions. You cannot give what you do not have.

By “constitutional” negotiations, I mean that, at the onset, it must be made clear that the aim, scope and purpose of the negotiations between the Government and the MILF is to restructure the basic relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Filipino. This will be done through an amendment of the Constitution. This is not to say say that the negotiations will not be subject to the  Constitution. The negotiations will always be subject to the Constitution since the authority of the President to negotiate with the MILF is defined and limited ultimately by the Constitution. What is needed is a declaration that while the GRP-MILF negotiations is subject to the Constitution, the aim is to transform the basic relationship of the Filipino and the Bangsamoro, to rectify historical injustice by amending and changing the Constitution. This should be the starting point. xxx