Lawyers condemn use of MOA and federalism to justify charter change

Aug. 26, 2008

Now it is very clear. The solicitor general’s motion informing the Supreme Court of the Arroyo government’s decision not to sign the MOA with the MILF “due to changed circumstances” is one more proof that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo only used the MOA as a means to launch her campaign for charter change. Now that she has skillfully shifted to federalism in justifying the opening up of the Constitution for amendments, she can officially withdraw from signing the MOA. From “MOA to achieve peace” President Arroyo has now called for “federalism to achieve peace”. Achieving peace, however, was never the aim of President Arroyo. Her intention has been mainly to prolong her stay in power after 2010 by deleting in the constitution that provision in Article VII, Section 4 that limits her to only one term.

But the cost of President Arroyo’s current adventurism is the breakout of war in Mindanao causing death and destruction in the region. Without condoning the abuses of MILF commanders Umbra Kato and Abdulah Macapaar alias commander Bravo, President Arroyo is primarily accountable for the deaths of civilians in Mindanao for having triggered the ongoing conflict. The indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombings of villages by government forces pose as threats, at the very least, on the lives of civilians and constitutes a violation of Article 13 (2) of Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions that “civilian population shall not be the object of attack”. Military objectives are limited by the Geneva Convention to “those which are by their nature, location or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction offers a definite military advantage”. Indiscriminate bombings of villages where MILF forces are possibly located cannot be clear military objectives. Since the AFP aerial and artillery bombings are indiscriminate it could cause death or injury on civilians who are forced to flee in fear.

Furthermore, the recent government action of arming civilians in barangays is not only an abdication of the government’s duty to protect civilians, but will also open the civilians to attacks from well armed MILF forces. Arming civilians will take them out of the status of protected persons under international humanitarian law as specified in Article 13 of Protocol II of Geneva Conventions which states that: “Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by the (Conventions), unless and for such time as they take part in the hostilities.”

The violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Arroyo government, however, does not justify the acts of atrocities committed of Commander Kato and Commander Bravo of the MILF. The killing of civilians and burning of villages are attacks on persons protected by the Geneva Conventions. Article 4 of Protocol II states that ” persons who do not take a direct part in the hostilities x x x are entitled to respect for their person”. Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Civilians prohibit “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” of civilians. Commanders Kato and Bravo and others responsible for the violation of international humanitarian law must, therefore, be held accountable for their acts.

Now that President Arroyo’s objective, that of using federalism as a means to take out constitutional restrictions to her term extension, is exposed, the battle against charter change must be fully engaged. Members of the legal profession must resist moves to amend the Constitution for the purpose of prolonging President Arroyo in power. There will never be peace under President Arroyo whose reign in office is marked by massive graft and corruption, human rights violations and electoral fraud. In fact, there will never be a federal government under President Arroyo whose lust for power will in the end preempt any serious move to take away the powers of a powerful president in a unitary state. In the same way that she has withdrawn support for the MOA, President Arroyo could withdraw support for federalism once she has achieved her aims. The National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) urges senator Aquilino Pimentel and other opposition senators to withdraw support for the senate resolution to amend the constitution to attain a federal state. The move of congressman Rufus Rodriguez to withdraw his resolution calling for charter change is a good start and should be followed by all those who do not want to be used by President Arroyo to perpetuate herself in power. We also call for an end to the ongoing hostilities between MILF forces and the AFP in Mindanao and the resumption of peace negotiations and the holding of all those who violated human rights and international humanitarian law to be held to account for their crimes.

For reference : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares

Secretary General


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