Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Lack of consultation, transparency on Moro homeland accord hit

Various peace advocates and a Christian politician in Mindanao have decried the lack of consultation and transparency on the ancestral domain agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In a forum last Monday organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Cotabato-based think-tank, Institute for Autonomy and Governance, the panelists said it is going to be hard to build public support for the agreement since many groups, including Mindanao peace advocates, were not consulted.

What is the GRP-MILF agreement on ancestral domain?
In a summary of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain obtained by abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Camilo Miguel Montesa, policy adviser of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), said that under the accord, the Philippine government agrees to:

- Recognize the Bangsamoro people as "distinct from the rest of the national communities";

- Grant the Bangsamoro people their own "distinct territory";

- Grant the Bangsamoro pople their own "government"; and,

- Concede international recognition to the Bangsamoro people.


Former Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles said the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain is not a good way to start implementing a peace deal.

"Up to now, officially we don’t have a copy. We, other leaders and stakeholders, would feel the same. We are kind of deceived, deprived of a voice. So it’s an uphill battle. I guess one cardinal principle for stakeholders is to start well. But this one, at the very start, it’s a bad step," Valles said.

North Cotabato Vice-Governor Emmanuel Piñol, a critic of the MILF, lamented that local leaders of Mindanao whose constituencies may be reduced as a result of the accord, were also not consulted on what will constitute the new Moro homeland.

Under the ancestral domain accord, the government will move for the holding of a plebiscite six months after it is signed. The provinces that will be most affected by a possible expansion of the ARMM are North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao del Norte.

Supreme Court case

Pinol said he has already asked the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for an official copy of the draft MOA and its annexes so he can question its legality before the Supreme Court (SC).

Piñol said his complaint will not be entertained by the SC unless he gets an official copy of the MOA. If he fails to get an official copy, he will ask the SC to compel the OPAPP to give him an official copy.

"By Monday [July 28], we should already be in the Supreme Court," he said.

He warned the government was courting trouble with the ancestral domain accord, especially in "warrior towns" of North Cotabato.

"When the leaders themselves are not aware of this, then you are courting trouble," he said.

IPs not consulted, too

Ponciano Bennagen, a member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission representing indigenous peoples (IPs), said IPs of Mindanao and other key stakeholders in the peace process in Mindanao were also not adequately consulted and given access to the MOA on ancestral domain.

Due to this drawback, he proposed that various mechanisms be established to discuss the MOA with the stakeholders, including Christian political leaders.

"We haven’t heard from the Lobregats yet," he said. "We need to address the question of transparency and then the education of the communities, the direct stakeholders."

He said even peace advocates who may be in favor of the MOA will find it hard to campaign in the plebiscite if they are not adequately informed about the agreement.

Bennagen also questioned why in the MOA, indigenous peoples are being given the freedom to choose whether to join the BJE "when they have already made their choice, and they don’t want to be part of the BJE."

But Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Cotabato-based think-tank Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), stressed that the people have the final say on whether to join the new Moro homeland by casting their votes in the plebiscite. "Let them say no [if they want]," he said. "Perhaps, it’s a matter of explaining to them also."

GMA lameduck by 2009?

Piñol said the government was "trying to raise false hopes" with the MOA.

Aside from possible legal obstacles, Piñol said he does not believe President Arroyo will be able to implement the MOA since she will be a "lameduck president by 2009." New national and local elections are scheduled in May 2010.

"We were not even to pass cha-cha at a time when Gloria was very influential, and she had the mayors, governors, congressmen all toeing her line. How much more in 2009, one year before the end of her term?" he asked.

Piñol said the GRP negotiating panel has "misjudged the sentiments of the people of Mindanao."

"We don’t like this [MOA]. We were never consulted about the plebiscite," he said.

Focus on poverty alleviation

When told that the OPAPP conducted consultations with various stakeholders including himself, Piñol said the proposals he made in these meetings called by former OPAPP chief Jesus Dureza were never adopted in the MOA.

He said the people of Mindanao want peace and are tired of war. In the past several years, when there was relative peace, Piñol said North Cotabato became more progressive.

Instead of trying to reach a political solution with the MILF, Piñol said the government should concentrate on economic projects that will eliminate the roots of the conflict in Mindanao.

"We have failed to realize that had there been greater scrutiny on what really ails the area, we would have discovered that it is the poverty of the people and corruption that prevails in the area," Piñol said.

Piñol said there was no need to hold another plebiscite in North Cotabato since 98% of those who voted in the 2001 exercise chose not to join the ARMM.

"If they want to fast-track the peace process, this is the wrong way of doing it," he said.

He said he and the North Cotabato governor have already talked to local officials and have passed a resolution against the MOA.

"We want peace but we are not willing to sacrifice a lot of things in the name of peace because the peace that you have in mind will create a lot of trouble for us," Piñol said.

Other sectors complain, too

Estrellita Juliano, vice-president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said she supports Piñol’s plan to question the MOA before the Supreme Court due to lack of consultation and transparency.

Peace advocate Miriam Coronel, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, advised the panel discussants to come up with "mechanisms that will address the issue of transparency and lack of information."

She said the MOA is not clear on the role of other peace stakeholders. "Everything is dependent basically on the goodwill basically of government. All the different voices, which may be for or against this agreement, there is no mechanism for them."

Bacani said the government has promised to undertake an advocacy campaign for the MOA on ancestral domain after it is signed. He acknowledged, though, that this does not address the issue of lack of participation of the stakeholders in the accord.

Sister Linda Hisug, a peace worker in Mindanao, said the concept of freedom being pushed by the MILF is not clear to women religious groups in the south. She said they were also not consulted on the MOA on ancestral domain.

"Even this issue you’re talking about now, it is something that is hidden to us and we even ask why this is hidden to us. I believe this question will be answered if things are more clear and issues are more defined," she said.

Israelito Torreon, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Davao del Sur chapter, said the people of Davao were surprised about the agreement on ancestral domain since they were also not consulted. He also raised the issue of lack of transparency on the accord. (ISAGANI DE CASTRO, JR.; abs-cbnNEWS.com)

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