A moment of prayer for our soldiers | Inquirer Opinion

A moment of prayer for our soldiers

Nine months ago, 19 Army troopers were massacred by criminal elements in cahoots with MILF secessionist forces at Al-Barka, Basilan.

We remember them and President Aquino can honor their memory by a moment of prayer as he reports to the people today on the State of Our Nation.


* * *

Last week, Philippine Peace Panel Chairman Marvic Leonen announced that a peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was near, expressing optimism that a final agreement would be signed this year. The announcement came at the start of a 3-day Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly at the MILF administrative base in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province.


Earlier in April, government and MILF peace panels signed 10 “Decision Points on Principles” to guide discussions on the substantive agenda of the negotiations. MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim characterized the signing as a “flickering light” since “it is the first and only concrete achievement as far as the Philippine government-MILF negotiations under the Aquino administration is concerned.”

Between the bright and sunny outlook of Leonen and the dark and dreary view of Ebrahim, I am more inclined to believe that there will be no signing of any peace treaty this year and talks will continue to drag on. The question is: Who will benefit more from this stalemate?

* * *

Let us take a look at the agreed “Decision Points on Principles.” By the way, these are just guiding principles. The panels have not started discussions on the substantive aspect of peace talks. While much has been made of these “Decision Points,” very few people are in the know as to what they are all about. News reports have been vague as though the real objective was something like a strip-tease act—bare some skin, but hide the vital parts.

Perhaps we should be reminded that the last time we were on the verge of signing some agreement with the MILF—a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in Kuala Lumpur in August 2008—part of the agreement was the setting up of a new entity called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that fortunately was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the nick of time. Of course, the Filipino people were among the last to know about this new entity. It appears that non-Filipinos knew what was going on. In fact, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was in Kuala Lumpur to witness the signing, along with representatives from other countries.

What are these “Decision Points”?

1. The Parties recognize Bangsamoro identity and the legitimate grievances and claims of the Bangsamoro people.


2. The Parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Parties will work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity in place of ARMM. (A new political entity is to replace ARMM. But what was wrong with ARMM anyway? Leonen himself cites two major reasons for the problems of ARMM. First, lack of funds. Second, incompetent officials of the autonomous government rendered inutile any rights or powers granted under the law that created ARMM. Will a new entity correct these deficiencies?)

3. The Parties agree to the continuity of negotiations in the context of agreed documents.

4. The Parties agree that the new autonomous political entity shall have a ministerial form of government.

5. The Parties agree to the need for a transition period and the institution of transitional mechanisms in order to implement the provisions of the agreement.

6. There will be power-sharing and wealth-sharing between the national government and the new political entity. In the matter of power-sharing, the national government will have its reserved powers. The new political entity will have its exclusive powers and there will be concurrent powers shared by the national government and the new political entity.

The Parties agree that the following matters are reserved for the competence of the national government:

a) Defense and external security

b) Foreign policy

c) Common market and global trade

d) Coinage and monetary policy

e) Citizenship and naturalization

f) Postal service

This list is without prejudice to other powers, which the Parties may agree to reserve to the national government in the course of the negotiation.

7. The Parties agree that wealth creation (or revenue generation and sourcing) is important. The Parties also acknowledge the power of the new political entity to create its own sources of revenue subject to limitations as may be mutually agreed upon by the Parties and to have a just share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development or taxation of natural resources.

8. The Parties recognize the need to strengthen the Shariah courts and to expand their jurisdiction over cases. The new political entity shall also have competence over the Shariah justice system.

9. The Parties agree to the creation of third-party monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, which may utilize competencies already available in existing mechanisms, e.g., ICG, IMT, CCCH [International Coordinating Group, International Monitoring Teams, Coordinating Committees on the Secession of Hostilities].

10. In addition to basic rights already enjoyed, the following rights of all citizens residing in the new political entity bind the legislature, executive and judiciary, as directly enforceable law and are guaranteed:

a. Right to life and to inviolability of one’s person and dignity;

b. Right to freedom and expression of religion and beliefs;

c. Right to privacy;

d. Right to freedom of speech;

e. Right to express political opinion and pursue democratically political aspirations;

f. Right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;

g. Right of women to meaningful and political participation and protection from all forms of violence;

h. Right to freely choose one’s place of residence and the inviolability of the home;

i. Right to equal opportunity and nondiscrimination in social and economic activity and public service, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;

j. Right to establish cultural and religious associations;

k. Right to freedom from religious, ethnic, and sectarian harassment; and

l. Right to redress of grievances and due process of law.

The agreement was signed by government peace panel Chair Marvic Leonen and MILF panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, and witnessed by Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.

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At the Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly, MILF Chair Ebrahim noted that the MILF Four-Point Program—Islamization, strengthening of the organization, military buildup, and self-reliance—has made the MILF “one of the biggest liberation organizations in the world today.”

In the face of such provocative observations, we must remain on alert and continue to strengthen our Armed Forces. This does not make us warmongers. In the end, it is the soldier that must suffer the wounds and scars of war. Let us remember the words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

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TAGS: al-barka massacre, Basilan, crime, insurgency, MILF, Military, Philippine Peace Process
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