Column: A secret government

To be published August 5, 2008

Even in some of the world’s best blogs, the comment threads can sometimes get snagged in the bramble of insult. It was therefore with a sense of relief, thickening into joy, that after venturing into “Humanae Vitae” territory two weeks ago I received feedback that was, and continues to be, carefully thought-out and deeply reasoned.

Many of the letters actually took issue with my own stand, but except for one rather flippant remark, all of them sought to engage me, as the phrase goes, in a spirit of fraternal correction. I did not realize it was possible to enjoy being chastened!

I have not quite changed my mind, about what seems to me to be the fundamental flaw in the reasoning behind Pope Paul VI’s epochal encyclical. But I must thank Art Munariz for showing me, in his second letter, that an accusation I made, all too lightly—“And isn’t ‘recourse to the infertile period’ an act of intellectual dishonesty?”—was really quite unnecessary. I still think that the cerebral Paul VI made an error about the use of the infertile period to avoid conception, but now see that it could have been made in good faith, that it was an honest mistake.

I stand corrected.

* * *

“Like” is not a word to describe a reader’s response to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work. His books (from my limited reading, of only his three short novels circulated in the 1970s) are too forbidding, too stark, to like. Admire, yes. Respect, absolutely. But like, no. Despite the monumental scale of his work, he was a miniaturist, like the expansive Tolstoy, like the empathetic Chekhov. But his miniatures were grotesque: Stalin’s gargoyles.

The writer, who may best be remembered as the truth-teller of the Soviet Union’s terrible Gulag, died yesterday, at the age of 89. Like other great writers, his best epitaph can be found in his own work. “A great writer,” he wrote, “is, so to speak, a secret government in his country.”

* * *
The controversial Memorandum of Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may only be, as constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas, SJ says, “just a piece of paper,” but words on paper can have a life of their own. Indeed, another lawyer, Rep. Teddy Locsin, is of the opinion that the agreements included in the document can already take effect, even the most controversial ones. “It is the formal and voluntary dismemberment of the Republic,” Locsin told Inquirer
reporter Norman Bordadora yesterday.

It is possible that Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and the peace negotiators of the national government—inexplicably referred to as the “central government” in the MOA, in a worrying departure from traditional practice—were merely outwitted and out-negotiated. Indeed, portions of the memorandum read as if the MILF’s negotiating position was directly incorporated into the text.

Item (from Concepts and Principles, repeated word for word under Governance). “The Parties concede that the ultimate objective of entrenching the Bangsamoro homeland as a territorial space is to secure their identity and prosperity, to protect their property rights and resources as well as to establish a system of governance suitable and acceptable to them as a distinct dominant people.”

Item (from Governance). “The relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity 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 the comprehensive compact.”

Item (again, from the section on Governance). “In the context of implementing prior and incremental agreements between the GRP [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] 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.”

Entrenchment. Distinct Dominant People. Associative Relationship. The list can be lengthened. It may be that the government’s peace panel thought that incorporating the odd phrase or the resonant code was merely part of the necessary give-and-take of negotiation, but my impression after two readings of the Inquirer’s copy of the draft MOA is that the basic framework is actually not the government’s, but the MILF’s.

We can rewrite Solzhenitsyn. “A bad negotiator and a worse writer can, so to speak, create a
secret government in his own country.”

* * *

The belatedly revealed details of the MOA, an agreement merely preliminary to the final peace pact, come as a setback to those of us who have supported the peace process from the start, and who still believe in the possibility of a lasting peace. The true measure of an honorable peace can be judged, as the Inquirer’s editorial suggested yesterday, by a close look at the Organic Act creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1989 and the peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996.

That the MOA with the MILF bears only a slight (indeed a generic) family resemblance to these and similar documents tells us that this Son of Esperon is, so to speak, illegitimate.

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