YESTERDAY’S news headlines about Mohagher Iqbal, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator, assuring the members of the House of Representatives that “Muslims will not secede from the Philippines” and that “the Bangsamoro will not be a separate state [from the Philippine Republic]” did not quite serve the propaganda aims of his rebel and separatist organization.
Comments by audiences about that news story—in all the social media and in the mainstream newspapers and the broadcast media—were almost 100 percent negative on Mr. Iqbal’s spoken guarantees and appeals to us Filipinos to trust the MILF.
He was speaking at the first ad hoc committee hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). If passed and then approved by the electorate in a national referendum amending the Philippine Constitution, the BBL would become the constitution of the Bangsamoro substate.
“There shall be no state within a state in the south with the proposed Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” Mr. Iqbal told the congressmen.
“The Philippine state shall remain sovereign. We only ask to be allowed to govern ourselves. You shall see the Philippine flag and hear the national anthem sung in our schools and offices,” Iqbal said.
“To all these [doubts and fears], we say, be not afraid. To all the Filipino people, be not afraid. This is my request and appeal to the honorable men and women of this House. It is my prayer that you choose hope over fear….Let us break free from this endless cycle of poverty and insecurity,” the MILF leader said.
Manila Times reader Carlo L. Adan encapsulated the points raised by most of the letters and comments.
He wrote, “Mr. Iqbal: If you are not just lulling us Filipinos into agreeing to your scheme to create the Bangsamoro substate and make it achieve ‘self-determination’ later as a separate state, why don’t all the documents you and the TREASONOUS negotiators appointed by President Aquino state in black and white that the Moros accept that they are citizens of the Republic of the Philippines, that they respect and obey the Philippine Constitution and are willing to have all these changes realized under the majesty of the Philippine Constitution and the prescribed processes under the laws of our land?
“You, sir, are just using this exercise, in which President Aquino, who should be impeached for agreeing with you and your MILF central committee, is a big player, as your first step to grabbing our island of Mindanao!”
Indeed, the foundational documents signed by the representatives of President Aquino and the MILF do not contain any of the words of assurances spoken at the House on Wednesday by Mr. Iqbal. In fact, the most striking feature of “Framework Agreement” (FAG) and the “Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro” (CAB) is the seeming annihilation, the non-existence, of the Philippine Republic, the Philippine Constitution, the Philippine Supreme Court and judicial system, and other hallowed institutions.
In the Wednesday hearing, a congressman tried to add a non-secession clause to the proposed Bangsamoro substate constitution. But pressure from the House leadership and the objection of a Muslim female congresswoman, who said the anti-secession proposal was “offensive” because it makes “Muslims look rebellious,” made the proponent of the amendment withdraw his motion.
International Law expert and practitioner, Professor Jeremy Gatdula, who is the academic secretary of the University of Asia and the Pacific School of Law and Governance, told the Times: “If what MILF leader Iqbal says is true, then it would have been very easy for him to put the fact of non-secession expressly and clearly in the agreements and in the basic law draft. The MILF refused to do that. As it stands now, his word does not bind, but the signed agreements do and the agreements say differently.”
If the elected representatives of the people in the House are patriots who truly love the Republic of the Philippines and the Filipino nation, the Bangsamoro Basic Law that our congressmen pass must contain the no-secession clause and other provisions that will clearly override the anti-Philippine Constitution and anti-Philippine Republic provisions in the FAG and the CAB and these documents’ silence about Philippine sovereignty, the judicial system and other fundamental matters.