The Legality of Mindanao Secession According to Former President’s Legal Counsel

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Former president Rodrigo Duterte’s idea of an independent Mindanao is a topic that has sparked controversy and debate in recent times. Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s former top legal counsel, argues that this idea is not a violation of the Constitution, as it falls under the guarantee of freedom of speech or expression. Panelo’s statement comes in response to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s claim that calls for a separate Mindanao are doomed to fail due to a false premise.

Panelo believes that Marcos has been swayed to adopt a misplaced response to Duterte’s proposal. He finds it amusing how the opposition to the idea of Mindanao secession has generated extreme reactions, ranging from over-reaction to utter absurdity. Panelo suggests that this idea, which was born out of the government’s neglect of Mindanao forty years ago, has resurfaced as a peripheral reaction to the discredited and graft-clothed people’s initiative initiated by power-hungry politicians.

While acknowledging that the idea of Mindanao secession may seem outrageous to some, Panelo argues that any advocacy or concept must undergo a debate before determining its success or failure. He emphasizes that espousing an idea, no matter how outrageous, does not constitute a travesty of the Constitution. It is protected by the guarantee of freedom of speech or expression.

However, Panelo clarifies that what is violative of the Constitution is the advocacy of violence and intimidation to bring down the government, prevent the enforcement of laws, and defy constituted authorities. He asserts that such advocacy does not fall under the crime of sedition or rebellion, which involve rising tumultuously and publicly by means of violence or intimidation against the government.

Panelo, as a lawyer, points out that secession by an overwhelming majority of a population and territory, done peacefully, is sanctioned by international law. He cites examples such as Singapore seceding from Malaysia, Sukovo from Serbia, and East Timor from Indonesia. The principle behind secession is the right to self-determination, where people have the right to choose the kind of government they want and determine their own future.

According to Panelo, the Constitution enshrines the principle that sovereignty resides in the people, and all authority emanates from them. If the sovereign people of Mindanao choose to secede and establish their own state peacefully, they have that inherent right. This is premised on the principle of “Salud populi est supremacy lex” (The welfare of the people is the supreme law).

Panelo concludes by stating that an idea cannot be crushed by threats or intimidation. It can only be supplanted by a better idea. He emphasizes that crushing an idea is not the same as crushing a rebellion or uprising.

In conclusion, Panelo’s commentary sheds light on the controversial idea of Mindanao secession and its relation to the Constitution and international law. While he acknowledges the outrageousness of the proposal to some, he argues for the importance of freedom of speech and expression in discussing such ideas. Ultimately, the decision rests with the people of Mindanao and their right to self-determination.

Source: The Manila Times

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