First of 3 parts
Nursed by a gentle Muslim nanny, the late wife of former Ambassador Pulong Arpa, an intimate family friend, and honored by the Sulu Sultanate with a knighthood of the Royal House of Kiram, I would be the last person in this country to deny our Muslim brothers their inherent right to enjoy full autonomy if only to preserve their culture and religion as well as to enjoy the full bounty of the rich resources that Allah has bestowed on the people of Mindanao.
Having said that I would like at this time to suggest measure to insure the fulfillment of this vision and more importantly to see to it that a Bangsamoro entity will truly establish a zone of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately I am not at all certain that the proposed Bangsamoro agreement will do this!
But even as we speak some Christian villagers in Lanao Del Sur are already apprehensive about the agreement. They say that as early as a few months ago some Muslim groups were already claiming their farmlands invoking their ancestral rights. The same apprehension has been reported by Christians in Sultan Kudarat. In Zamboanga and Basilan some Christian leaders have vowed to resist their inclusion in Bangsamoro. This is not to mention rumblings in the camps of the MNLF who have been effectively marginalized by the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).
Indeed many Mindanaons are saddened by the fact that this administration and those of the past have cavalierly ignored the valid claims of the Sulu Sultanate. Failure of the Malaysian- inspired agreement to give the Sultanate and its ally the MNLF to give these two entities a role in forging the same seems to me a fatal flaw.
Parenthetically, I still recall vividly that as a schoolboy in the United Kingdom I use to witness the delivery of an all too modest check from the British office as rental for the vast and fertile lands belonging to the Sultanate in Borneo called Sabah. Some people used to comment that if this was rental it was a joke and if lease-purchase an insult to the intelligence.
But going back to the agreement one cannot but question the rectitude of intention of the presumed honest brokerage of our Asean partner nation, Malaysia. Was their leaders’ robust participation in the negotiations dictated by self-interest or the interest of their nation? Only Allah can answer this question.
What was really so wrong with the OIC (then the Organization of the Islamic Conference, now renamed Organization of Islamic Cooperation) brokered agreement which I believe is still a work in progress and brokered by a more honest neighbor in Jakarta? For certain the ARMM experiment had certain flaws but these are not necessarily fatal given a more robust support from the central government.
Bangsamoro—The Malaysian factor.
The signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, conceived in Kuala Lumpur and hatched in Manila, is a signal victory for the MILF and its Malaysian patron.
What is in it for the MILF? A gift from the Philippine government of a vast expanse of fertile land sprawled over Central Mindanao including its airspace and territorial waters plus some 58 exclusive powers granted by the central government, the exercise of which is beyond the review of Congress. Bangsamoro (read MILF) will also have almost absolute executive power of general supervision over its territory, even over Philippine government constitutional agencies.
More importantly Bangsamoro will have its own security force which will be beyond the ambit of the National Police Commission, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
This is truly a dream come true for the MILF which the Aquino government has catapulted from a band of guerilla fighters to become potentially the most powerful political player—bigger and stronger than any of our existing political parties, which historically have never absolutely controlled such a vast constituency as what would be the Bangsamoro. Indeed those of us who have fought so hard and so long for the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, decentralization, devolution of power and authentic regional autonomy, promised by the Constitution, can only salivate at the sidelines as we witness the gains of the MILF in such a short time.
We have often wondered why Fr. Conrado Balweg and his intrepid bunch of Cordillera fighters and the New People’s Army, which controlled the “CHICKS” region in Negros, have not been given the status of belligerency, invited to a peace process and given all the goodies now in the duffel bag of the MILF. This is especially strange in the case of the Cordilleras which our Constitution explicitly promises autonomy.
Indeed the CAB template carried to its extreme provides a bad precedent, a slippery slope which could lead to a balkanized archipelago like the breakup of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
Should the wealth sharing agreement in CAB be implemented, what will stop the CALABARZON region from demanding a much bigger share of the income from Malampaya reportedly has been hijacked by the politicos?—PAFI
Part 2 will appear tomorrow, Sunday May 25. This article and those by other former and current ambassadors that appear on Saturdays in The Manila Times are published in the Ambassadors’ Corner column under a cooperative agreement with the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation Inc.(PAFI).