Friday, August 29, 2008

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front – a Terrorist Organization?

In the aftermath of the ruthless attacks by three MILF field commanders on civilian populations in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Sarangani, the question of the MILF as a terrorist organization has again been raised.

The issue: Is the MILF a terrorist organization and should it be officially declared so?

The usual non-Moro response is, “Yes. The MILF has once again revealed its true colors. It has attacked towns and villages. It has gone on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, murdering, burning, pillaging, looting, using civilians as human shields – these are terrorist acts. Therefore, the MILF is a terrorist organization.”

The Moro general reaction seems to be: “Indeed, these acts are not morally unjustifiable. They are to be condemned. But these do not make the MILF a terrorist organization. These acts were perpetrated by MILF commanders acting on their own against MILF official policy. We deeply regret such acts. They have given a bad name to the MILF. They have seriously set back the peace process.”

Listening to many Moros speak on this issue, I would add the following remarks to this general Moro reaction: “Like us these MILF commanders were angry at the rejection of the MOA-AD by the government. Like us they saw the long peaceful work towards the recognition of our aspirations for self-determination dismissed by the Supreme Court. Anger led them to violence. We do not agree with their reaction but we can understand why.” I might also add this reaction by a few radically inclined Moro thinkers: “We are not asking for independence. But if the government refuses to recognize our fundamental right to self-determination, why don’t we all unite and just go ahead and fight for independence?”

In the light of such context, the real question is: Does the brutal violence of three MILF commanders on civilian populations in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Sarangani make the whole MILF organization terrorist?

Many Christians all over the Philippines would say yes. Against the opinion of many of my own Christian flock whom I serve as Archbishop, I say no.

May I submit the following points for sober reflection:

Among the scores of MILF commanders in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabungsuan, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Taw-Tawi, how many actually supported the action of the three commanders?
How many instead followed the official policy of the MILF about civilian populations?
Did the MILF Central Committee authorize the action of the three commanders?
Did the Central Committee not try to stop the three commanders?
Did our own military and ceasefire mechanisms not try to limit military objectives and the areas of operation so as to target only the forces of the three commanders?
Did the three commanders act like the Abu Sayaff and take 12 or even only two “kidnappable” people for ransom when they could have easily done so?
Does not the MILF Central Committee believe that the actions of its three commanders have seriously set back the peace process?
If the MILF were a terrorist organization like the Abu Sayaff and Al-Qaeda, would it even have ceased fighting to talk peace?
Would it ever have cooperated with our military to go after bandits going to their areas of influence?
Did investigations on atrocities committed against our Marines in Basilan provide evidence that such atrocities were perpetrated by MILF ambushers?

On the other hand:

We do not believe that our own government with our own military is terrorist, even if:

We had military commanders leading so called “lost commands” that operated freely on their own in Mindanao;
Our troops never really pursued them and rooted them out;
We never brought them to the courts of justice;
Fanatical vigilante groups known for their ruthlessness against Moro civilians were tolerated and even worked quietly with our military commanders;
Our military forces attacked Camp Abubakar, reportedly hours after an accord for ceasefire had been agreed upon;
We never investigated and brought to justice our own soldiers who were accused by human rights organizations for abuses against civilians, whether Moros or non-Moros;

Reflecting on the above questions and soberly responding to them would surely bring us to a wiser position on the issue of terrorism. We need to be more logical and wise in judging the MILF organization as terrorist on the ground that some of its commanders have perpetrated terrorist acts. The actions of a few are not necessarily the actions of the whole.

Mutatis mutandis we also apply, I believe, the same principle and the same logic regarding “scalawags” in the Church, media, military, police, executive, judiciary, and legislative branches of government. We do not necessarily judge the whole by the actions of the few.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
August 29, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Judging the MOA-AD: A Parable for Our Time

This is the first of two reflections on how to assess the MOA-AD between the GRP and the MILF in the light of our quest for lasting peace in Mindanao.

Many people reject the MOA-AD because they say the document is giving away Philippine territory to the Moros. It is a dismembering the Philippine Republic.

Other reasons for absolute rejection are:
*The Filipino people were not consulted.
*Even if there will be plebiscites, these will be rigged to favor the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity;
*The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is simply another name for an Islamic State independent of the Philippines;
*President Macapagal-Arroyo allegedly wants the MOA-AD because it would mean a change in the Constitution to extend her term;
*The President is allegedly so corrupt that we cannot simply trust her with any agreement;
*The United States reportedly influenced the peace process and the MOA-AD because it wants an American military base in southern Philippines and has economic interests in the area.

One observes that most of the above reasons are external to the contents of the MOA-AD. The MOA-AD is not being judged on its own merits. The document is being rejected because of suspicions regarding possible circumstances surrounding it.

For this reason may I tell a story.

The master told his disciples this parable. Jane, a jeweler, saw a beautiful diamond in a shop. She admired and desired it. Unfortunately her competitor, Juan, owned the shop. Juan was reputed to be dishonest and always wanted to take advantage of his customers. But the more Jane looked at the diamond, the more she liked it. So she asked Juan, “How much is that diamond?” “750,000 pesos,” said Juan. Jane was shocked. “The price is too high for such a small diamond!” “Take it or leave it,” answered Juan. But Jane really liked the diamond. So she asked, “Is it genuine?” Another gentleman entered the conversation and said, “Oh, yes. I certify it is genuine. By the way my name is William. I shaped the diamond myself.” Really desiring the diamond, Jane said, “I know you, but can I have the diamond examined?” Both Juan and William agreed. So the next day, Jane brought her husband, Jose, who was an expert diamond examiner. Using his examining tools, Jose scrutinized the diamond from every angle for a whole hour, noting every facet of it. Then he took his wife aside and whispered to her, “You know how much I dislike Juan and suspect that fellow William. I must admit that the diamond is 100% genuine. There is no doubt. But I have noticed certain flaws in the shaping. So try to bring the price down, we can correct the flaws.” So Jane bargained. After a while, Juan and Jane agreed on 700,000 pesos. Both were happy and became good friends.

The disciples asked, “Master, why did Jane buy the diamond from people she did not trust?” “Because the diamond, though imperfect, was genuine,” said the Master.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
August 17, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Let the MOA-AD Speak for Itself

Violence is breaking out once again in Southern Philippines. Doubly tragic because such violence could be prevented. The popular rejection of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain has separated the positions of Moros and Christians quite clearly.

Many Moros are now saying, “Christians will never recognize our fundamental right to self-determination as a people. We do not want an independent State. We simply want self-determination in our ancestral land.” On the other hand, Christian Filipinos are passionately affirming their stand, “We do not want to be driven away from our lands. We do not want any Philippine territory to be taken away. We do not want to be part of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.”

The great tragedy for the country is that the MOA-AD is being rejected for reasons that can be resolved or may not even be in the MOA-AD. It is as though our fears and prejudices have become the measure for judging the Memorandum of Agreement. There is no substitute to actually reading and studying the document – in itself – to know what it says, to know what it does not say, and to realize the implications of all these. By rejecting the Memorandum of Agreement on the basis of misconception, prejudices and misinformation, we may be throwing out a “piece of paper” that could very well be a good working basis for lasting peace in Mindanao.

Many Filipinos reject the MOA-AD mainly on the following bases:

(1) It is dismembering the Republic of the Philippines;
(2) It has certain unacceptable or at least questionable provisions;
(3) The Filipino people were not consulted;
(4) The present government cannot be trusted;
(5) President Arroyo wants the MOA-AD in order to extend her term;
(6) The United States had a “hidden” hand in the MOA-AD because of its own interests.

The first and second objections concern the content of the MOA-AD. The third objection is about process. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth objections are about circumstances external to the document.

I believe that all of us should let the MOA-AD speak for itself. To do this may I suggest some points for reflection.

On the concept of Bangsamoro self-determination:
*Do Christian Filipinos recognize that the right to self-determination is a fundamental right?
*Is such a right unconstitutional?
*Are the Bangsamoro people entitled to such a right?

On the Bangsamoro homeland or ancestral domain:
*In their history have the Bangsamoro people ever exercised the right to self-determination and sovereignty?
*Are we, Christian Filipinos, aware that even before the Spaniards came, the Bangsamoro people already had a system of political authority that held sway over a domain that covered most parts of Mindanao and Sulu?
*Despite Spanish and American colonizers, did leaders of the Bangsamoro people continue to claim political authority over their ancestral domain?
*Within the short space of 50 years, from the 1920s to the 1970s, did not Christian Filipinos completely reverse the demographic, territorial, and political situation in Mindanao and Sulu partly through a series of land laws that sent several waves of migrating Christians from the Visayas and Luzon?
*Are we aware that while we Christians call this historical, demographic, and political development quite legal, members of the Bangsamoro believed and continue to believe that this was an injustice to their historic claim to their lands and to the self-determination that they – for a long time – once exercised in their territory?

On Bangsamoro self-determination and exercise of sovereignty in relation to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity:
*Does Bangsamoro self-determination and exercise of sovereignty in their ancestral domain necessarily mean political independence from the Republic of the Philippines?
*Does the MOA-AD say that the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is a separate and independent State? Does it intend to set up such a State?
Is there internal evidence in the MOA-AD that in fact it does not intend to do so, and that the agreement is not setting up an independent State?
*Does the MOA-AD say, even if only equivalently, that it is breaking up the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines?

If the document has internal merits, surely the problems of lack of consultation can be worked out. Flaws in the concepts and content can be remedied. Suspicions about the hidden hand of the United States or the hidden intentions of the President Macapagal Arroyo behind charter change can be resolved in their own context. But these to my mind are basically extraneous to the internal validity of the MOA-AD. We can surely correct its faults.

But to reject the MOA-AD completely on the basis of what it does not say could be a tragedy of incalculable proportion, possibly a death knell to lasting peace. The two panels have painstakingly worked out the peace documents for 11 long years. I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they have been conscientious in their work, looking out for the interests of their constituencies.

It is my firm conviction that if only the MOA-AD is allowed to speak for itself or examined on its own merits, it can be a good working document for lasting peace in Mindanao.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
August 17, 2008

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The MOA-AD, a Memorandum of Intent?

(Fifth of a Series)

The distinct impression that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines gives me is that the title is a misnomer. The document is effectively a Memorandum of Intent.

The MOA-AD purports to be precisely what it says, a memorandum of agreement by the MILF and GRP. Both parties agree on the various points of the memo. And presumably both agree to implement them. In this sense the document is a memo of agreement. But can the two panels really bind, without prior consultation and consent, the two bodies they represent to do what is written in the document? That is the question this reflection wants to deal with. It is the reflection of a lay person in matters political and legal.

First with regard to the GRP side. Let us presume that the GRP peace panel did not consult nor have the agreement of the legislative and judicial branches of government. Let us also presume that much of the MOA-AD will depend on the consent of both these bodies. If so, it would seem to me that the GRP side would be assuming too much if it were to sign the Memorandum of Agreement prior to that consultation and consent. The Supreme Court could, for instance, strike down the agreement as illegal or unconstitutional. The legislative branch in turn might not agree with changes in government structures that a peace agreement could require.

Moreover from what I know about the reactions of both government branches to the document, I have the idea that the name “GRP” in the GRP-MILF negotiations would represent only the executive branch of the government of the Philippines. Therefore, if it signs the document prior to consultation and consent the executive branch only really intends to do its very best to persuade both the judicial and legislative branches that everything is above board.

Present developments and reactions to the MOA-AD would indicate this. The MOA-AD is now to be argued by the representatives of the Executive branch before the Supreme Court. Waiting for their chance to attack or support the MOA-AD are the members of Congress, House and Senate. What we read in the newspapers about the reactions of some members, albeit the opposition group, does not bode well for the MOA-AD.

On the other hand, the MILF could face the same challenge. The document is to be signed by the MILF on behalf of the Bangsamoro people. But logic tells me that the MILF cannot do so unless the ARMM and the MNLF that also claim to represent the Bangsamoro would first be consulted and give consent. The document could mean an entirely new basic law for the Bangsamoro people. Or it could mean amendments to the present ARMM law. But would the ARMM agree? Would the MNLF agree to changes that could possibly supersede their 1996 peace agreement with the government? Would both of these agree to changes in the power structure within the Bangsamoro ancestral domain that the MOA-AD implies? Perhaps this is one reason that at least one foreign representative has urged the various Bangsamoro groups to come together and forge a united position.

Moreover, the present MOA-AD contains many provisions stating that such and such points will be the basis of negotiations towards a future Comprehensive Compact. Hence, the present document could be more of preliminary agenda setting by way of consensus points for formal negotiations to take place. But as I go through the MOA-AD it seems to be more than agenda setting.

In the light of all the above, the following would be my conclusion: the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, initialed by both panels, is in effect an agreement on consensus points. By this document the parties intend to do their very best to have these points approved by the groups they represent. More negotiations and consultations will take place until a Comprehensive Pact is signed, indubitably “owned” by the Bangsamoro and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

But until such time, the document on consensus points would not really be a memorandum of agreement but a memorandum of intent and perhaps one of commitment to take the necessary steps towards a final Comprehensive Compact.

Should either party fail to get such an approval, the peaceful alternative would be for the peace panels to return to the negotiating table and resolve the problematic issues. It is for this reason that the following, I believe, are imperative: prior as well as ongoing consultation and dialogue with various constituencies on the issues of the peace negotiations, information for and education of the constituencies on the historical, cultural, legal, political, territorial, economic, and social dimensions of the peace talks, and the building of support constituencies.

Therefore, as a way out of the present impasse let organized and focused public discussions on the MOA-AD be conducted for a specific and reasonable period of time so that the two parties may be guided accordingly.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

August 9, 2008

Will People Accept the MOA-AD?

(Fourth of a series)

While the MOA-AD between the MILF and GRP can be the basis of lasting peace with the Bangsamoro in Mindanao and Sulu, we already see the negative reactions of Christians in North Cotabato and other provinces and of some legislators. Some of these reactions could be knee-jerk reactions with no solid basis. But I believe this is not always the case.

Two immediate reasons for the negative reception of the MOA-AD are lack of information regarding the contents of the document and lack of previous consultation with various stakeholders as to what the document should contain. No serious effort was apparently made to establish a supportive public constituency. Having consultations, asking for directions, providing progress reports – these are proven ways to have people participate in any matter that is of utmost importance to them and their future.

It remains true that many things cannot be negotiated in public, otherwise the plethora of opinions and suggestions, each one passionately presented and defended, would create disorder out of order. But there is a certain irreplaceable and indispensable benefit to people’s participation through consultation and information dissemination at various points in the peace journey. I am quite certain that both the MILF and the GRP have set a certain time for extensive consultations, perhaps when referendum and changes to constitution/law are to be made. But present reactions cannot wait for that time.

The journey to peace in Mindanao is inarguably long and tedious, with many stops and detours. It is almost impossible to accelerate it. Milestones have been set along the way, one of which was the 1996 peace agreement. These milestones are marks of progress. One would think then that along the arduous and difficult journey, certain stops should been made to ask for directions, consult people, set goals and then obtain consensus points at the roadside negotiation table.

This, of course, could simply be hindsight wisdom. Be that as it may, it is wisdom to consult, ask questions, and secure assistance regarding directions and goals from stakeholders, left, right and center. For the government – consult with the different branches of government and with the people directly affected by conflict. For the MILF – consult with the Bangsamoro people, with the MNLF, and with the ARMM. I am not sure that any of these consultations were done -- and in a satisfactory manner. On the GRP side, the negative reactions are open and even hostile. On the MILF side, much less so, except for some ARMM reaction. But the question of Bangsamoro unity (MILF, MNLF, ARMM, and their various constituencies) on the MOA-AD has yet to be established.

For the Bangsamoro people with three different groups wanting to speak in their name, not counting the extremists who claim a certain political or even ideological identity, the need for consensus is as important as for the GRP. For the MILF it may not be as apparently urgent.

There is certainly the imperative of educating all the various constituencies and stakeholders as to the contents (concepts and principles, territory, resources, and governance) of the MOA-AD, their bases in history and in law, the steps still to be taken, the recognition of mutual rights, as well as the mutual sacrifices needed by both peoples, Bangsamoro and non-Bangsamoro.

For the non-Bangsamoro people, knowledge of Moro history will sometimes make a bloody entrance because of mutual prejudices and biases, entrenched through four centuries of attitudinal and psychological buildup. A certain injustice to the Bangsamoro people is not a concept that is easily understood by the non-Bangsamoro, much less accepted. One can already perceive the truth of this statement in the immediate remarks of some politicians regarding the MOA-AD. In their present level of understanding of Bangsamoro history and culture, I doubt very much if they could ever acknowledge the right of various peoples, including the Bangsamoro, to self determination, a fundamental right already enshrined in the present Constitution.

For both peoples, the key to the acceptability of the MOA-AD consists, I believe, in the following: consultation and dialogue, information and education, and building a constituency supportive of the general goals and specific objectives as well as the processes and contents of the peace negotiations.

The Temporary Restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court is an occasion for all of us to reflect on this key to acceptability and work on it. Precipitous haste is not a wise response to urgency nor the way to acceptability.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

August 9, 2008


(Third of a series)

To all of us who were not privy to the intense discussions in the peace negotiations, the MOA-AD has a lot of ambiguity as well as questionable presentation. Muslims, Christians, Lumad would want such issues to be clarified, before saying yes or no to the consensus points.

It is nowhere stated in the MOA-AD that the MILF acknowledges the authority and sovereignty of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines over all the territories covered by the term “Republic” in the Constitution of the Philippines. It has been reported, of course, that the MILF does not recognize the Philippine Constitution. So here are some questions.

2.1.Abstracting from the reported MILF rejection of the Constitution, Filipino citizens would want to know in clear terms: Does the MILF recognize either de iure or de facto that the Republic of the Philippines holds authority and sovereignty over the whole of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan?

2.2.Does the MILF, with the MOA-AD, as a stepping stone intend to set up an independent State? In other words, is the MOA-AD an initial process of dismembering the Republic of the Philippines?

2.3.Did the Lumad people agree to being coopted into the Bangsamoro? By virtue of the IPRA Law, do they not in fact have their own ancestral domain? What happens to this Lumad ancestral domain when they are coopted by virtue of the MOA-AD into the Bangsamoro?

2.4.What do the negotiating panels mean by “associative relationship and associative arrangements”?

2.5.Does the use of the term “central government” in the MOA-AD connote the idea that the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity recognizes the authority of a central government over it?

2.6.Does the term “shared authority and control” in the MOA-AD connote the exercise of power by two equal authorities, or is it a recognition that in the sharing there is a “primus inter pares” principle?

2.7.Is the MOA-AD faithful to the idea repeatedly reported that negotiations would take place while safeguarding the sovereignty of the Republic?

2.8.What happens if the Congress of the Philippines is unwilling to make the necessary changes in the Constitution envisioned by the MOA-AD? What happens if the MNLF and/or the ARMM do not agree with the MILF vision?

2.9.Why did the peace panels agree to include in Category A many barangays that are obviously Christian-dominated and thus make the MOA-AD unacceptable?

3. At present, I give the MOA-AD and the two peace panels the benefit of the doubt. They have worked at the agreement for years, painstakingly hammering out every word and every phase, every concept and its implications. I know that they have the interests of their respective constituencies always in mind. Right now, despite the ambiguities of the MOA-AD, I sincerely believe that both parties, given the complexities of the situation, have admirably attempted a remarkable balancing between Bangsamoro aspirations for self determination and GRP conviction in its own national sovereignty.

4. Therefore, my present interpretation of the MOA-AD is that it attempts to apply a treasured social principle called the Principle of Subsidiarity. Enshrined in the social teachings of the Catholic Church, the principle of subsidiarity may be expressed in the following way: a member of the social organism may do everything it is capable of, in freedom and self-determination, for its own good and for the good of the social organism. It is only when the member fails to do so that the social organism intervenes and provides the necessary assistance. The principle of subsidiarity is a principle of governance, authority, decision-making, etc., for the secular community. Nowadays Catholic scholars prefer to use an analogically similar principle called the principle of “communion” as more applicable to the Church community.

5. The answers to the questions posed above may prove me wrong about the MOA-AD as a concrete application of the principle of subsidiarity. But if the answers prove me right, then it is my contention that the peace process is going in the right direction.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

August 9, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Can the MOA-AD bring Lasting Peace?

(Second of a series)

The Memo of Agreement on Ancestral Domain initialled by the peace panels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is a sign of contradiction. For probably most Christians, it is a document that is unpatriotic, a betrayal of the nation, a surrender of national sovereignty over huge swaths of Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago and Palawan, a selling of Christians “down the river”, a document to be rejected. For some Muslims, the document is not enough. It is a betrayal of their hopes and aspirations for self-determination and freedom, a surrender of territories that once belonged to them by right of ancestral domain and native title.

But the MOA-AD, no matter how one looks at it, is a remarkable document. It is a very serious attempt to balance national sovereignty and Bangsamoro aspirations for self-determination and freedom. For this reason, I believe that the MOA-AD can bring lasting peace. Let me elaborate.

The document should be read in the light of Bangsamoro history. This history is not one that our Spanish and Filipino Christian historians have developed. Our history is a history written by one party to the complex human encounter that we call Philippine history, written perhaps by “victors.” Bangsamoro history has largely been one of oral tradition and only in the last 400 years do we see that history written, but not from their point of view.

But it is from the largely unfamiliar side of Philippine history that is also true and indisputable that the concepts of ancestral domain and a Bangsamoro homeland should be understood. The MOA-AD document returns to that concept as a basis for lasting peace.

On the other hand, the document is also remarkable from the angle of what Mindanao is today. Through successive waves of migration and public laws, the face of the population as well as of territories has changed. In less than 50 years beginning with the 1930s Christians now outnumber Muslims in the land once under the sway and influence of Muslim Sultans. The document recognizes this fact. And it is to the credit of the MILF that its vision today carries on the vision of its late Chairman, Hashim Salamat. He had said that his vision for the Bangsamoro people is framed in consideration of present realities. For this reason, the document speaks about the ARMM territory as the core of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. Altogether, the territory is much less than the original Bangsamoro homeland. The MOA-Ad makes use of present realities as a basis for lasting peace.

The balancing act between Bangsamoro aspirations for self-determination and national sovereignty may be seen in the concepts on governance, concretized in such terms as “associative relationships,” “shared authority,” the idea of “central government,” and its responsibility for external defence, etc. For the GRP the balancing continues with two fundamental democratic safety valves – acts of Congress and referendum.

Perhaps, concepts need to be clearer. They can be made so in future steps of the peace process as both parties move towards a Comprehensive Pact. But the MOA-AD need not be the document that should contain all the details that would resolve all questions and doubts. The peace process will continue even after it is signed. With good will, patience and wisdom --- and consultation ---such further steps will surely resolve substantive questions.

Therefore, if seen from the perspective of history as we usually know it from our own Christian writers (Spanish, American, Filipino), with no consideration to the enduring aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination in their homeland, the MOA-AD will not lead to peace.

But if the document is seen from two perspectives, that of the Bangsamoro historical past and of Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan present day realities, and these two perspectives are somehow respected, then the MOA-AD can lead to lasting peace.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

August 7, 2008

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What is the MOA-AD in the MILF-GRP Peace Process?

(First of a series)

What is the MOA-AD?

It is the Memorandum of Agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines that consists of statements agreed upon by consensus between the peace panels of both parties. It deals with Concepts and Principles, Territory, Resources, Governance of the Ancestral Domain of the Bangsamoro.

What is the Bangsamoro people?

According to the MOA, the Bangsamoro people “refers to those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization and their descendants whether mixed or of full native blood. Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro. The freedom of choice of the indigenous people shall be respected.”

What is the Bangsamoro homeland?

Historically the Bangsamoro homeland consisted of the territory under the control or influence of the Moro Sultanates. But now as described by the MOA, the Bangsamoro ancestral domain would only include the present territorial territory of the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) as its core and additional barangays in Region IX, XII, and Palawan. More than 700 barangays outside ARMM would be restored to the ancestral domain, subject to plebiscite within 12 months after the signing of the MOA. More towns would be included, again subject to plebiscite after 25 years. Moreover, this Bangsamoro ancestral domain would consist of land, waters, seas, air, and other resources.

What is the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE)?

The territory described above would have a juridical personality. It is a juridical entity that would have its own form of government and would exercise authority and jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro ancestral domain.

How will the BJE relate to the Republic of the Philippines?

The MOA is silent about the issue whether or not the JBE is part and parcel of the Republic of the Philippines. Instead it recognizes “the Central Government,” and establishes “associative relationship and associative arrangments” between BJE and GRP, as well as “shared authority over territory” “shared responsibility” “sharing of resources,” etc., with a period of transition specifying the relationship. But the MOA also states that “The Parties shall faithfully comply with their commitment to the associative arrangements upon entry into force of the Comprehensive Compact.” Therefore, it may be understood that the “relationship of associative arrangements” will continue even after the JBE shall have been “fully entrenched and established in the basic law of the BJE.”

Will private owners lose their properties in the BJE?

The MOA expressly enjoins that “Vested proprietary rights upon the entrenchment of the BJE shall be recognized and respected subject to paragraph 9 of the strand on Resources.” Paragraph 9 of the strand of Resources refers to forest concessions, timber licenses, contracts or agreements, mining concessions, mineral production and Sharing Agreements, Industrial Forest Management Agreements, etc. By such reference, privately owned farms and other properties would be respected by the BJE.

What changes took place through the years in the Bangsamoro ancestral domain?

To answer the question and to have a better understanding of the MOA-AD, we need to have a quick recall of history. Islam arrived in the Philippines 200 years before Christianity arrived. Eventually and before the Spaniards came a regime of sultans began. From that time on the Bangsamoro people have asserted and exercised self-determination and sovereignty over their ancestral domain, until the effective political power of the sultanates faded away. The Bangsamoro people came under the control of the Americans. The ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro people became public domain.

But even when the Americans gave independence to the Philippines, many of the Bangsamoro people continued to assert their claim to self-determination and sovereignty rather than be under the authority of the Philippine government. Successive waves of migrants from the Visayas and Luzon in the 1900s, authorized by a series of public laws, gained land titles in the form of torrens titles as against the native titles of the Bangsamoro people.

The population pattern in Mindanao significantly changed from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the 1930s the great majority of Mindanao people were Muslims and Indigenous Peoples (IP), with a small minority of Christians. By the time the waves of migrations ended in the 1960s, Christians constituted the great majority of Mindanao people, with a minority of Muslim and IPs. In other words the Bangsamoro became a minority in their own ancestral domain. Difference in concepts regarding land ownership also contributed to these major changes in the ancestral Bangsamoro ancestral domain.

How does the MOA-AD respond to the loss of ancestral domain?

The MOA-AD restores a certain self-determination and sovereignty to the Bangsamoro people in their own homeland. Because of historical development since the 1900s the Bangsamoro ancestral domain/homeland is no longer of the same extent over which the sultanates once held sway. It is now limited territorially to what is described in #3 above. The MOA-AD also follows the principle that the IPRA law grants to the Indigenous Peoples, i.e., that their ancestral domain is not part of the public domain. The many details regarding concepts and principles, territory, resources and governance remain subject of negotiations in view of a Comprehensive Peace Pact. The concrete type of governance that would be established by and in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity would be determined by a basic law. Ultimately the changes regarding territory will depend on the Congress of the Philippine and peoples’ referendum.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

August 6, 2008