How much do we love peace? | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

How much do we love peace?

“What price peace?” blared the Inquirer editorial two days ago. I also ask: How much do we love peace with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)? Do we want peace in spite of the recent killing (some say, massacre) of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) officers while performing their duty?

Barriers to peace. Complete peace with the MILF will not halt continuing armed conflict by our military and police with its orphans, like renegade MILF commandos, its “breakaways” like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and its rivals like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari.

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In fact, when the government concluded a peace pact with the MNLF in 1996, the MILF ignored the Misuari-signed agreement and continued the armed struggle. Do we still want peace with the MILF despite renewed wars with its orphans, breakaways and rivals?

Do we want peace despite the vehement objections of Christians and minority tribes (like the lumad) in the MILF areas? Do we want peace so much as to give the same concessions of sovereignty, territory and other privileges to the minorities in the Cordilleras and other regions?

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Do we want peace so much as to approve in substance, if not in toto, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) despite the not-so-trivial constitutional objections of seasoned legislators like Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., eminent constitutionalists like retired Supreme Court Justices Florentino P. Feliciano and Vicente V. Mendoza, and law groups like the Philippine Constitution Association?

Pleas for peace. Indeed, many are the political, military, social and constitutional barriers to peace. But many and formidable, too, are the pleas for support for the CAB and BBL, notably from President Aquino, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., and officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Very persuasive also is the consensus of the 14 (of the 18) surviving members of the Constitutional Commission (the other four survivors are “bedridden or could not be reached” while the rest of the original 48 drafters have died), pleading:

“Let us set aside partisan politics and stop the urge to exhibit our ability to find nuances of legalism that can delay, or worse, derail the process, feeding on the cynicism and playing on the fears in the national psyche that are more reflex reaction than reasoned response.”

The esteemed constitution drafters, who include a retired chief justice (Hilario G. Davide Jr.) and a retired associate justice (Adolfo S. Azcuna), assure us that “the Bangsamoro is about the development of people, not about the constitutionality of words… Hence, the public conversation should not be about semantics but about people—their needs, their aspirations, their choices—and about empowering them with the environment and institutional framework for social justice.”

My humble opinion. I would like to join the government and the constitutional commissioners in their impassioned plea for peace and prosperity. However, I cannot ignore the formidable legal obstacles especially as they relate to violations of the Constitution, remembering that the earlier attempt at peace with the MILF, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), drawn in 2008 by the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was scuttled by the Supreme Court, and resulted in a fiercer war.

That landmark case (North Cotabato vs Government, Oct. 14, 2008) taught us that the bottom line in all peace negotiations and agreements is “strict adherence to the Constitution.” Despite lingual embellishments, the demands of the MILF since 2008 have not changed in substance. The MOA-AD spoke of “associative” while the CAB provided for “asymmetrical” relation between the national government and the Bangsamoro. But their bottom meanings are the same.

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These quoted words are not defined in familiar constitutional language. But should the critics prove to be right and the Supreme Court debunks the CAB and the BBL, wholly or partly, the result could be worse fighting, division and regression.

I believe that peace is too monumental to be left to chance and to differing constitutional perceptions and opinions. I think that Congress should treat the constitutionally objectionable portions of the BBL as amendments to the Constitution by passing them “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members” pursuant to Article XVII of the Constitution, and subjecting them to a plebiscite by all the voters in the country, not just in the affected areas in Mindanao. (How this can be done speedily deserves another column.)

In this manner, all constitutional pitfalls (which I think are real and ominous) would be avoided and all political, social, economic and historical issues settled directly by our people. Truly, the entire electorate must be involved in this decision, and prior to that, in the national conversation that should no longer be on semantics or legalism but on what is best for our entire nation.

If we truly love peace, then we should all be prepared to pay its price, and to change massively—yes, massively—our political, social and governmental structures and mindsets by amending the Constitution forthrightly and asking all our people (not just those in the autonomous region in Mindanao) to join a national debate, and to decide this great milestone in a nationwide plebiscite.

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TAGS: Adolfo S. Azcuna, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Bangsamoro Basic Law, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Florentino P. Feliciano, Franklin M. Drilon, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Hilario G. Davide Jr., Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, Miriam Defensor Santiago, MOA-AD, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari, Philippine Constitution Association, President Benigno Aquino III, Special Action Force, Vicente V. Mendoza
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