• PCFR condemns foreign meddling in Mindanao

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    THE Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR) is a multi-sectoral grouping composed of retired Filipino diplomats and armed forces flag-officers, business executives, academic and civil society representatives. The PCFR is dedicated to upholding a constitutional mandate for this country to pursue an independent foreign policy. It is against this background that the membership of the council is dismayed by the seemingly inordinate attention that foreign governments have given to what can be considered as a strictly local affair.

    It is unfortunate that what should have been treated as a purely domestic issue relating to a constitutionally erected autonomous region has assumed international dimensions with a comprehensive agreement between this nation and its autonomous region in the south – signed, sealed and delivered under the patronizing gaze of so-called foreign sponsors to a Mindanao peace process.

    Instead of the whole matter being placed in the hands of the Department of the Interior and Local Governments, the issue now internationalized has fallen into the lap of the Department of Foreign Affairs giving the MILF the status of a belligerent state, which state under international law has given it an importance far above that of its status of an autonomous region of this Republic.

    Recently the Council took notice of a manifesto recently \to media by some foreign chiefs-of-mission urging the Aquino government to pass the highly unconstitutional original mission of the CAB and the BBL as the solution to the Mindanao peace and order situation. This the Council deemed as undue interference and a violation of the hallowed principle of non-interference in purely domestic affairs, especially since this matter is still being deliberated in Congress and has been elevated to the Supreme Court making it sub-judicial.

    The fact that the spokesman of the group – the British Ambassador whose country questionably annexed Sabah without regard to the Philippines in the early sixties and made it a part of the Federation of Malaysia, which has spawned a lot of hostilities in Mindanao — is perhaps the last person to be the spokesperson of the group in this controversial issue. His public criticism of legislators who stayed away from Congress during the BBL discussions can only be deemed highly inappropriate. Perhaps it is good to remind the British Ambassador that this nation is not a part of Malaysia or the British Commonwealth.

    Parenthetically, as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in the UK as well as envoy to the Scandinavian countries, my father in all the years that he served as Chief of Mission in his postings never dared to comment on purely domestic matters nor did he dare to criticize or advise members of parliament. For my part, as Ambassador to Italy, I refrained from commenting publicly on issues discussed by political parties. This simply was not proper protocol.

    In the case of the United States, its stepping up activities in the southern Philippines which includes bringing former combatants from Cotabato and Sulu to Manila to attend sessions designed “to help them sort out their self-identity” seems to be at odds with the desire of this nation to develop a multi-cultural society as a road towards peace in an island occupied by Muslims, Indigenous People and Christians.

    In the same vein, efforts by the US Embassy, however commendable, to establish legal aid clinics at law schools in Mindanao and Palawan through a legal assistance program in Mindanao, allegedly aimed at “instilling” awareness among youth in Mindanao about legal rights and helping improve access to justice for marginalized Muslim communities in Mindanao fosters exclusiveness which goes against the goal of this country to integrate the Muslim community into the mainstream of a nation composed of different socio-cultural groupings. A US AID internship program that allows university students and recent graduates who live primarily within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to intern in the offices of Philippine lawmakers in Manila allegedly designed to help Muslim youth in conflict-affected areas gain an understanding of democratic values and institutions, governance issues and the process of legislating, seem to be unusual given that Muslim legislators in Congress already pack their offices with Muslim youths who have been inculcated in schools with the virtues of democracy – a task that has been promoted assiduously by our Department of Education in all parts of the country regardless of the local people’s religious denomination.

    Finally, the US grant to students from the University of Mindanao in a month-long internship with grassroots organizations that champion human rights, gender equality, and community empowerment and the bringing of legal professionals and law students from institutions based in Mindanao to the United States where they met US government officials and nongovernment sectors involved in civic legal aid and conflict resolution as part of the annual international visitor leadership program is an affront to University of Mindanao officials who have to export their graduates to the US to learn about human rights and community empowerment. We had thought all this time that the school of higher learning had already these basic courses as part of their curriculum.

    In this connection, we have to remind the US that it’s “manifest destiny” (an invention of President McKinley) to “civilize” this nation ended with the grant of Philippine Independence in 1946.

    The actuations of our foreign allies in the Mindanao peace process, which as we said earlier is a purely domestic issue to be best solved among Filipinos regardless of religious affiliation, has raised a lot of speculations regarding the rectitude of their intentions and raised suspicions that alien interests have hidden agendas and are merely using the MILF as proxies.

    In the interest of transparency, therefore, we call upon foreign elements involved or interested in the peace process to place their cards on the table, so to speak. What are these possible interests?

    Is the US hoping for to be given rights by a Bangsamoro sub-state with its parliamentary system under an MILF Chief Minister beholden to Malaysia? Is this the reason for the inordinate attention that the US has in Mindanao which has seen the frequent visit of American Ambassadors to this part of the country, one of whom even witnessed the drafting of the Comprehensive Agreement in Bangsamoro in Kuala Lumpur?

    In the case of Her Majesty’s government, which created the Malaysian Federation after illegally annexing to it a big chunk of the real estate of the Sultanate of Sulu in Borneo, is her interest an attempt to protect her vast economic interests in Sabah    by aligning with her former colony to marginalize the Sultanate and its faithful Tausug supporters in the Sulu peninsula by giving physical and political control of the area to Malaysia’s mercenary army led by the MILF?

    These are the questions that need to be answered if a settlement to the peace process in Mindanao can move forward in the next administration because today the Filipino people cannot swallow a comprehensive agreement for peace in Mindanao which can only be described as having been drafted in Malaysia, by Malaysians and for the benefit of Malaysians and their foreign partners and mercenaries.

    For all and sundry, and we address this particularly to the so-called foreign peaceniks who are allegedly brokering the peace process in the land of promise, the government of the Philippines represented by the next administration (because this one is stopped from proceeding with its dangerous political experimentation in Mindanao having claimed the ARMM to have been a failed experiment) will surely be able to convert the land of promise from a war-torn danger zone to a zone of peace and prosperity by simply enhancing the constitutionally erected autonomous region in Mindanao through the grant of full fiscal autonomy, allowing it to accelerate its infrastructure and social overhead projects. This is of course premised on one important conditionality: the political will, which this administration never had, to disarm and integrate when possible all the wayward elements in the island starting with the MILF, MNLF, BIFF, Abu Sayyaf, the private armies, the NPA and others.

    Presidents Cory and Ramos were able to promote a semblance of peace and development in the area through a policy of attraction and diplomacy while President Estrada degraded if not decimated the MILF. All three administrations contributed to the establishment of ARMM which is now run by 10,000 bureaucrats sans the support of foreign interlopers. Today it is a work in progress and in certainly not a failed experiment.

    The hope is that the region becomes a land of peace for all its stakeholders – Muslims, Lumads, Christians etc. All working together harmoniously as they do in other parts of Asia.

    Yes indeed we do not need visitors in this country to tell us what to do. We are no longer a colony!

    Ambassador Romero is the president of the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations. He is a founding officer of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc.

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    10 Comments

    1. Crisostomo Ibarra on

      Yup!!! This is a domestic issue. The Philippines has the right to self determination without influence from outside whether it’s Malaysia or UK.

      Ultimately, the goal is to bring peace to Muslim Mindanao without amputating Mindanao from the Philippines.

      Food for thought:
      if only there where no natural resources in Mindanao, foreign entities will leave Mindanao and there will be peace.

      • Crisostomo, under the BBL where can you find any phrase “amputating Mindanao from the Philippines” or any provisions leading to it?

      • Take note that the intervention of Malaysia in Mindanao peace process is not their own initiatives. It was the pleading of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for Malaysia to come in as facilitator. On resources please take note too that Malaysia maybe 100 years ahead and developed than the Philippines, so its illogical to think their interest is about resources???

      • Do not mislead people by implying that without the resources in Mindanao, foreign entities will leave and there will be peace in Mindanao. Remember that Mindanao’s conflict had been here for the last 494 years beginning in the Spaniards armed campaign against the Moro people in 1n 1565. Hundreds of years before the coming of what you referred to as “foreign entities” there was armed conflict in Mindanao until this days.

    2. And thank you Mr. Ambassador for reminding all and sundry that while you are shunning foreign interventions and criticizing educational systems as which “goes against the goal of this country to integrate the Muslim community into the mainstream of a nation composed of different socio-cultural groupings”. May I recall that these policies of subjugation, colonization and integration of the Bangsamoro had been here for almost 5 centuries now by colonizers and sustained by the Philippine colonial government but continues to be resisted by our forefathers as contained in the Kiram-Bates Treaty of 1899, the Zamboanga Declaration of 1924 and the Dansalan Declaration of 1935 and continued on by our present generation.
      This foreign colonization and integration policy in pursuance of the Spaniards and Americans way back and was concretized by the Quirino-Recto Colonization Act of 1936 in the Commonwealth Period, might already been considered an obsolete foreign policy which you wanted to sustain. But this policy of subjugation and integration can be best refuted by the 1987 constitution with “people empowerment” provisions and several provisions of the “Local Government Code of 1991” also became part of the constitution with substantial provisions for “unique and distinct” groups of peoples in the Philippines with common historical narratives, culture and social upbringings to practice their own ways of life with less interventions from the government. This is further supplemented by International instruments that guarantee inalienable rights of groups of people of the world to enjoy and practice their “right to self-determination”. Instead, of abiding by these instruments you are pushing for a continuing subjugation and integration of the Moro People. Is this your own concept of democracy or democrazy? Who are violating both domestic and international instruments the BBL or of your likeminded people?

    3. And then you delved into the CAB/BBL as “highly unconstitutional”. It seems this is an anticipation and encroachment to Supreme Court’s mandate on “interpreting laws”. For the irresponsible statement such as this before the proper body did its task could be done only by irresponsible persons manifesting deep biases and prejudices against the Moro issues which is incoherent with highly intellectuals belonging to Council of Foreign Relations group. On the issue of “constitutionality” in resolving the age-old Moro quest, Fr. Joaquin Bernas expressed in his articles that: “constitution is made for the good of man..”. However, in the case of the Bangsamoro issue, its now being claimed that more or less 160,000 to 200,000 lives already had been lost, maimed or missing for the past four decades of war – all because of this constitution. We can now safely conclude therefore, that the Moro People are made for the Philippine Constitution. Is this what you are implying Mr. Ambassador?

    4. On the issue of state of belligerency, you need to review history of the Bangsamoro to tell you that really the Moro Nation had been a belligerent nation long before the Filipino nation came into being or the less on the process of being one when foreign invasions and interventions came starting in 1521. We should remember that the Philippine government put the resolution of the armed conflict in the hands of the DILG Secretary Puno (as you are recommending) in 2008 – 2009 along with DND Secretary Gibo Teodoro. And all they did is declared “All out military surgical operations” that resulted in the displacement of no less than 740 civilians, destruction of properties, and damages to millions of crops including infrastructures. We need to learn lessons Mr. Ambassador, is this the way you wanted it to be?
      I think you need to talk to Prof. Randy David for the details of the fact that this government had never fully imposed its mandate ever since in many Bangsamoro areas in like manner that the superpower waves of invaders and colonizers had never fully imposed its will in the Moro areas.

      • This how tragic when you put resolution of the Bangsamoro question to the hands of incompetent government officials like the DILG and others.

    5. Amazing contradicting character and ideas of you Mr. Ambassador.
      While practically spent rest of your life in a work catering to foreign relations you speak ill of other foreign interventions in solving a problem which the colonial invaders and the succeeding colonial Philippine government failed to solve for now exactly 494 years.

      Looking at your opinion at shallow perspectives seems excellent but contextualizing in the Bangsamoro Question is confusing.

      While you are criticizing foreign interventions in finding lasting solution to the Bangsamoro Quest for self-determination, you apparently failed to consider that foreign meddling in the so-called Philippine colonial government had been here even before its inceptions. To be particular by Spain for 377 years by the Americans and Japanese for 46 years and continued by US manifested by the US Bases in the Philippines now by the VFA. Also the trillions of Philippine debts to many countries of the world as other form of foreign meddling in the internal affairs the Philippines. The only difference is that the former interventions is for sustaining armed conflict in Mindanao but you never reacted as you are dong it now that through international interventions there are seems seen “light at the end of the tunnel”.