General Santos City: President Benigno Aquino 3rd has derailed the peace process in the southern Philippines by sacrificing another Muslim group when he signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the leader of the International Police Commission (IPC) said on Sunday.
Malacanang apparently was unperturbed by the accusation, with Herminio Coloma, chief of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, saying: “All stakeholders are called upon to participate in the peace and rebuilding process.”
Gen. Rafael Clarete, president of the IPC, which is recognized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, said the President, as a result of inking the CAB last week, now risks “serious uprising and secession” from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Clarete, speaking from General Santos City in Mindanao after arriving from California also last week, added that Malacanang should have honored the peace agreement that the government signed with the MNLF on September 2, 1996 before “expediting” the CAB.
The President would have no one to blame but himself “if war erupted between the MNLF and the government,” he warned.
Clarete said Aquino, in signing the peace agreement with the MILF, leaves his successor the “burden of a war” that would fester for years.
The IPC president, who met with senior MNLF leaders in Mindanao last Monday, learned that the President had put aside ironing out 42 supposedly defective provisions of Republic Act 9054 and other clauses under Phase I and Phase II of the 1996 peace agreement in favor of signing the CAB.
“How can you have peace in the region [Mindanao] when a large force [MNLF] is [girding]for war… that would erupt soon because the Aquino government cannot totally implement the provisions of the 1996 peace accord?” Clarete said.
The IPC leader, who flew to the Philippines to observe the signing of the CAB, said he will make a critical report to the US government that would mention the supposed discontent of the MNLF under the Aquino administration.
The President trusted the MILF too much when the group’s leaders are “not capable of handling” the Bangsamoro homeland, according to Johnny Siao, chief of the MNLF’s National Border Command forces based in Mindanao.
Henry Dazo, a retired police superintendent, agreed, saying the MILF leadership lacks “experience and leadership.”
A newly created group called Southern Philippines Tri-People Indigenous Association, which is said to be composed of 10,000 members, also on Sunday said it was supporting the MNLF’s demand that the government fulfill first the terms of the 1996 peace agreement before implementing the peace deal with the MILF.
Hotbed of insurgency
Still, Mindanao will remain a hotbed of insurgency even if CAB is implemented immediately, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
This is attributed by the military to the presence of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and other threat groups.
Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya also on Sunday disclosed that one-half of the total strength of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is concentrated in Mindanao.
The NPA, he said, is “strongest” in areas under the 4th Infantry Division and the 10th ID.
The 4th ID spokesman, Capt. Christian Uy, said their division has jurisdiction over the Northern Mindanao area, which includes the Caraga region, composed of the provinces of Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Islands, Surigao City and Butuan City.
Also under the 4th ID are Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Camiguin in Region 10 with the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog, Malaybalay and Valencia.
First Lt. Ernesto Carolina, 10th ID spokesman, said under their area of responsibility are the southernmost parts of Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and the easternmost part of North Cotabato.
Madlos is one of the most senior communist leaders and one of the top contenders to replace Benito Tiamzon, allegedly the CPP chairman, who was recently arrested with his wife Wilma.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the NPA is almost a spent force and would be “irrelevant” by 2016.
The military has claimed that 25 out of 81 provinces in the country are insurgency-free and that the NPA’s strength has dwindled to 4,043 from a peak of 24,430 fighters during the 1980s.
A lawmaker also warned that the establishment of the Bangsamoro homeland by 2015 would not immediately silence the guns in southern Philippines.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas also on Sunday said the CAB is just one step toward winning peace, noting that other security threats still exist in Mindanao.
But the people of the region, Trenas added, should not be discouraged if the law would not end the cycle of violence in a snap.
Meanwhile, he said, “Congress has more than enough time to pass the law before year-end.”
Trenas conceded that “influential groups and individuals who are against any power-sharing and wealth-sharing deal with a new Bangsamoro authority” would try to resist the implementation of the CAB.
The MILF has about 10,000 armed followers, according to the military, which makes it easily the biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines.
Having long fought for an independent homeland for the nation’s Muslim minority to be carved out of Mindanao, it split in the 1970s from the-then main rebel group, the MNLF.
The MNLF had agreed to autonomy but founding MILF leader Hashim Salamat was intent on fighting for independence.
The Bangsamoro refers to people who at the time of Spanish conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of southern Philippines. Their descendants and spouses are recognized as Bangsamoro people.
Bangsa is a local word for nation. Moro derives from the term “Moors” used by Spanish colonialists to refer to Muslims.
Under the CAB, the MILF drops its claims for a separate state in Mindanao and settles for parliamentary self-rule in the Bangsamoro autonomous region. This region will be established by 2016.
The Bangsamoro will replace another Muslim autonomous region that was brokered in the 1990s with the MNLF, which the government says has failed.
Also under the CAB, the MILF will “gradually” decommission its forces and put the weapons “beyond use.” A local police force will assume law enforcement functions from the Philippine police and military but the Philippine government will retain exclusive powers on defense, foreign policy, currency and citizenship matters.
The autonomous government will receive 75 percent of all local taxes, fees and charges, 75 percent of revenues from metallic minerals and control of fishing areas up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline.
The region will not be an Islamic state, rather a secular government. Sharia law will apply only to Muslims and only for civil cases, not for criminal offenses. All residents are guaranteed basic rights to life, movement, privacy and freedom of religion and speech.
It will cover five provinces, plus two cities, six towns and 39 villages in the South, comprising about 10 percent of the Philippines’ total land area.
Aquino is to ask Congress to pass a “Bangsamoro Basic Law” for the autonomous region by the end of this year.
People living in areas to be included in the autonomous region will need to ratify the law in a plebiscite to be held in 2015.
After the basic law is approved and ratified by the plebiscite, a 15-member “Bangsamoro Transition Authority” will govern the region until a regional parliament is elected. The President will appoint members of the transitional authority, but the MILF will have a majority and the chairman.
A regional parliament, expected to have 50 seats, is to be elected in conjunction with the national elections in May 2016.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, REINA TOLENTINO AND AFP