Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza says the government is open to amending or even rewriting the 1987 Constitution to address the root causes of armed rebel resistance to the government.
“If you really look up what they (rebels) aspire for, you have to open up our Constitution to be able to accommodate them. That is the reality,” Dureza said in his remarks during the recent Konsult Mindanao Peace Conference in Davao City participated in by Lumad, Muslim and Christian leaders from across Mindanao.
He noted that the existing Philippine Constitution has become a “stumbling block” in effectively negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines/Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDFP/CPP-NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) .
“If you talk with the CPP and even the Bangsamoro (MILF, MNLF) they will never admit and agree that they will be circumscribed by a Constitution or by our laws,” Dureza said.
He added that all agreements previously signed with the said major rebel forces made no reference to the Philippine Constitution.
“We always refer to international laws and protocols,” he added.
Dureza explained that, as government negotiators, they have to work within the “confines of the Constitution” in order to allow both parties to continue working on a final peace settlement despite their opposing views and ideologies.
The head of the government peace process however said the desire of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to shift from bicameral and presidential form of government to parliamentary and federal will require constitutional reforms.
It could also open up to other reforms in response to the strong clamor of the president for a more inclusive economic development strategy and direction.
Dureza said the failure of Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law can be attributed to some perceived unconstitutionality of some of the provisions of the proposed bill.
Instead of refilling an improved version of BBL, Dureza said the contentious provisions of the BBL could be included in a proposed new charter.
Amending or writing a new charter could also accelerate the peace negotiations with the NDF, Dureza further added.
The government peace panel is set to leave for Rome in Italy on January 18-25 for the third round of talks with the NDF.
Topping the agenda in the Rome round of talks are the social and economic reforms that the rebels are putting across the negotiating table.
Negotiators from both sides are also expected to tackle and agree on the mechanics and guidelines for a bilateral ceasefire agreement and political and constitutional reforms.
Expand ‘peace tables’
Meanwhile, Dureza underscored the need to further strengthen and expand the existing “peace tables” in order to make them more inclusive and ensure the success of the ongoing peace negotiations with various rebel groups.
Dureza pointed out that the peace or “negotiation tables” with the NDFP, MNLF and MILF are “very small tables as compared to the bigger peace table” which is the general public.
“If you do not get the bigger public first to be informed of what is happening in the peace table[s], and if they don’t understand what we are doing, chances are they will reject what we agree on in [those] negotiations table,” Dureza added.
The two-day event peace conference organized by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) and supported by OPAPP, aimed to, among others, revisit the recommendations made during the Mindanao-wide multisectoral BUC consultations in 2009 as inputs to the ongoing GPH peace negotiations and initiatives and expand a people’s platform for dialogue towards the understanding of historical and socio-political issues in Mindanao.