Still a long, long way off | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Still a long, long way off

/ 02:13 AM August 15, 2011

If you think that the recent secret meeting in Tokyo between President Aquino and MILF chief Hadji Murad Ebrahim—widely hailed as a “breakthrough” in the long-drawn quest for peace—will finally bring to an end the decades-long conflict in war-torn Mindanao, perhaps you should think again.

The mixed reactions to the one-on-one dialogue indicate that a final resolution to the Mindanao problem is still a long way off.


As last Friday’s Inquirer editorial (“Bold bid for peace”) pointed out, “Other daunting details need to be fleshed out—like how to accommodate the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao into the proposed sub-state …”

Reacting to the editorial in an on-line commentary, lawyer Darwin T. Rasul III wrote: “To accommodate the ARMM into the proposed sub-state is a misplaced line of thinking, not to mention (that) it requires a constitutional change which is not feasible because a sub-state that can only be imagined here is no less than what comprises the ARMM now.”


The reverse, he said, which is to accommodate the proposed sub-state “into the existing constitutionally mandated” ARMM, “since a sub-state referred to is no other than an autonomous ‘state’” would be more plausible.

Rasul, convenor of Bangun!, one of the groups that campaigned for the postponement of the ARMM elections that would have been held this month, also noted that since the MILF, as stated by Murad, has already dropped its bid for independence, “it has in effect yielded itself to the command of the Philippine Constitution and must comply now with the constitutional requirements for its own sub-state proposal.”

The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was almost signed into law during the last administration but was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Rasul added, “cannot by any stretch of the imagination be a parallel process but must henceforth be treated possibly operational only within the territorial integrity of the present autonomous region, the ARMM, the creation of which is a constitutional command.”

President Aquino’s allies in Congress also reject the idea of a sub-state because it is unconstitutional, and should such an agreement be pushed through, then this can only be done through Charter change, which according to Rasul, is not “feasible… unless the MILF wants the constitutionally mandated Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao supplanted and replaced with the sub-state.”

But what really is this “sub-state” as envisioned by the MILF?

While no details of the Tokyo talks have as yet been disclosed to the public, MILF spokesperson Mohagher Iqbal revealed that the proposed sub-state would remain under the government of the Philippines, which will have control of foreign relations, national defense, currency and postal service, while the “residual power” will be performed by the sub-state. “And there will be joint jurisdiction of power exercised jointly by the central government and the state government,” he said.

The ARMM was created by Republic Act 9054, an organic act which was incorporated into the 1987 Constitution during the administration of Pres. Corazon C. Aquino. In 1996, during the administration of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, the government and the Moro National Liberation Front signed the Final Peace Agreement (FPA).


To this day 16 years later, however, not all the provisions agreed upon have been implemented, and this has been a constant grievance of the MNLF. In the view of many, without a full compliance with the FPA, any agreement that will be forged between the government and the MILF will be adding insult to injury.

Former Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema, who heads a faction of the MNLF, said that his group has no problem if the sub-state would include areas defined in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement that was forged by the Marcos government with the MNLF. The agreement included 13 provinces and the cities therein. “But if the area is ARMM alone, it is an absurdity for the MILF to negotiate for the same area already covered by the Final Peace Agreement,” he said.

But for MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, the word “sub-state” is “like a multi-bladed thing” that could mean independence. “I have this impression that they are creating a quasi-independent state that can easily be transformed into an independent state based on the MOA-AD,” he said.

Misuari also said that despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of the MOA-AD, “some key leaders, those who were in Tokyo, showed clearly that their hearts and souls were still focused on MOA-AD, and my impression is that the government is committed to give the MOA-AD.”

It seems Misuari could not have spoken too soon.

Iqbal, who is also the MILF chief negotiator, admitted to reporters that the MILF had indeed incorporated the MOA-AD in their proposed sub-state. “It’s not repackaged but re-framed,” and they want to bring “the contentious point to the discussion of the (proposed) comprehensive compact,” he said.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, said they had incorporated the substance of the MOA-AD into their proposed sub-state except the portions declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

But should President Aquino and the government think that Misuari’s opinion does not matter anymore because he and his faction of the MNLF is a “spent force,” maybe the former should do some really serious rethinking, too. Or they might just get the surprise of their lives.

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TAGS: ARMM elections, formal peace talks, President Benigno Aquino III
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