Let me be very clear. There is no substitute to peace. Mindanao has been the theater of war since the Spaniards came to our shores. It is time for the people of Mindanao to finally live in an area rid of conflict and in peace. So what is the latest proposal engineered to bring peace to the war-ridden island? The Moro Islamic National liberation Front has finally made it clear. They want a state within a state (or a sub-state). According to its Web site, “The MILF’s formula to solve the Moro Question in Mindanao is very simple … Let the Moros run their affairs. Let them decide their own destiny. Let them succeed or self-destruct. Gone [are] the days when the government in Manila designed everything for them. The most important element here is self-determination … This is a right that cannot be foreclosed by any agreement or [be] the subject of negotiation.” First, what is this right to self-determination? It is a people’s right to “determine their political future and freely to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Under current practice, it is a right of a people to choose between independence, as well as self-government, local autonomy, merger, association or some other forms of participation in government. In other words, it is not limited to creating an independent state, contrary to what many believe. What are the limitations by which the MILF may be accorded this right? Well, in nullifying the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, a pact also intended to finally achieve peace during the Arroyo administration, the Supreme Court ruled that any agreement with the MILF should be within the confines of our Constitution. Said the Court: “MOA-AD cannot be reconciled with the present Constitution and laws. Not only its specific provisions but the very concept underlying them, namely, the associative relationship envisioned between the GRP and the [Bangsamoro Juridical E Entity] are unconstitutional, for the concept presupposes that the associated entity is a state and implies that the same is on its way to independence.” Addressing the issue of the need to amend the Constitution to give effect to the agreement, the court declared: “Moreover, it virtually guarantees that the necessary amendments to the Constitution and the laws will eventually be put in place. Neither the GRP Peace Panel nor the President herself is authorized to make such a guarantee”. With these as guidelines, how do we assess the latest proposal of the MILF? Quite frankly, I think the latest proposal, if assented to by President Benigno Aquino III, may suffer the same fate as the earlier agreement on ancestral domain. This is because what the MILF proposes goes beyond the grant of full autonomy that Congress may provide by law. In their own words, they want a “sub-state within a state”. This is an independent state within a federal form of government. Ours currently is a unitary form of government . In Basco et al vs. PAGCOR, the Court explained that in our system of government, “local governments can only be an intra sovereign subdivision of one sovereign nation, it cannot be an imperium in imperio. Local government in such a system can only mean a measure of decentralization of the function of government.” A federal system of government, on the other hand, is where independent states share sovereignty with the central government. Under this system, the states comprising the federation have an existence and perform functions that cannot be unilaterally changed by the central government. A federal system of government is clearly what the MILF wants under its concept of a “sub-state within a state”. There is nothing wrong with this except that as it currently stands, it cannot be done without amending the 1987 Constitution. Yes, there are procedures for this, either through a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly, or through a people’s initiative. But as stressed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno in his separate opinion : “there is no power nor is there any right to violate the Constitution on the part of any official of government. No one can claim he has a blank check to violate the Constitution in advance and the privilege to cure the violation later through amendment of its provisions. Respondents’ thesis of violate now, validate later makes a burlesque of the Constitution.” Mr. President, take heed.