The news most discussed right now, of course, is of the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The essential purpose of the MOA is the amendment of the Organic Act establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The main problem with this agreement, like the JPEPA, is the secrecy within which it was negotiated. As with anything unknown or unfamiliar, it has spawned numerous fears ranging from loss of national territory to speculations that it may be used to extend certain term limits. This article will focus on international law principles, particularly those relating to the proposed expansion of territory for the Bangsamoro entity that hopefully could be of some use in framing within the proper context the inevitable (but welcome) public debate on the matter.

In this regard, note must be made of the preambular words of our constitution (“conserve and develop our national patrimony”), which is then to be read within the context of the definition of national territory found in Article I. Article XII, Section 2, is also relevant in that “with the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated” but with the exception that “Congress may provide for the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain.”

The thrust of all the foregoing is to maintain stability and unity of the Filipino way of life, be it Muslim or Christian, and this includes maintaining the integrity of our national territory. In this context, note that the presidential oath contains the mandate to preserve and defend the Constitution and execute our laws. The significance of all this is highlighted by the fact that a violation of any of the foregoing could be considered an impeachable offense.

Another thing that must be emphasized, particularly when read in the context of news that flags of independence have been waived by the MILF, is that there IS NO JUSTIFICATION UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW FOR THE CREATION OF A SEPARATE LEGAL ENTITY. What is really disturbing here is the impression circulated by some parties that the right to “self-determination” could serve as the basis for creating (or eventually creating) such a separate entity and that by doing so we are being a “good international citizen” complying with “modern interpretations” of international law. This is complete crap. If a separate Moro republic is created, it is simply because we allowed it and recognized it for some inexplicable reason. There is simply no international law that requires or compels the Philippines to agree to a separate entity carved from its national territory.

Incidentally, due to the nature of international law, I urge everybody to take care in the use of words and avoid terms like “war” (admittedly an outmoded concept), “armed conflict”, “rebellion”, “belligerency”, and “self-determination”, or employ any action (like giving the appearance of State to State discussions) that even hints at the possibility that the situation in the South is more than a mere internal or domestic matter for which only domestic laws are applicable and the constitution is paramount.

In any event, as I wrote previously, the right to self-determination applies only with regard to colonial peoples. It is essentially a right against colonialism and foreign military occupation. IT DOES NOT GIVE LICENSE TO SECESSSION. It is well worth reiterating, again and again if need be, that the right to self-determination does not allow a minority group to secede and become an independent State.

This right to self-determination could be found in the United Nations Charter, the two 1966 Covenants of Human Rights, several General Assembly Resolutions, such as GAR 2625, as well as GAR 1514 of 1960 (or The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Territories and Peoples). It must be emphasized that the latter Resolution pointedly states: “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Indeed, insofar as cultural, religious or ethnic minorities are concerned, no general rights under the ambit of self-determination are actually applicable to them. International law justly recognizes (even if our government doesn’t) that the demands of political stability and territorial integrity of States are simply too important.

The maintenance, therefore, of the Philippine’s territorial integrity takes priority over any right, whether it be collective or individual, including those claimed under self-determination. As succinctly put by former UN Secretary General U Thant: “The United Nations has never accepted and does not accept and I do not believe it will ever accept the principle of secession of a part of a Member State.”

We have to remember that so many of our forefathers sacrificed their lives just so that every inch of this land will be ours. Everybody wants peace but for the Philippines in this instance the price is just too high to pay.