To give the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and President Aquino’s singleminded push for a peace deal in Mindanao the proper analysis that it deserves, I have immersed myself for a week now in the reading of two books, which form part of my library collection and which deal explicitly with the Mindanao question and past efforts to find a comprehensive solution to the secessionist conflict in southern Philippines.
The volumes are:
1. The Moro Reader, History and Contemporary Struggles of the Bangsamoro People, edited by Bobby M. Tuazon (Cenpeg, 2008) – published by the Center for People Empowerement in Governance (Cenpeg)
2. Break not the Peace, by Fidel V. Ramos, the Story of the GRP-MNLF negotiations (1992-1996) – published by the Friends of Steady Eddie, 1996.
I find both books illuminating on the challenge and the issues that really faces the nation in Mindanao. The cramming was necessary for me, because like most of my compatriots, who are not residents in or hail from Mindanao, I know little about the history of Filipino Muslims and their unceasing struggle for their own state through the centuries.
I knew little as well about the recent efforts to forge peace in the South – from the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 to the GRP-MNLF agreement in 1996 – beyond what I have read in the newspapers.
I recall that President Joseph Ejercito Estrada waged war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1998, and in the process smashed and took over the MILF camps and forged an effective ceasefire.
When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the reins of government, she negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic liberation Front (MILF) on August 5, 2008. The scheduled signing of the MOA-Ad in Malaysia was stopped by the Supreme Court, which granted a temporary restraining order in response to petitions filed by those opposed to the agreement.
Upon accession to office on June 30, 2010, President Benigno Aquino 3rd almost immediately launched his own initiative to forge an agreement between his government and the MILF. The efforts to turn this initiative into a comprehensive agreement for peace are what led to last Thursday’s signing spectacle, which brought to town even the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (I thought Najib would prudently stay away from the signing, instead of revealing Maalaysia’s unclean hands in the deal and its deep ties as financier and armorer of the MILF, but he could not resist coming because of Aquino’s pleas)
Questions that need to be answered
After reading the two books cover to cover, I must confess that instead of quieting my anxieties, they have produced a mountain of questions regarding President Aquino’s current initiative.
Among these questions are:
With the Supreme Court’s earlier decision to scuttle Arroyo’s MOA-AD on the grounds of unconstitutionality, how will Aquino’s proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law hurdle objections on grounds of constitutionality.
Can it answer the objections already raised by the earlier decision and the concurring opinions.
Will the CAB’s vague annexes, which even fail to decommission the arms of the MILF and vests the Bangsamoro with its own police force, survive questioning by SC justices?
Is the United States pressuring the Aquino government and the MILF to conclude an agreement, in line with its pivot agenda in Asia?
The Moro Reader contains an enlightening article by Prof.
Bobby Tuazon, “The economic and security Intricacies of the Bangsamoro Struggle,” which details the extent of US economic and security goals in Mindanao. It discusses how US foreign assistance, as facilitated by USAID, is integrated with anti-terrorism activities, and with persistent efforts to expand US military presence.
Many have said American policy makers believe that an independent state in Mindanao would be more amenable to hosting a US military base there.
Given the comprehensive agreement forged by the Ramos government with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996, why is it necessary to negotiate a separate agreement with the MILF, which is only a splinter group of the MNLF?
Where does all the negotiating stop?
Will the Aquino government also forge agreements with other Muslim rebel groups or other Muslim tribes?
Or forge a new pact with the MNLF, when it inevitably rearms and makes war on our government again?
Why aren’t all Muslim groups represented in the CAB; why were they not all brought into the negotiating table?
A Moro reader article on the Bangsamoro ancestral domain lists no less than 13 Muslim groups as key members of Bangsamoro. Any peace agreement to be genuine and effective, must include all. All must sign and pledge not to take up arms against the Philippine government.
What is Malaysia’s real role and stake in the negotiations over the CAB?
The Malaysian government is irrelevant because it is not a party to the conflict, unless it is prepared to admit now that it has furtively armed the secessionist struggle in Mindanao?
Did Prime Minister Najib press for the exclusion of the Sultan of Sulu from the negotiations, and for the exclusion of the Sabah claim from the discussions? Did President Aquino agree to drop the Philippine claim to Sabah?
Was Najib’s presence at the signing designed to insure that Sabah would be kept out of the picture.
Why were women, who are non-lawyers, the principal negotiators for the Philippines in this peace deal?
Why did the male negotiator, Marvic Leonen, run away to take a seat in the Supreme Court when the serious negotiations started?
Reading through President Ramos’s account of the arduous process that the 1996 agreement went through and the annexes of the CAB, I am not convinced that Ms. Teresita Deles and Ms. Miriam Ferrer on their own have been thorough and painstaking in protecting the interests of the Philippine state in these peace talks.
Some women friends have commented that whenever there are serious issues to be tackled, President Aquino invariably turns to women to do the job for him. They conjecture that this implies that PNoy is constantly looking for his mother.
Finally, not a few friends from Mindanao, have expressed this lament to me? What about us? Why have we been excluded from the peace negotiations? Who will speak for us?
It is a lament that runs deep and wide in Mindanao.
Their voice will be heard when the time comes for Congress to deliberate on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
And so will be heard the voice of the rest of the nation.
President Aquino has tagged as spoilers all those who oppose his Bangsamoro scheme? What happens then when those in opposition totally dwarf in number those in support?
What will the President do then?