1. The "breakdown" of peace negotiations is truly disturbing. But it is a possibility that I had always, kept in mind. The reason? The very reason for the "breakdown" as reported by the MILF and given some clarification by the GRP—namely the Philippine Constitution. In the past two years I have asked myself the question: How will the GRP understand the problem of ancestral domain? The answer that always comes to my mind—within the framework of the Constitution. After all, the Executive Branch has to have the Legislative Branch approve an "agreement" reached with the MILF. And on what basis will Congress approve the agreement? On the basis of the Constitution. Thus, the GRP is stuck with what Chairman Murad of the MILF describes very aptly as "in the box" mentality. But I guess this basic preoccupation with the Constitution is part of the democratic process. Fundamentally then, no matter who is at the helm of the GRP (FVR, Erap, Arroyo or her successor) would inevitably have to grapple with that issue. It is not a matter of personalities as some critics seem to think. It is a matter of one normative document for a democracy – a Constitution.
2. On the other hand, how does the MILF look at the issue of ancestral domain? Naturally on the basis of historical and current developments. The injection of current history into the issue of territory is one of the things I admired in the vision of the late Chairman Salamat. His was a vision of a Bangsamoro homeland blended with realism. But even the use of current historical developments could certainly go against the framework that the GRP has to use. Hence such problems as territorial contiguity.
3. I would not be surprised if the discussion on charter change would take on an added issue—the Constitution and the concept of ancestral domain in the light of peace negotiations and in the light of historical and current developments regarding territories.
4. What is certainly needed by both sides is what Chairman Murad has also so aptly described as "creativity" in resolving the issue. I believe this "creative" way is incumbent on BOTH parties. Hence a pause in the negotiations (not necessarily a breakdown) is imperative—for the negotiators to go back to their principals and ask the question: How can our group more creatively push the discussion forward and not remain "in the box" of our set perspective and position? The answer I dare say is a converging move towards a middle ground, which is only arrived at by way of a reciprocal "give and take" dynamic. This is why the peace talks are called "negotiations."
5. The views of a third party—constituted by civil society—could put some light on the present impasse. Somewhere out there are creative ideas to help both sides get out of the box. Could such a group come together to provide a breakthrough?
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato