Thursday, August 14, 2008

PHILIPPINES: UPDATE ON GOV-MILF PEACE DEAL

Date: Thursday 14 August 2008
Subj: Philippines: Update on Gov-MILF peace deal.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


PHILIPPINES: UPDATE ON GOV-MILF PEACE DEAL

- Supreme Court issues temporary restraining order.
- Public hearing slated for Friday 15 August.
- MILF unconcerned; says pact is a "done deal".
- Heavy fighting displaces some 160,000 in North Cotabato.

On Sunday 27 July representatives from the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finalised a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tuesday 5 August was slated as the date for a formal signing ceremony.

Provincial leaders in the Southern Philippines provinces of North Cotabato and Zamboanga subsequently issued petitions to the Supreme Court, protesting the secrecy of the MoA and requesting the court issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the government signing the deal before its contents could be made public and consultations held.

For background see --
Philippines: Government to sign deal with MILF.
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 31 July 2008

UPDATE

The Manila Bulletin online reports: "In a unanimous vote of 15 justices, the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday [4 Aug] stopped the government from proceeding today with the signing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on the ancestral domain in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"After a special full court session led by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, the SC scheduled an oral argument on the two petitions filed against the MoA starting at 9 am on Aug. 15.

"The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) was ordered to furnish the SC and all the parties in the two petitions with official copies of the MoA not later than Aug. 8." (Link 1)

According to the Manila Bulletin: "Lawyer Jose Midas Marquez, chief of the SC public information office and assistant court administrator, explained that the temporary restraining order (TRO) is not a resolution of the issue on its merits. He said the SC decided to conduct an oral argument (public hearing) on the case so that the justices would be enlightened on the issues involved in the MoA."

TRIBAL CHIEFS, MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS PROTEST MoA

Analyst Amando Doronila comments: "The central and transcendental issue raised by the petition is the sovereignty of the Republic over the proposed Bangsamoro homeland. The heart of the sovereignty issue is the dispute over territorial cession without the consent of the inhabitants of ceded territories. This issue has resonance to the Filipino public. It is the source of the widespread public backlash of opinion against the MOA." (Link 2)

The Inquirer reports: "Leaders of various ethnic groups in Mindanao have called on the government to refrain from including their territories in the proposed expanded Moro homeland, saying they, too, have the right to self-rule.

"In a 'state of indigenous people's address' released Thursday, the chieftains of 12 tribes in the southern Philippines said government's agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to include their areas in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entities 'lacked recognition of our legitimate rights to our ancestral domains'.

"The chiefs of the Manobo, Talaandig, Pulangiyon, Mamanwa, Bla'an, Dibabawon, Mandaya, T'boli, Tagabawa-Bagobo, Erumanen-Menuvu, Higa-onon, and Subanon tribes said they, too, have the right to self-rule. 'The Moro people cannot claim the whole of Mindanao as their ancestral domain, because we also have our own territories, we have the right to self-determination.'" (Link 3)

The chiefs also reject the government's claim that poverty in Mindanao is due to the conflict. The chiefs maintain that the poverty is due to poor governance and the absence of policies that will allow the people of Mindanao to benefit from the utilisation of the region's vast resources.

Christians and Muslims alike are outraged that the government would cede their lands to MILF without any consultation. The Inquirer reports: "Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines have assailed the 'landmark deal' between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that seeks to expand Moro autonomy in Mindanao.

"None other than Sultan Esmail Kiram, the heir of Sultanate of Sulu, expressed disgust over what he called government's insensitive action of offering the areas which have been part of the ancestral domain of Sultanate of Sulu, to the MILF without prior consultation." (Link 4)

MILF NOT CONCERNED

MILF remains unconcerned by the TRO, which it regards as the government's problem. They claim the MoA is a "done deal" because it was initialled before credible third party witnesses.

MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the signing ceremony is only a matter of formality, and that even without the ceremony, the document is already legally binding on the parties. Asked what would be the impact of the aborted signing to the MILF, he said: "Nothing! This is not even a setback to the MILF. We are on the upper hand especially in the battle for moral ascendancy." (Link 5)

CONFLICT ERUPTS


The Philippine military is presently fighting to drive MILF out of some 13 villages that it has occupied in North Cotabato. On 11 August the Office of Civil Defense has reported that 18,633 families or some 130,000 people had been displaced from 42 villages in North Cotabato province as a result of the fighting. (Link 6)

The Catholic "Asia News" reports: "More than 800 guerrillas are ensconced in 15 majority Christian villages in North Cotabato. The violence has created an enormous humanitarian crisis, and the Red Cross is preparing to send food and water. Part of the Filipino Church is in favour of the agreement on regional autonomy in Mindanao." (Link 7)

By Wednesday 13 August the army had driven the Muslim rebels out the 15 villages they had occupied. However, more than 160,000 displaced civilians -- mostly Catholic farmers -- cannot return home until landmines and booby traps have been removed. (Link 8)

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While some advocates (including some within the Church, as Asia News notes) believe the MoA will bring peace, many analysts believe that history proves otherwise. Ramon J Farolan, in his opinion piece in the Inquirer notes that 12 years ago the Philippine government signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Five years later MNLF declared war on the government. In 1981 MILF, rejecting autonomy, split from MNLF to fight for an independent Islamic state.

Farolan explains: "The MILF was originally part of the MNLF. In 1981, under the leadership of Hashim Salamat, a learned Islamic scholar heavily influenced by Muslim teachings in Egypt and Pakistan, as well as the thoughts of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, the MILF broke away from the MNLF and called for the establishment of an Islamic government in a Bangsamoro homeland. For Hashim Salamat, who passed away five years ago, what was negotiable was the territorial configuration for the Bangsamoro state. What was non-negotiable was the setting up of an Islamic government in Mindanao deeply rooted in Islamic principles and values, and in pursuit of this goal, the MILF refused the government offer of autonomy."

Farolan asks, "Let us assume that the BJE [Bangsamoro Judicial Entity] after much debate and consultations is accepted in terms of a constitutional amendment and plebiscite. Do we really believe that the Moros will be satisfied with a juridical entity just as they see their dream of a truly independent Bangsamoro homeland well within their grasp? From the MNLF with its ARMM to the MILF with its BJE, the next step could only be full, unconditional independence with recognition from the community of nations. Make no mistake, a younger generation operating under a different acronym will move in this direction supported by the vast resources that would be made available under the BJE.

"Choosing the path of least resistance, the path of appeasement, even the path of pandering to the wishes of friends who may have their own agenda on the matter, can only lead to greater bloodshed and the possible dismemberment of our country." (Link 9)

Of course peace is not the only issue of relevance here. Even if this land-for-peace deal did result in long-term peace, the price would have been immoral: a land-for-peace deal such as this involves more than land -- it involves people, many people. The religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of Philippine citizens -- who would have gone to sleep under the Philippine constitution only to wake up under an Islamic one -- must not be traded. Such a deal could only be a covenant with death. (Isaiah 28:15)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) SC stops signing of MILF accord
By REY G. PANALIGAN 5 Aug 2008
Manila Bulletin online (link removed)
See also
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=127242

2) Analysis: Self-inflicted dismemberment
By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer. 8 Aug 2008
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20080808-153334/Self-inflicted-dismemberment

3) Mindanao tribal chiefs hit RP's homeland deal with MILF
By Abigail Kwok. 31 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20080731-151884/Mindanao-tribal-chiefs-hit-RPs-homeland-deal-with-MILF

4) Muslims, Christians to stage protests vs gov't-MILF deal
Mindanao Bureau. 3 August 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view/20080803-152402/Muslims-Christians-to-stage-protests-vs-govt-MILF-deal

5) MILF: Ancestral domain pact done deal (official MILF site)
http://www.luwaran.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=813

6) MILF resistance ‘heavy;’ soldier, 2 rebels dead
Over 100,000 residents displaced--OCD
By Joel Guinto. INQUIRER.net 11 Aug 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view/20080811-153908/Soldier-2-MILF-rebels-dead-as-fighting-rages-in-N-Cotabato
130,000 people flee fighting in southern Philippines: govt
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gkNv2RJS8igRCIDRh3pKP_AnE_6g

7) Philippines: fighting between army and Islamic rebels, more than 20 dead and 130,000 displaced. 11 Aug 2008
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=12979&size=A

8) Philippines retakes farmlands from Muslim rebels
13 Aug 2008 http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnSP261219.html

9) Reveille : Done deal or no deal, still a rotten deal
By Ramon J. Farolan, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 Aug 2008
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20080811-153837/Done-deal-or-no-deal-still-a-rotten-deal