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

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