Last of two parts
The San Beda Graduate School of Law symposium on constitutional issues in the Bangsamoro Agreements wasn’t all strictly legal, as discussed in the first part of this article last Wednesday, May 21. Besides presentations on possibly unconstitutional provisions made by former Supreme Court justice Adolfo Azcuna and former University of the Philippines law dean Merlin Magallona, other speakers at the May 17 forum focused on broad principles, not legalities.
That alternative perspective seemed to argue that the Bangsamoro pact should not pay attention to the Constitution alone. Rather, there must also be equal, if not greater importance given to addressing historical and social injustice against Muslims, in the overarching effort to achieve lasting peace. In sum, the letter of the law may need to yield in some respects to the demands of justice and harmony.
That seemed to be where former senator Rene Saguisag, a leading constitutionalist, and another UP law dean, Pacifico Agabin, were coming from.
Agabin had lawyered for an opponent of the 2008 MOA-AD. He then argued that the memorandum between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) contained unconstitutional provisions for a substate. But at San Beda, Agabin expressed a more understanding, if not supportive view of Muslim aspirations toward self-determination and the righting of past wrongs.
He said prejudice against Muslims began not with Spanish colonization in the 16th Century, but with the 1492 Spanish conquest of Granada city-state, the last bastion of Islam in Western Europe. Since then, Christians had labeled and derided Muslims as Moors or Moros, a pejorative carried all the way to the Philippine colony.
Muslim claims are ‘not legally groundless’
Comparing past and present maps of Muslim areas in the country, Agabin pointed out that the envisioned Bangsamoro territory did not include all pre-Hispanic places where Islam had adherents, including Manila under Rajah Sulaiman. The former law dean also recalled that Sulu sultans conducted trade and foreign relations with other countries, including China.
So do these centuries-old issues take precedence over the Constitution? In fact, Agabin explained, the fundamental law recognizes historical titles and factors. Hence, Bangsamoro territorial claims based on past areas of Muslim settlement “are not legally groundless.”
Moreover, Muslims contend that their interests and sentiments were not taken into account in writing the charter. Nor do they feel part of the Filipino nation, since they were never subjugated and incorporated into the colony named after King Philip II of Spain. So why should they submit to the Philippine Constitution?
As for Muslim violence from colonial times until the MILF insurrection, Agabin said that are just half the story. “We should not ignore violence by Spain and the US” against Muslims in Mindanao and other islands. He then quoted African anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon, who had declared that violence was part of decolonization.
Former senator Rene Saguisag also spoke of addressing longstanding prejudices with “a Filipino solution.” He cited successful peace efforts in Northern Ireland and Spain’s Basque region. Saguisag added that just as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was, in President Aquino’s view, “a failed experiment,” the Bangsamoro is also an experiment.
The Harvard and San Beda law graduate also urged “political creativity,” adding: “We hope Filipinos would no longer hurt one another. We are one family, and we must find a way to stay united. There is no going back. We can only go forward.”
A Muslim perspective
UP Institute of Islamic Studies Dean Julkipli Wadi further highlighted the clash between state sovereignty, the principle underpinning the Constitution’s supremacy, and the Muslim quest for self-determination, resisting subservience to the Philippine state till the present day.
With these contending principles of sovereignty and self-determination, Wadi expected problems over constitutionally contentious provisions of the Bangsamoro Agreements. Like Saguisag, Wadi saw Bangsamoro as an experiment like other initiatives by various central governments to address Muslim concerns, from colonial bodies and the ARMM.
Like any experiment, Bangsamoro can fail, too. In the conduct of autonomous governance, Wadi pointed out, there may be conflicts. What if the regional assembly chooses a leader unacceptable to the Palace? How would disputes between the central government and Bangsamoro be resolved—by the Supreme Court or a special panel?
And that’s assuming no further demands from Bangsamoro. Wadi said the MILF can stir up Muslim sentiments for even more self-rule. The Islamic studies dean wondered if the Front could maintain its clout against traditional political blocs entrenched for decades with immense wealth and broad power bases. But that may precisely drive the MILF to play the Moro nationalist card, projecting itself as the true advocate of Muslim interests.
Wadi ended by noting “divide and rule tactics” of working with one faction while setting aside the other—an apparent reference to the government’s support for the MILF and marginalization of the Moro National Liberation Front. This will not lead to lasting peace, said the dean, since the latter may feel the need to fight again (as the MNLF did in its Zamboanga City siege last year). Hence, Wadi called for “an inclusive peace process.”
The imperative: Justice for Muslims
Two reactors, Philippine Association of Law Schools executive director Tanya Karina Lat and St. Louis University law vice-dean Lulu Reyes, also stressed the imperative to address centuries of injustice. Ateneo professor Lat echoed Dean Agabin’s lament over excesses since Christian Europe’s conflict with Islam. She also deplored the “legalized land-grabbing” by Christian settlers in Muslim areas, which reduced Moros to 19 percent of the population from 75 percent in Mindanao.
Vice-Dean Reyes and another reactor, peace process consultant Pablito Sanidad, both reiterated Agabin’s opposition to imposing a Constitution that Muslims never accepted. Reyes also called for “negotiations between equals” rather than a superior central government with the subordinate Bangsamoro.
So which will take precedence—the fundamental law or the fundamental right to justice and self-determination? Forum host Fr. Rahnilio Aquino argued: “The law operates on constructs like sovereignty. We can change constructs.”
Former High Court justice Azcuna, citing the Martens principle in international law, said in closing the forum: “If there are conflicts in law, find a solution that will admit as much humanity as possible.”
But all that is academic. It’s now up to Congress and the courts how far the Bangsamoro Agreements will go.