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| By Atty. Soliman Santos, jr. | |
"Exploring Constitutional Structures for the Muslim Community" is a concisely well-stated theme for this roundtable discussion hosted by the UP Law Center's Institute of International Legal Studies. This is precisely what we should do, explore solutions to the Bangsamoro problem.
We know that the Moro Problem and, more so, the broader Mindanao Problem is a complex multi-dimensional holistic problem that needs a complex multi-dimensional holistic solution. The suspended Government of the Republic of the Philippines - Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) peace negotiations, at least the MILF side, seek foremostly a political solution as the key dimension. But a political solution without a constitutional solution will not go far. There can be no radical political restructuring without constitutional change. The constitutional dimension is very much part of the problem and of the solution. One way of posing the constitutional problem is this: What is the best possible structure for the political relationship between the central Philippine government and for that matter the Filipino people, on one hand, and the Bangsamoro people in the Southern Philippines, on the other hand? Or, is there space, can space be created, in the Philippine republican polity and constitutional system to accommodate a Moro Islamic system of life and governance (the main aspiration represented by the MILF)?
Before going further and deeper into this, just a note about the thematic focus on the Muslim community or the Bangsamoro people, if you will. The Mindanao Problem is a problem of relationships among the three peoples (Christian Filipinos, Muslim Moros and indigenous Lumad) there and with the central Philippine government, with the Muslim or Moro Problem as its historically and currently most critical expression, its cutting edge or key link. Recognition of the broader Mindanao context is not incompatible with the necessary focus on the Muslim or Moro Problem to give it its just due, albeit informed by or conscious of Mindanao's tri-people character. The Tri-People Approach emphasizes the existence of the three peoples which have to share Mindanao, the ideal of their equality and unity, and Mindanao itself as the basis of a new or additional identity as Mindanaoan or Mindanawon. But this should not negate Moro and Lumad identities, which are still struggling for better recognition. We seek not just harmony but harmony in diversity.
Going back now to the constitutional discourse, our exploration will be helped immensely by international legal studies, particularly on comparative and international law and practice. These studies will reveal a wide range of possibilities, a wide range of "constitutional choices" -between integration and secession (or independence). At both extremes, you have forced integration and forced secession, both attained by a military solution. You can also have free association (integration) and negotiated secession (or independence). But the general categories of integration and secession are not considered desirable or feasible, as the case may be, at present and for the foreseeable future. For example, it is not likely that the Philippine government and even the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the United Nations (UN) would agree to a referendum on the question of independence even if only in the predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao.
Then, you have the more feasible general categories of autonomy and federalism, each with a wide range of possibilities, models and structures. Autonomy has become somewhat of a bad word, especially in some Moro quarters, because of the generally negative experiences with it since President Marcos first instituted it in 1977/1979 to unilaterally implement the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. The latter called for autonomy for the Muslims...