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Año and Teodoro’s witless knee-jerk press blabbers must be quelled

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A FEW friends abroad, mostly scholars and Philippine watchers, emailed me last week to ask: “Are things there getting really bad?” They were mainly referring to National Security Adviser Eduardo Año’s screaming statement, bannered by several media outlets: “Any secession move to be met with force.”

Not to be outdone, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said: “The military will use its forces to quell and stop any and all attempts to dismember the Republic.”

It is these two officials’ blabbering that should be quelled. They were brainlessly reacting to former president Rodrigo Duterte’s statements at a sparsely attended, little-reported press conference in Davao City last week about “regrouping” Mindanao leaders led by former House speaker and current Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez to push for what has been called the “Mindanao initiative.”

Mainstream newspapers didn’t even report the incident. They only reported Año, President Marcos and Teodoro’s reactions to Duterte’s statements, thereby making it a burning issue. I myself wasn’t aware of Duterte’s secessionist statements until I read our officials’ panicky reactions to them.

It was solely a small Davao newspaper that reported Duterte’s proposal, as the press conference was in that city: “Though he did not clearly explain whether it is a political party or a movement, the Mindanao initiative’s purpose is for the island of Mindanao to secede from the Republic of the Philippines.”

Newspaper headlines: Seriously, it is that serious?

Año and Teodoro should profusely apologize to Duterte. The former president didn’t at all claim it would be a forced, or armed secession and went at length to note the difficult legal process required for Mindanao to secede. “I think before [submitting it to the] UN [sic] where you would gather their signatures from all sorts in Mindanao, mag-pirma, verified, under oath in the presence of so many people, we sign that we want to separate. There is such a thing as a body that would hear your petition to secede, and explain that. Mag-survey sila, mag-plebisito, kung manalo (Let them do the survey then have a plebiscite, if we win).”

Signature

I think it is another of Duterte’s “signature” statements, made to shock to make a point, even as he knows the proposal is impossible or illegal to undertake: Mindanao is so neglected by the central government it might as well be an independent nation.

Having spent his professional life in the Army, Año saw blood. When he read the word “secession,” he immediately thought Duterte was proposing the kind of Muslim secessionist movements from the 1970s to the 1980s that the military fought against and suffered huge casualties from. That may be understandable, but for him to announce to the world that “any secession move will be met by force” is wrong.

Contrary to President Marcos’ claim that it is a grave violation of the Constitution’s Article II, the relevant provision referring to the military’s goal to secure the “integrity of the national territory” does not automatically order it to use force to stop secessionist movements. The Constitution adheres to the international law principle of self-determination, which a Mindanao secessionist movement could invoke to justify its separation from the rest of the country.

At any rate, this issue needs to be decided by the Supreme Court, as government had invoked neither the 1935, 1973, nor 1987 Constitutions to justify the military’s war against the two most important secessionist movements, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Bloodless

Duterte claimed that a bloodless precedent for Mindanao’s separation was Singapore’s secession from the Federation of Malaysia. What he wasn’t informed about though was that Malaysia and Singapore both wanted the island state to leave the federation because of many irreconcilable differences in policies. The Malaysian prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had to ask his party to enact a bill in parliament to amend the Constitution to allow Singapore to leave the Malaysian federation and become a separate state.

I would bet if this secession issue reaches the Supreme Court it will require the secessionists to seek an amendment to the Constitution to allow Mindanao to secede from the Philippines.

In short, Duterte’s secessionist proposal is wracked by so many legal and constitutional issues, and I don’t think the former president and the former speaker Alvarez ever thought that for Mindanao’s future, they might have to head for the hills and engage in armed struggle to lead a secessionist movement, as the MNLF and MILF secessionist leaders did.

However, Duterte’s statements on the secessionist idea certainly brought attention again to the central government’s neglect of Mindanao, in the way his “war on drugs” finally brought attention to that growing scourge (which reports say has returned with a vengeance). That’s it, nothing more.

But as usual — e.g., in the case of our disputes with China in the South China Sea — the national security adviser and the defense secretary didn’t first bother to study the issues. It is only the President who, as commander in chief, can call on the military through the Armed Forces chief of staff to go after a secessionist movement.

Adviser

Neither the national security adviser nor the defense secretary (which, contrary to the popular view, is merely a staff position) has the authority to do so; they have no authority to comment even remotely on this issue. Except for their bodyguards, neither one has command of any military unit. They are, in short, mere staff officials of the President.

Yet both, in fact, have had the habit of blabbering nonsense and without authority on important issues, as in their similar bellicose statements against China that, as in the case of the secessionist movement, the “military will use force to defend Philippine territory” that China has allegedly been grabbing. Only the President or the foreign affairs secretary he authorizes can make statements over our dispute with China.

Año should emulate the most effective national security adviser ever — President Ramos’ Jose Almonte who never, or very rarely, was quoted in the press, as he grasped well his role as the president’s last-stop source of meticulously evaluated source of information and not a grandstander.

The effect of Año and Teodoro’s statements that any secession movement “will be met by force” was a message to the world, that there is already an ongoing armed secession movement or at least the likelihood that this will soon emerge since Duterte, a very popular former president, is leading it, who can also enlist in his crusade his daughter, Vice President Sara, who got more votes in the 2022 elections than President Marcos.

Throw in the following: The serious accusations over drug abuse thrown against each other by former allies Duterte and Marcos; the conflict between the House of Representatives and the Senate over the rushed attempt to change the Constitution; the viral video of the first lady snubbing the vice president at the farewell line at the airport tarmac; the 18 percent drop in foreign investments inflow in the January to October 2023 period — what image of the country would foreign, or even local investors, have?

This administration has been shooting itself in the foot.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. TOTAL AMBOY DEATH

    LOL the Amboy geezers in government can’t even stop tax evaders and drug smuggling!

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