August 2008 Archives
Jose Ma. Montelibano
THEY SAY that when anxiety deepens, people pray more and the sales of candles increase. They say when people are depressed, people drink more and the sales of liquor go up. Frankly, I have not seen statistics to prove these assertions, but I have not heard much argument to the contrary either. Let me proceed, therefore, assuming that there is truth to them, enough to stimulate our minds to reflective, if not critical, thinking.
The agitation caused by the proposed Bangsamoro Judicial Entity (BJE) brings to fore old wounds which have never healed well. The heart of the controversy is not the terms in the proposed agreement but in the hearts of prejudice and historical animosity. After a thousand years when conflict first broke out between Christians and Moors in North Africa and Iberia, a great distrust has grown between three religions that all came from Abraham -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
On the surface, the BJE controversy covers the extent of what is considered "ancestral domain" and the resources therein. The issue is not only where and what, but who controls where and what. Glaringly, the chasm between Christian and Muslim relationship predicates everything, as though a concession for one is a defeat of the other. It is almost as though that one expects the other to remain an enemy despite a negotiated agreement.
When two groups are friends to each other, the blessings and victories of one are cheered on by the other. In the last 100 years, Filipinos have cheered victories of the United States against its enemies -- Germany, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and some more in Africa and the old Eastern Europe. When the opposite is true, Filipinos have mourned every defeat of the United States.
Muslims around the world may cheer the BJE as a victory of Filipino Muslims, which means that the BJE is a defeat of Filipino Christians. That is what partisanship and prejudice do to a spat between brothers -- make wounds fester rather than heal them. And there is enough ill will going around by this time between people of the same blood and country that makes it easy for vested interests to play one against the other.
The belligerent rhetoric that has dominated the air waves and print media stokes the resentment that is all so easily awaiting to be activated. Thank goodness that not everyone has jumped into the bandwagon of mindless drumbeating for war. Thank goodness that something deeper, like common blood, country and culture, can sometimes rise above the din of fear and anger and attempt to make these heard and seen.
In the midst of great uncertainty in an ugly environment polluted by corruption, poverty and violence, many Filipinos have turned to religion, turned to gambling, turned to fantasizing. Escapism has been the preference of people who cannot take the stark horror of daily societal life, the tens of millions of poor Filipinos who live from one meal to another. And leaders from the Church, from the State, from Business and Media have not come together to understand the deterioration of a national psyche and the corruption of a national soul -- then work together to counter the perversion of a beautiful people and culture.
Is it, then, a search for Utopia that I am caught up with? Is it Utopian to tie white ribbons for peace while many others scream for war? Is it Utopian to dream of a society where every human being is equal in worth and dignity, where each one works diligently and produces according to his or her talent, where the value of good relationships outweigh the value of money?
Was it Utopian when the early Christian communities shared everything with one another and no one was in want? Is it Utopian to believe that, indeed, these early Christians did exist and that, indeed, a lifestyle of caring and sharing is possible?
May I quote Oscar Wilde when he tried to describe Utopia:
"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias."
It seems, then, that Utopia becomes an obsession when the day grows dark, when the night is chilly and empty, when the air is heavy and laughter disappears, when foreboding penetrates even the most optimistic of people. Perhaps, the demand for Utopia has wormed itself into the creative minds of artists, writers, performers and directors responsible for TV shows like Dyosa, Dyesebel, and Darna.
On the social front, the Gawad Kalinga movement is anchored on cultural and spiritual values like bayanihan, nobility and sacrifice, heroism and a vision that has in its center the presence of God and love of country. Its high-profile work has not prevented Gawad Kalinga from quietly but bravely establishing its presence and work in many areas considered delicate because of their history of conflict and violence. Its formula is simple: Filipinos are first brothers and sisters, before being government or anti-government, before being Left or Right, before being Christians and Muslims. Its plea is, hold the line for peace, and tie white ribbons anywhere and everywhere as peace symbols.
How many other individuals and groups have been there before Gawad Kalinga and kept Utopia in their hearts and have never tired of sharing it at our worst moments? How many managed to set aside personal comfort and convenience in order to pursue and promote the truth, in order to feed and clothe the needy, in order to keep alive hope and aspirations in the hearts of those bludgeoned by despair?
There must be more and more among us who will defend Utopia and ensure its perpetuity. There must be the warriors whose prowess for war is overshadowed by their capacity for nobility and virtue. There must be Filipinos who have become victorious in other lands who must come home with their sons and daughters to rescue those they left behind and help them build their Utopia.
4. The relationship between the Central Government and the BJE shall be associative characterized by shared authority and responsibility with a structure of governance based on executive, legislative, judicial and administrative institutions with defined powers and functions in a Comprehensive Compact. A period of transition shall be established in a Comprehensive Compact specifying the relationship between the Central Government and the BJE. 5. In the context of implementing prior and incremental agreements between the GRP and MILF, it is the joint understanding of the Parties that the term ‘entrenchment’ means, for the purposes of giving effect to this transitory provision, the creation of a process of institution building to exercise shared authority over territory and defined functions of associative character.Shared authority and responsibility connote “shared sovereignty.” If sovereignty is to be shared by the Central Government and the BJE, then they are necessarily not independent and separate from each other. The MOA-AD speaks of a transition, presumably to what would be the final political status of the BJE, but what this might be is still subject to negotiations of the Comprehensive Compact. Ordinarily, there are three general options for self-determination, or more precisely for a Non-Self Governing Territory to reach a full measure of self-government, indicated in UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV) of 1960 (admittedly quite dated):
1.Emergence as a sovereign independent State; 2.Free association with an independent State; or 3.Integration with an independent State.In the MOA-AD at least, the choice for the BJE appears to be the “free association” option, not the “sovereign independent State” option. The “integration” option is basically what the Bangsamoro people have had under the Republic of the Philippines. Note how the autonomy (which is not only in the form of the ARMM) and federalism options are not mentioned here, which doesn’t mean these are not viable options. Both the GRP and MILF are well aware, in particular, of the federalism option but the concept they preferred to use for the BJE, at least for the period of transition, was an “associative relationship.” Apart from “shared authority and functions,” the specifics of this relationship have yet to be determined in the Comprehensive Compact. Parenthetically, some have questioned the terminology “Central Government,” saying this is proper only for a federal set-up. But it was the terminology used in the1976 Tripoli Agreement, one of the terms of reference (TOR) for the MOA-AD. And the mention in that TOR of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement, Republic Acts Nos. 6734, 9054 and 8371 are in fact indications of a non-independence option in the MOA-AD. These legal instruments in turn make their own references to the Philippine Constitution (Attention those looking for something along this line). Aside from the provisions of the MOA-AD, UNGA Resolution 1541 contains these concepts or principles about free association, so that we might have some idea of this self-determination arrangement short of independence:
(a) Free association should be the result of a free and voluntary choice by the peoples of the territory concerned expressed through informed and democratic processes. It should be one which respects the individuality and the cultural characteristics of the territory and its peoples, and retains for the peoples of the territory which is associated with an independent State the freedom to modify the status of that territory through the expression of their will by democratic means and through constitutional processes. (b) The associated territory should have the right to determine its internal constitution without outside interference, in accordance with due constitutional processes and the freely expressed wishes of the people. This does not preclude consultations as appropriate or necessary under the terms of the free association agreed upon.So, much depends really on “the terms of the free association agreed upon.” This precisely is what the GRP and MILF are in the process of doing, with such terms to be found in the MOA-AD and more importantly for finality and detail, the Comprehensive Compact. We do not have any more space here to discuss examples of free association, and can only mention a few associated states of the U.S. which are of some familiarity to Filipinos: the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935-46; the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands; Puerto Rico and Northern Mariana Islands. Some of these later emerged as a sovereign independent State (notably the Philippines), others stayed as associated states of the U.S. All of them, even non-independent states like Puerto Rico, can participate as such in the Olympics, which is really the truer “United Nations.” To sum up, the BJE under the MOA-AD is neither independent nor a full-fledged state. Given “shared authority and responsibility,” it may be safer to refer to it as a “semi-state” or “quasi-state.” Being sub-national in its territory, we might also call it a “sub-state.” This might jibe with the general notion that free associated states are usually smaller minor partners to larger major partners, e.g. an existing independent State or the former colonial power. But again, the terms of the free association agreed upon can provide for a more equitable relationship between peoples or nations which are ideally sovereign equals. The MOA-AD seems to be going in this direction, which is just as well for redressing historical grievances and imbalances. Perhaps, a best effort at an “associative relationship” should be made and be given a chance -- before all concerned consider other options.