The Philippine government is set to sign tomorrow the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The CAB’s major components are the Framework Agreement with the Bangsamoro and its annexes on transitional arrangements and modalities, wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization.
Malacañang drumbeaters say these documents provide for the “road map and the terms pertaining to the creation of the Bangsamoro entity and the transformation of the MILF from an armed group to an active participant in governance and societal reform.” They also say that there will be celebrations over the supposed ending of the 17-year conflict waged by the MILF that had claimed thousands of lives, mostly of innocent civilians. I wonder if people in the affected areas are equally ecstatic over the signing and are as confident that peace is now at hand.
The government had continually ignored the demand of stakeholders that they at least be consulted if they couldn’t be represented in the peace talks. Who from Mindanao, particularly from Zamboanga, Lanao del Norte and Cotabato were consulted on the agreement? This lack of consultation was one of the reasons why the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the MILF during the Arroyo administration was nullified by the Supreme Court. The ignoring of stakeholders continues under the present dispensation.
Peace is desirable but it must not be at the expense of Philippine sovereignty. The government is raising hell over the occupation by China of disputed atolls in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea but it is most willing to surrender valuable territories in Mindanao to the MILF. The words of legal experts are more credible than mine so let’s listen to one. In 2008, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon opposed the peace agreement between the previous Arroyo administration and the MILF, claiming it would give the MILF its own territory and government and would result in the dismemberment of the country “in gross violation of the Philippine Constitution.”
Drilon is expected to sponsor the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law now being drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. He has to either ignore what he had said before on granting the MILF its own territory and government or completely justify such grant this time around. This may not be easy and I can see a tough battle ahead in the House and the Senate– unless Malacañang once more speaks with a “pork tongue.”
The government had said the MILF would surrender their arms once the peace pact is signed. However, it immediately contradicted itself when it said that the Bangsamoro would have a police force manned by the MILF. Then, there are questions about the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro on mineral wealth in the area and its generous share in such wealth. Should a group take up arms first against the government to get such benefits?
Like many others, I have my reservations over the role of Malaysia in the peace talks. Malaysia is known to have armed and funded rebels so its role should be suspect. Then Sen. Pong Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff, articulated what many had in mind when he said that peace talks with MILF should never be held in Malaysia.
“Malaysia’s role can only be influenced by a conflict-of-interest situation because of the Philippine claim to Sabah which has not yet been resolved internationally. There is also the matter of the conflicting claims between the Republic of the Philippine and Malaysia regarding certain areas of the Spratlys,” he explained.
Malacanang has turned a deaf ear on warnings against holding the peace negotiations in Malaysia. At the signing of the CAB tomorrow, a Malaysian official will have a stellar role. Malaysian Third Party Facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed will sign the CAB as witness.
The Philippine government had signed a peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996 in Jakarta. The MILF broke away from the MNLF after the Jakarta Accord. The Aquino government justified its talks with the MILF, saying the MNLF is already “a spent force.” Will a new group rise in protest against the CAB? There had been questions on the right of the MILF to represent all Muslims but these doubts were also ignored by Malacañang.
Former Sen. Nene Pimentel once warned of a never-ending peace talks because the government had not properly identified who were truly speaking for the Bangsamoros. He said that the MNLF and the MILF named themselves as representatives of the Bangsamoro “by force of arms and with the help of the Organization of Islamic Conference.”
Many have reservations about the CAB but I’m sure they would be happy to be proven wrong if it would bring about the desired lasting peace in Mindanao.