Today’s “occupation” of Malacañang by the guerillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is certainly another historic milestone in the decades-old struggle for self-determination by the Moro people.
From the battle-scarred areas of Maguindanao to the haven of the country’s business elite in Makati, there is no mistaking the euphoria that accompanied the completion of the framework agreement forged last week in Malaysia by the negotiating panels of the Philippine government and the MILF. The agreement is to be signed today in Malacañang. The framework will give birth to “Bangsamoro,” a new political entity to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and it is supposed to correct “historical injustices” and end the armed rebellion of the Moro people in Mindanao.
Thus, even before the ink sealing the framework agreement dries, profuse paeans have already been heaped upon the parties to the talks, particularly the members of the negotiating panels who crafted the agreement and deftly avoided the pitfalls that accompanied a similar agreement in 2008—the bungled Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Some politicians who previously questioned the MOA-AD, now join the welcome chorus. One group even unabashedly labeled President Aquino as “peace champion of the highest order,” never mind that extrajudicial and political killings and enforced disappearances are still counting under his administration.
Also, on the economic table, many are already counting the putative economic dividends that the agreement could bring, especially those slobbering after the bountiful resources in the proposed Bangsamoro territory. Mr. Aquino himself bragged that soon the Bangsamoro will become a hub of information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, core sectors in his administration’s economic program.
The euphoria over today’s signing in Malacañang is reminiscent of a similar event in September 1996, during the Ramos administration, when the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was signed by then Ambassador Manuel Yan, representing the government, and Prof. Nur Misuari, representing the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). At the time, the FPA, which was brokered by the powerful Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), was also met with much enthusiasm.
But more 16 years later, despite the billions of pesos worth of domestic and foreign aid and investments poured into the ARMM (which the Aquino administration now labels as a “failed experiment”), the autonomous region continues to further divide the Moro people, even as it has become a haven of warlords and greedy political dynasties while the majority of its people continue to wallow in abject poverty.
The “status quo is unacceptable,” the new framework agreement declares. If so, will this pact become the true road map to peace in Mindanao? Will it truly address the Bangsamoro’s assertion of its right to self-determination?
“We are imbued with vigilant optimism that the Moro people will see some infant steps toward exercising their right to self-government and determining their own destiny. However, let it be clear that it is the Bangsamoro masses themselves who will be the judge of the correctness of this agreement,” observed the peace advocacy group, InPeace Mindanao.
“As history is witness to the fact that colonial regimes and the Manila central government have repeatedly done historical wrongs and thrown out their commitments against the Moro people—from the Kiram-Bates treaty to the Tripoli Agreement—the litmus paper test of the pact will be the GPH [Government of the Philippines] sincerity,” it added.
Indeed, it is conceded that the litmus test of the framework agreement to be signed today will be the specific agreements outlining and spelling out the proposed Bangsamoro government. Of course, one cannot just ignore the rumblings of MNLF Chair Nur Misuari, given that the proposed framework agreement supersedes the present ARMM setup and, therefore, can be interpreted as a unilateral abandonment by the Philippine government of the FPA it entered into in 1996 with the MNLF. Other armed Moro revolutionary groups cannot just be sidelined or silenced.
But more importantly, the people must be warned to remain cautious about the traps that may be laid along this road map—traps that could put to waste the sacrifices made by many martyrs for the cause of self-determination.
For example, while the framework agreement has avoided imposing the Philippines’ constitutional and legal processes, it is clear from its various provisions that the implementation of this pact is dependent on actions to be taken by the Philippine government’s executive and legislative branches (e.g., its Basic Law is to be approved by Congress; the Transition Commission is to be created by a presidential edict, etc. These are acts that could place the proposed Bangsamoro entity politically hostage to the whims of Malacañang and Congress).
Indeed, most of the vital matters that truly affect the Moro masses—wealth and revenue sharing, human rights, etc.—are yet to be discussed or negotiated in detail and disclosed to the public, especially to the Bangsamoro.
Today, from the halls of Malacañang, nice words will reverberate to supposedly usher peace and development in Mindanao. But as MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim admitted, the framework agreement will not in itself solve the Moro rebellion. Much more has to be done and to be fought for by the Bangsamoro.
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