By its own avowal, the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd is to be gauged on how successful it has been in pushing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). As Cabinet Secretary on the Peace Process Teresita Deles pronounced it during the opening of the resumed Mindanao peace talks on January 12, 2012, “The Mindanao peace process is the centerpiece of the Aquino administration.” With barely a year left in the Aquino tenure at Malacañang and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the product of the Mindanao peace negotiations, remaining unresolved in the Senate, the pronounced basis for evaluating the performance of President Aquino necessarily gives him a low, low grade.
The so-called peace process that produced the BBL was suspect from the very start. It came about as a result of US Ambassador Kristie Kinney’s visit with MILF Chief Al Haj Muhrad Ebrahim whom she traced all the way to his mountain lair. In that visit, Kinney convinced Murad to enter into peace talks with the Philippine government, then under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
That was 2008, when President Obama began his touted pivot from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region. Let events prove the connection between the Obama Asia-Pacific pivot and the Mindanao peace talks.
Until 2004, the United States was the leading trading partner of the Asean. But beginning 2003, China had already manifested a steady increase in foreign investments in the so-called bamboo network, a web of overseas Chinese doing businesses all over Southeast Asia. By 2008, China was on the road to overtaking the United States as the third leading trading partner of Asean. To check the rise of China as an economic hegemon in Asia, US necessarily had to put in place a military component for its America’s Pacific Century strategy. In this regard, US was greatly disadvantaged. It had lost its bases in the Philippines and much of them in Japan
Then came 2010. China concluded with the 10 nations comprising the Asean the Asean-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), which had the effect of turning China into the top trading partner of Southeast Asia. That meant control of the third largest trade grouping in the world, the first two being the European Economic Area and the North American Free Trade Area. Already in 2008, China and Asean had a combined Gross Domestic Product of $6 trillion.
Fast-tracking US military build-up in Asia Pacific
As early as 2008, therefore, US needed a way to fast track its military build-up in the Asia Pacific region, and a vital aspect of this undertaking is the re-establishment of military bases in the Philippines. This has been our country’s misfortune. Its geographical location makes it a premium spot for advancing military dominance by anybody among the world’s contending powers.
Now, re-establishing US military facilities in the country must pass the Senate, which is sure to block it. The catch, then, is in not having it coursed through the Senate anymore, but this is impossible to do because that requisite is a mandate of the Philippine Constitution. The only way to get the US bases done again in the country is to build them where the Constitution cannot matter anymore.
Hence the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), as contained in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) resulting from the peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government initiated by Kinney and brokered by Malaysia in 2008. The BJE establishes in the Muslim areas of Mindanao a sub-state having its own legislature, its own executive, its own judiciary, and its own armed forces, with the Philippine government limited to 25 percent share in natural resources. August 5, 2008 was the date set for signing of the MOA-AD by the two negotiating panels.
But Cotabato and Palawan, two predominantly-Christian provinces affected by the agreement, petitioned the Supreme Court, protesting the MOA-AD. Without waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the petition, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instructed the government panel not to sign. The Supreme Court ruled on the petition just the same. One of the signatories in the ruling was then still Associate Justice Renato C. Corona, who echoed Associate Justice Dante Tinga’s position: “It takes no inquiry of great depth to determine that the MOA-AD is incongruous with the Philippine Constitution.”
Given the foregoing background, it becomes easy to understand why the Mindanao peace process has been the centerpiece of the Aquino administration. It is the one single mechanism for slicing off a large chunk of the nation in which to reestablish US military facilities no longer hampered by constitutional constraints. The US will no longer have to deal with the Philippine government but instead with the MILF – a historically-proven beneficiary of American benevolence.
Erap ousted after crushing MILF’s Camp Abubakar
Witness what happened when in 2000 President Joseph Ejercito Estrada proceeded to crush MILF mother stronghold Camp Abubakar against strong explicit admonition from US President Bill Clinton for him not to do it. Just a few months after, Erap was impeached.
In the case of Aquino, he proved equal to American intentions. Just into his second year at Malacañang, he took the initiative of meeting up with MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan to discuss the rebel group’s demand for a “state within a state” in Muslim Mindanao. That meeting in August 2011 set the stage for the resumed peace talks that opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in January 2012. Rather a nasty sidelight of that meeting was Aquino’s gifting Murad with reportedly five million pesos — which earned the flak of Armed Forces of the Philippines servicemen who saw the act as treasonous: “That money was to buy guns by which to kill us.”
Quite curiously, that period of his Tokyo meeting with Murad was also the period of Aquino’s frenzied public damning of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. What people only saw in this episode was that CJ Corona was impeached out of vendetta by Aquino for the former’s ruling in favor of the Hacienda Luisita tenants in the dispute with the Aquino-Cojuangco family for ownership of the 6,000-hectare sugarland. The public failed to discern that early on what took place was a removal of a great obstacle for the passage of the BJE. In the event the agreement was elevated to the Supreme Court, the sitting Chief Justice would no longer be one already on record as being opposed to it. To reiterate, CJ Corona’s position on the MOA-AD which provided for the BJE back in 2008 was this: “It takes no inquiry of great depth to determine that the MOA-AD is incongruous with the Philippine constitution.”
What would ensure that the Chief Justice to replace Corona would be at America’s beck and call? There was no telling yet at the start of the Corona impeachment trial. But in the eventual lead up to the final selection for the slot, Aquino issued a statement to this effect: “The next Chief Justice need not be part of government and need not be old.”
That gave me the guts to declare in my blog the hint: Dean Marvic Leonen, head of the government negotiating panel in the peace talks. For a time, I would think I erred. Leonen would eventually get appointed to the High Court, all right, but only as Associate Justice. A year or so later, however, I would get information that Aquino did offer to Leonen the post of Supreme Court Chief Justice but the latter declined for reason of delicadeza or whatever. In any case, an asset in the US reminds me that CIA operatives work most covertly.
Part 2 of this three-part series will come out on Saturday Nov 7 and Part 3 on Sunday Nov 8.