The MOA-AD: A genuine effort for Peace in Mindanao, or a ploy for GMA’s survival?

RMP-M, Revolutionary Worker’s Party-Mindanao, section of the Fourth International (FI)

Tuesday 26 August 2008 by Antoine

In the aftermath of Typhoon Frank when affected communities were barely able to return to their homes the situation in Central Mindanao had been liken to a volcano that was about to erupt in late June. Aside from the natural disaster, like other citizens nationwide, the Mindanao populace was also drowning in the twin crisis of food shortage and the continued soaring of oil prices. Local troops of the MILF have made their presence felt in several areas to push the snail pace of the peace negotiations between the GRP-MILF.

When exploratory talks were finally made by both parties, dangers still lurked that the talks could break down especially that the government side is taking a one step forward- two step-backward , seeming to test the capacity of the MILF for patience. In fact, the talks nearly broke down a couple of days before the State of the Nation Address of GMA. Without much to show for her constantly contested legitimacy of her presidency, the peace process in Mindanao is packaged to be her legacy for her term and the highlight of her state report, thus, the initialing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was made with haste the day before her State of the Nation Address (SONA). The final signing of the same was set on August 5, 2008.

Prior to the SONA, tensions have again risen as clashes again erupted between local MILF troops and Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). This was attributed to speculations and assumptions regarding the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) which basically defines the concept, territory, governance and principles of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Employing Divide and Rule Tactics

Local political leaders especially in North Cotabato have been quite adamant to know the content of the MoA and already raising their protest at being made part of the Bangsamoro homeland without prior consultation. The insecurity was so much that in a meeting with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process General Hermogenes Esperon, the Mayor of Aleosan despite having many constituents suffering from the effects of typhoon Frank and not yet able to recover from the calamity, requested weapons from the government instead of food supplies. Accordingly, Gen. Esperon denied the said request saying that where would the government get the budget for such. Having been denied their request, a few local government officials in North Cotabato started to encourage more Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) trainings so that civilians could access arms.

The tension heightened when the MOA-AD was initialed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contrary to some expectations that it would effectively lessened if not altogether stopped the skirmishes. Local politicians, foremost of whom is Vice Governor Manuel Piñol of North Cotabato, Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City and joining them later Lawrence Cruz of Iligan City, went public in assailing the non-disclosed contents of the MoA especially on the issue of territory as it includes North Cotabato, Zamboanga City and Iligan City in the expansion areas. As his group challenged the government and MILF to make the talks transparent, they brought the issue to the Supreme Court. The highest court responded in their favor on August 4, 2008, a day before the formal signing of the MoA in Kuala Lumpur and issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), effectively stalling the signing of the MoA.

Calculated Moves

GMA even in a visit to Mindanao to show her sympathies to the victims of Typhoon Frank made a sidetrip to Maguindanao to personally ask the Ampatuans that ARMM elections be postponed. This she said is in response to the MILF’s request that no ARRM elections would be conducted to allow for a smooth transition when the BJE will be finally entrenched after the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Pact next year. The Ampatuans readily agreed. Even if the elections would be postponed, the Ampatuans had nothing to lose as their term would just simply hold-over. The move to postpone the ARMM elections was readily transmitted by Moro legislators allied to the Administration in the House of Representatives, echoing their boss’ statements that this move was in support to the Mindanao Peace Process and fully supported by other members of the majority legislators. This is one of those initiatives that is endorsed by the Chief Executive and hardly debated by the members of the House of Representatives despite that there’s hardly two weeks before the scheduled ARMM elections. The Senate, however, refused to act on the bill that would amend the ARMM charter to allow for postponement of the ARMM elections. It refused to be pressured and would rather give ample time for deliberation on the soundness of postponing the ARMM elections. In effect, the Senate was blamed when ARMM elections pushed through, which is good for the posturing of the Administration.

Looking back, prior to the issuance of the TRO, copies of the MoA were already leaked to retired generals, local politicians and the media. This was a calculated move to generate strong public reaction especially among the Christian leaders in Mindanao who are opposed to be made part of the proposed Bangsamoro homeland. This was also done to raise the outrage of local capitalists and even ordinary citizens, aside from their emotions being played up by their leaders, who were also genuinely indignant about not being consulted. GMA’s administration was banking on the warlords, local politicians to create chaos in opposition to the BJE which it effectively did as armed tensions erupted foremost in North Cotabato and with other areas about to follow as civilians began to armed themselves in response to the call of their local government officials. Everything was played up in the media to further stir Christian sentiments against the Moros.

Even the civilians who have joined in the armed fighting with the CVO are conditioned that no military reinforcements will be given by the government just like what happened in North Cotabato. This is to force the civilians to arm themselves and to take it upon themselves to protect their selves to further fan the anger and confusion amongst the people. This further promotes a chaotic situation and insecurity among the civilian populace like what is happening now in the recent armed fighting in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sarangani.

Even the response of the Judiciary was calculated on the part of GMA and her loyalists in the administration. She can portray herself as being sincere in the pursuit of the peace talks with the MILF, but like the postponement of the ARMM elections, which she blamed upon the Senate, this time it is the Judiciary which prevented the government from signing the MoA.

Now that the Ampatuans and other Moro traditional politicians are again securedly entrenched in the present ARMM after winning the just concluded elections, the Administration can rest assured even without lifting a finger, that like the other elite Christian traditional politicians, these warlords, traditional politicians will effectively prevent the realization of the BJE in order to protect their large business and self-interests in their respective territorial and political domains. The entrenchment of the BJE posed a very huge threat to these people. Under the MoA, the BJE will restore to the Bangsamoro people sovereignty over their ancestral domains. These self-interests of the Moro traditional politicians will be used to promote conflicts between the MILF and the elite of the Bangsamoro.

Bangsamoro Aspirations Vs. GMA’s Aspirations for Survival

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s reaching this far in the stage of the talks and being able to effectively push its agenda in the negotiating table is commendable. The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain effectively articulates the long-held aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for right to self-determination and freedom. However, Right to self-determination is a collective and inherent right of a people as enshrined and recognized under International Instruments. This inherent right is not only possessed by the Bangsamoro but even the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao. The MoA effectively co-opted the Indigenous Peoples which like the Bangsamoro have also their Right to Self-Determination and claimed over their ancestral domains. This right of the Indigenous People should also be respected as they also have their own distinct culture and identity and as such they can very well pursue and articulate this right without being coopted by the Bangsamoro. Like the support extended by many a human rights and peace advocates to the Bangsamoro struggle, the Indigenous People also need this support. This is because genuine peace in Mindanao cannot be fully achieved if the minority nationality such as that of the Indigenous Peoples will not be recognized and respected, even in the BJE framework.

Serious efforts should have been made for consultations and education on the contents of the MoA among the different stakeholders to establish and gain public support. People would always want to take part in any matter that affects their future unlike now when public sentiments were played to the hilt as the contents of the MoA were unceremoniously heaped upon them.

Now, while the MILF is sincere in pushing its agenda in the negotiating table, the question is, is the other side equally sincere, in this case,the GMA administration? Do the latter really have the sincerity and capacity to see to the final conclusion of this peace negotiation as embodied in the MOA?

The impasse in the MILF-GRP talks have dragged on for so long and the government has taken a forward-backward stance. The representatives of the GRP peace panels do not really possess a clear mandate on how to pursue the talks as it often go back to its principals for decisions. It is quite surprising that suddenly this administration finally showed interest to see the conclusion of the talks in such haste. If it were not for the State of the Nation Address of GMA, the MOA-AD would have not been initialed by the government panel.

In the MOA-AD, the core of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is the ARMM which is the result of Republic Act 9054 (an act amending the law that created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao). The area will be expanded through a plebiscite within twelve (12) months after the signing of the MOA. The expansion areas are also those areas that already rejected to be made part of the ARMM in the last plebiscite.

The entrenchment of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, despite MILF’s prior insistence on the peace negotiations not to work within the framework of the Philippine Constitution, needs Constitutional amendment to be realized. Another option is that the MILF can enter into a treaty with the Government or a United Nations-Supervised Referendum. But even with the latter option, it still needs an amendment to the Philippine Constitution.

Four years after the 2004 National Elections, GMA is still hounded with questions of legitimacy to the presidency. With GMA’s term nearing its end and options becoming narrow for her exit strategy, the peace negotiations between the GRP-MILF is seen as plausible means to extend her term. This is by riding her Charter Change through the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity of the MILF. This is not really for her sincere efforts to address the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao and to accommodate the Bangsamoro.

History has taught us that the only person that GMA bestowed sincerity is no other than herself. In the issue of the peace negotiations with the MILF, she alone has a win-win solution. Whether the TRO on the MoA will be made permanent by the Supreme Court or if it will be lifted and signing will finally push through, GMA can still have her cake and eat it, too.

In the two scenarios, in the event that there will be a permanent TRO on the MoA, she can wash her hands and blame it upon the Judiciary. Should the TRO be lifted and signing will push through, Charter Change will also push through making the BJE her passport to it.

With the current developments on the TRO on the MoA, oral arguments were postponed to August 22, 2008. This is because the Office of the Solicitor General is not fully prepared with their arguments citing that they lacked documents for the same. While the GMA administration was subtly hiding their motive for Charter Change and a change in the form of government, now, it is unabashedly all over the place campaigning for a Federal form of government as an answer to the clamor for peace in Mindanao, declaring all systems go. Finally, it has bared itself to the public. It wasn’t peace in Mindanao that it wanted all along. But, how to cling to power and survive beyond 2010. No wonder, General Hermogenes Esperon was appointed Secretary of the OPAPP. This is to ensure that GMA’s agenda will be pushed to its full advantage by having her most reliable person to quell insurgents and secessionist groups like the MILF.

In the face of this insincerity of the government, the MILF will have no option but to go to war. A very dangerous move as it could lead to the MILF being isolated. But this, too, is part of the government’s calculated move. They knew that this could be a reaction of the MILF, thus, they are pushing the MILF to go to war to discredit the latter. Or to use the war and chaotic situation it would create to declare a State of National Emergency to manage the situation. Hence it can have both, the change of the Constitution and its continuous cling to power beyond 2010.

Grassroots Tri-People Peace Framework

Peacebuilding is a complex process and not merely a list of disconnected activities like disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants; it is a long term process and over a long term, there must be a mechanism to ensure that the peace building process is supported with coherent policies to address the sustainability gap on the ground.

What is happening right now is just repeating history. History tells us that because of unaddressed root causes of conflict, the recurrence of armed conflict and violence is inevitable. Ever since, the Philippine government applied the military-victory, pacification and demobilization approaches, it has only displaced thousands of the civilian population (like what is happening today) and the greatest affected were the women, children, and the elderly; subjecting them to severe insecurity.

If all stake holders, especially the government, are serious about preventing the recurrence of armed conflict, peace-building should be institutionalized to facilitate the consolidation of genuine democratic participation of the constituency, social and economic reforms, gender and equity, and equal participation of the national minority in all aspects and levels of the society. In doing this, the basic framework should be the transparency of our intention and process of which peace building is initiated. The strategic objective of the above is to attain human security and promote human development.

According to the UN-Commission on Human Security Report, Human Security means protecting vital freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations, building on their strengths and aspirations. It also means creating systems that give people the building blocks of survival, dignity and livelihood. Human security connects different types of freedoms - freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one’s own behalf. To do this, it offers two general strategies: protection and empowerment. Protection shields people from dangers. It requires concerted effort to develop norms, processes and institutions that systematically address insecurities. Empowerment enables people to develop their potential and become full participants in decision-making. Protection and empowerment are mutually reinforcing, and both are required in most situations.


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