Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Big Sellout

With all due respect to constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, the proposed Memorandum of Agreement is not, as he avers, a "mere piece of paper." It is a document that potentially provides the terms of reference for all future government dealings with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Those terms, with dubious historical and social foundations, are lopsidedly in favor of the MILF. While ceding territorial rights and commitments with almost careless abandon, the government makes no corresponding demands of the MILF.

As written, it provides casus belli for the MILF should the government fail to meet its demands. Why else would the MILF negotiating panel, with playground petulance, insist that the document is a "done deal" regardless of the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court?

At the heart of it, the MOA is a territorial agreement. More than three quarters of the text pertains to boundary demarcations, resource rights, joint development, and profit sharing schemes. Its core can be summed up in the following introductory paragraph:

The Bangsamoro homeland and historic territory refer to the land mass as well as the maritime, terrestrial, fluvial and alluvial domains, and the aerial domain, the atmospheric space above it, embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan geographic region. However, delimitations are contained in the agreed Schedules (Categories).

Note the language: not "part of" but "embracing." There are several ways in which a vague term like this can be interpreted, but in the broadest terms, it lays claim to the entirety of Mindanao.

While the document immediately qualifies the assertion with delimitations, the language is again problematic. The MOA stipulates a phased expansion of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, hence the use of the word "schedule." The first expansion, pending plebiscite, takes place within one year; the second expansion, covering conflict-afflicted areas, will be decided in negotiations running through the next 25 years. There are no set upper boundaries for the so-called BJE territory.

A map generated by the Philippine Daily Inquirer reveals the extent of the ambitions of the MILF over the next 25 years: an area covering roughly half of the entire Mindanao.

The MOA establishes the territorial claim for the MILF on the basis that they represent the Moros and Indigenous peoples of Mindanao. As is said under Concepts and Principles:

It is the birthright of all Moros and all Indigenous peoples of Mindanao to identify themselves and be accepted as “Bangsamoros”. The Bangsamoro people refers to those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization and their descendants whether mixed or of full native blood.

This claim is patently false. Not all indigenous peoples of Mindanao can be classified as Moros. There are 18 tribal groups, collectively called "lumad", who are neither Christian nor Muslim. Largely unarmed, they are often caught in the crossfire of conflict; however, they are almost always excluded in negotiations, as in the present case.

Furthermore, the MOA also confers on the Moros the status of "First Nation," similar to Native Americans. This is a highly debatable proposition considering the existence of the lumad groups and the migratory history of the Moros themselves.

The clincher is the eternal and perpetual claim to territory that the MOA makes on behalf of the Bangsamoros:

Ancestral domain and ancestral land refer to those held under claim of ownership, occupied or possessed, by themselves or through the ancestors of the Bangsamoro people, communally or individually since time immemorial continuously to the present, except when prevented by war, civil disturbance, force majeure, or other forms of possible usurpation or displacement by force, deceit, stealth, or as a consequence of government project or any other voluntary dealings entered into by the government and private individuals, corporate entities or institutions.

Following the logic of this claim, then Manila, which Miguel Lopez de Legazpi wrested from Rajah Soliman in 1570, also should be considered Bangsamoro territory.

Ostensibly missing from the MOA are the corresponding demands that the government negotiators ought to have made. The MOA fails to recognize that the MILF is a heavily armed paramilitary, and any precondition to peace talks must necessarily involve the disavowal of weapons. Nor is there any mention of bringing to justice perpetrators of heinous crimes like kidnapping and mutilation. Nor is there any recognition of a civil counterparts. In effect, the Philippine government is capitulating to the demands of an armed group.

With this in mind, much of the ire is rightly should be directed against the government negotiating panel. It is understandable that the MILF, scoundrels though they be, should put forward terms which are most favorable to itself; but such sweeping concessions on the part of government -- without no counter-demand whatsoever -- leads one to think that the government negotiating panel is either stupid or in malicious collusion.

Neither does it add any confidence that the government should have wanted to carry the discussions and sign these documents in secret, under the cloak of its perverse fetish, "Executive Privilege."

Even less when the chief negotiator threatens to withhold army support from the local government that objects to the MOA.

Even less when the same chief negotiator was implicated in the massive cheating scandal in the 2004 elections.

And even less when the same chief negotiator, under whose turn as Chief of Staff of the AFP 14 Philippine Marines were killed and 10 beheaded, should simply let the MILF and Abu Sayyaf perpetrators go scot free.

The MOA begins with such lofty concepts as "social, cultural, and political identity" and "humanitarian and economic needs." But when it delves into joint commissions, resource development, and profit-sharing -- especially with the gang of thieves running rampant in the administration -- under the hand of the man who was supposed to have curbed the MILF, something is very, very fishy.

And they say people like me don't want peace in Mindanao? Please. I'm not the one holding the gun.