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An Open Letter

August 25th, 2008

An Open Letter
24 August 2008

My reply email was interrupted by a brownout amidst my composing thoughts I wanted to convey to our readers at the Mindanews website besides Luwaran website. Hopefully someone from the editorial box of the national dailies (in particular PDI) will pick as news items warranting some space the legal views of lawyers (like me) who represent MILF as the real Party in interest across the GRP-MILF negotiating table.
The series of full page ADS in PDI 08/22/08 and PD 08/23/08 of former senate president Frank M. Drilon simplify and focus on perceived infringements to the 1987 Constitution. Those two Q & A pages make up powerful arguments for the continuing extension of what I call the “colonisibility status” of the Bangsamoro people, posing the matter of immediate infringement as a danger.

If we think rationally out of the maddening reactive anti-Moro sentiments generated by opinion-editorials and hardly balanced media coverage of the Government-MILF peace process, it makes me reflect the ‘triumph of diplomacy’ in our era of postmodern states. [N. B. this phrase is taken from the title of a book on how the Moro rulers of the Magindanaw sultanate and the Sulu sultanate had survived the era of treaty-making with Spain, an imperial power, and Holland, a commercial power, of the time and the United States up to 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson enunciated seminal ideas of the right to self determination.] Thus, there is no occasion to speak of Balkanization of this ungovernable part of the region.

Now the Country (el Pais)—Las Islas Filipinas—has just awakened to the depth of the Bangsamoro legitimate GRIEVANCES. Instead of killing the ideas—the CAUSE (or SABAB)—embodied in the MOA-AD, the representatives of Government must face up to the Agreed Text as STATECRAFT. It vindicates the JUSTNESS of the ORIGINAL POSITIONS to fix in constitutional construct. Traditional Moro negri (statehood) ‘earned sovereignty’ is encapsulated by the Republic in its present form and structure as an autonomous entity presently in existence before the family of nations since 1946.

Spokespersons for that Sovereign state called the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) configure their constituencies into a political community. Such an assumption neglects a number of contested constitutional issues before the negotiating table.

What is the “territorial integrity” of the Philippines? When reduced to geographic maps with proper technical coordinates, the fundamental question we formally raised at the GRP-MILF Talks are as follows:

1. Is the present national territorial delimitation based on the Treaty of Paris of 10 December 1898 as corrected by the Treaty of Washington of 7 November 1900 and the treaty between the United States and England on 2 January 1930? Or,

2. Is it the current technical description of the archipelagic doctrine based on R.A. 3046 of 1961, as amended by R.A 5446 of 1968 as a system of straight baselines, its negotiating position on boundary delimitations under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention?

An act of statesmanship is to ‘write sovereignty’ in terms of the ‘associative ties’ envisaged in the MOA-AD. We cannot proceed with a serious debate as if the meaning of sovereignty were stable; for, in reality, not one but various forms of sovereign statehood exist. There’s no confusing justice with legitimacy for workable arrangements here. However, there’s a truncated understanding of sovereignty when 12 June 1898 was fixed by law as an episodic event, following the inauguration of Philippine independence on 4 July 1946. Article 1 of Title I of the Malolos Constitution succinctly reads: “The political association of all the Filipinos constitutes a nation, whose state is called the Philippine Republic”. At that point in time, the Bangsamoro homeland was not a part of the whole Country, for as a matter of historical narrative that Republic invited the Sultan of Sulu and the Sultan of Magindanaw to federate with it.

What matters for us present generation of patriots is that Driion’s half-a-million-worth of PDI ADS highlights the absolute necessity for a change in the first principles of the unitary system. How do we, then, fit inter-subjective understandings of ‘statehood’? Former senate president Drilon, at least, seriously confronts the arenas of debate over the MOA-AD, but why does he not concede to explore the course of constitutionalism beyond the status quo of the existing constitutional order? That is unfortunate, because, what is placed before the Supreme Court is a new “elegant formula” of negotiability to balance between state sovereign authority and the right to self determination.

We need to examine the MOA-AD on the foundation of the formal division of sovereignty that favors “state rights” that have inhered in the Bangsamoro people, whose ancestral homeland was “illegally and immorally annexed” to the Republic without their plebiscitary consent. Peace negotiations are said to be “the war after the war”. Here, too, there is a subtle but in-depth way of looking at what amount of central authority in point of fact is compatible with “what is worth dying for” in the eyes of the majority of Bangsamoros in the contemporary politics of identity.

This is what the MILF-GRP negotiation process is all about: to determine the extent and limits of each side’s commitments. Clearly the premise of peace with your Muslim brothers under the MOA-AD precisely does not endanger but entrench the Country’s sovereignty. The MOA-AD achieves, rather than contemplates the use of naked coercive force, the desirable levers of division, allocation and distribution of powers; in other words, shared and residuary authorities for the Bangsamoro people and the rest of the Filipino people. All I can advance for now as an explanatory note is that the “general welfare clause” of the Philippine Constitution matching the principle of maslaha wal mursalah in Islamic constitutionalism is a catch all framework to accommodate “a medley of associative ties and tiers”.

I will elaborate on these points in a separate commentary on specific provisions of the MOA on AD. If only a healthy environment for serious debate is not drowned out by the intrusion of the mass media into the negotiating process that now encourage the politics of fear at the Metro Manila capital while excessive use of force are applied to villages in Mindanao, we can peaceably settle the conflict in Mindanao.

All the best,

Datu Michael O. Mastura*

* Datu Michael Mastura is a peace negotiator as well as noted lawyer, lecturer, and author. A former Congressman, he represented Maguindanao and Cotabato City from 1987 through 1995. Datu Mastura served as a Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Muslim Affairs, Member of the Board of Regents of the Mindanao State University, Member of the Southern Philippines Development Authority, and Member of the Mindanao Economic Development Council. He was also elected Delegate to the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention. Atty. Michael O. Mastura, is a senior member of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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