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With Due Respect

Forging peace with MILF, NDFP

Historically, armed conflicts with religious and ideological overtones, whether here or elsewhere in the world, are the toughest to disentangle. However, after decades of on-and-off negotiations, peace with (1) the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and (2) the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), is finally within reach.

The peace process with the MILF has pivoted to a very advanced stage with the congressional approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) a few days ago. Though the Senate and the House versions are quite disparate, the bicameral Conference Committee will harmonize them to get the final nod when Congress resumes its session on the morning of July 23, in time for the President’s State of the Nation Address in the afternoon of that day.

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I hope the final version will satisfy the MILF’s ardent longing and avoid the constitutional pitfalls (see my column on 2/11/18) that led to the debunking by the Supreme Court (in North Cotabato vs Government, Oct. 14, 2008) of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain earlier entered into by the MILF with the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

On the other hand, the peace process with the NDFP (plus CPP and NPA) is still a work in progress.

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As background, the CPP — according to Ateneo Law Dean Sedfrey Candelaria in a recent public lecture (accessible at www.libpros.com) sponsored by the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity — was founded on Dec. 26, 1968, in Alaminos, Pangasinan by Jose Maria Sison.

In opposing President Ferdinand Marcos, it espoused the Marxist-Maoist theme of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” an ideology that attracted the poor and the marginalized.

Its armed wing, the NPA, has since conducted a “protracted people’s war,” making it the longest-running communist insurgency in the world.

After Marcos was ousted, the NDFP entered into cease-fire negotiations with his successor President Corazon Aquino on Dec. 10, 1986, continued serious “exploratory talks” during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998), eventually opened formal negotiations on June 26, 1995, in Brussels and signed several agreements with the GRP during the Ramos years.

The Hague Declaration, the most vital of these agreements, listed the four topics or agenda items of future peace negotiations: (1) human rights and international humanitarian law, (2) socioeconomic reforms, (3) political and constitutional reforms, and (4) end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Of these four, only the first has so far been concluded when the parties executed the “Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” or CARHRIHL, on March 16, 1998.

However, Philippine law does not recognize it as a “treaty or international agreement” because it has not been “concurred in by at least two-thirds vote of all the members of the Senate” and because, under the Vienna Convention, only states can enter into a treaty. Neither the CPP nor the NPA nor the NDFP is a state.

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While it is “not a final and binding agreement” cognizable by our courts, it is nonetheless an important milestone because it enables the parties “to reach a final agreement.”

Moreover, while it may be legally difficult to implement the CARHRIHL directly by its own terms, the GRP can indirectly enforce it by adverting to the Constitution’s “Declaration of Principles and State Policies” (Art. II), “Bill of Rights” (Art. III) and “Social Justice … and Human Rights” provisions (Art. XIII), which arguably mirror the CARHRIHL; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is deemed a “generally accepted principle of international law” forming a “part of the law of the land.”

The second item in the four-point agenda—socioeconomic reforms—is more complicated than the first, because the NDFP’s proposals would require radical changes in our Constitution, laws, policies and programs.

The good news is that the GRP and the NDFP panels have agreed to meet on June 28 to resume formal talks on this sensitive topic. I will take it up next Sunday.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban-@hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, Communist rebels, MILF, NDFP, Philippine peace talks, With Due Respect
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