Column: On peace, we are all experts

Published on August 19, 2008

Last week, I found myself in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, attending a thrilling forum on population and development hosted under the auspices of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. Afterwards, I met with a group of earnest Development Communication majors, to talk shop about journalism. While waiting for the students to arrive from another building, I loitered in the corridors, and saw, posted on one bulletin board, an open letter written by veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo. Now editor in chief of SunStar Cagayan de Oro, Gallardo had written the letter to express his frustration over national media coverage of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain.

I was not able to take notes, and I have not been able to find the letter online. But I do wish to respond to one point I remember being raised in the letter. I share many of Gallardo’s concerns, but one complaint about Manila-centric media (it may well have been an aside) I found unsympathetic. It ran like this: Now that the contents of the MOA had been divulged, everybody (the Manila-based pundit class especially) suddenly seems to be an expert on Mindanao and on the peace process.

I think I see what he means; our profession, such as it is, is vulnerable to the perils of parachute journalism and the instant commentary. But if what he meant is that some opinions on the MOA fiasco are more privileged than others, then following the implications of his thought to their extreme but logical conclusion, we would have to conclude that Hermogenes Esperon, the new peace adviser, should have the last say on the issue. I doubt if Gallardo will accept that conclusion; he will certainly not abide by it.

But that is the consequence of his notion that, on such a basic and decidedly political issue as peace in Mindanao, we should leave the discourse to the "real" experts.

On peace, everybody is an expert. That is to say, everyone’s opinion matters.

* * *

Camilo “Bong” Montesa, the legal counsel of the government peace panel, divides the opposition to the MOA on the ancestral domain aspect into two, and just two: Those who see it as a ploy to extend President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s hold on power (his example: the likes of Ging Deles), and those who see it as unconstitutional (the likes of Frank Drilon). In his blog, at bongmontesa.wordpress.com, he adds the caveat that “of course, there are those who belong to both types.”

But are there in fact only two kinds of opposition to the MOA? How about those who oppose the MOA not because of substance but because of process? Montesa notes, correctly, that the Constitution allows itself to be changed. But he assumes that either the MOA meets this standard or it doesn’t matter (if I can’t tell one from the other, that’s partly because Montesa in his blog fudges the difference between unconstitutional and extra-constitutional).

How about those who find some provisions in the MOA objectionable, others unremarkable, and a few a true breakthrough? And how about those who oppose the MOA because they will accept a treaty with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front only on terms approaching surrender? These are the people one can no longer reason with, and yet, at least as the issue has taken shape today, they are the ones whose voices are leading the discussion.

* * *

As it stands, support for the MOA within the administration is less than solid. Consider what the governors of Mindanao provinces said, after Cabinet officials met with them in Cagayan de Oro. News reports described the group of 16 provincial governors (plus two vice governors) as backing the MOA, even using quotes from the statement they issued. The same reports also said Misamis Occidental Gov. Leo Ocampos, president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, had distributed copies of the statement, characterized as a “collective endorsement” of the MOA.

In fact, a closer look at the statement, “Working for a Just and Lasting Peace,” finds no endorsement of the MOA itself. There is an illusion of support, but in reality the governors merely 1) reiterated their commitment to “peace and progress,” 2) affirmed their full support for “the peace process and the efforts of the GRP  Peace Panel,” and 3) appealed to the Supreme Court “to resolve the issues related to the MOA-AD with dispatch.” This last declaration is not the language of true believers; indeed, nowhere in the statement can we find the syntax of outright endorsement.

Another declaration (the fifth of a total of eight) is a slap in the face of the government peace panel, which stands accused of a conspiratorial lack of transparency and consultation. The governors enjoined “the GRP Peace Panel to conduct wider and comprehensive consultations with local government units (LGUs) to help resolve issues that would affect the peace process in Mindanao.”

The Aug. 14 statement thus seems to me to be classic politicians’ rhetoric: It is meant more to conceal (in this case, the lack of real support for the MOA as it stands) rather than to reveal.

* * *

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro did the unthinkable in 2003 when he was still a congressman; after the bid he masterminded to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide ended in failure, he resigned as leader of the political party Nationalist People’s Coalition. I hope something of the same “delicadeza”  will prompt this lawyer who commands both the military and his Uncle Danding Cojuangco’s loyalty to tell the President: Maybe it is best not to compromise the Supreme Court any further; renegotiate the MOA.

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