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Who should define ‘Ancestral Domain?’

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By virtue of the fact that the concept of “ancestral domain” as defined by the MILF Peace Panel,  is not the same as that constitutionally- based and judicially- penned by the Republic of the Philippines,  I personally believe that the best mode of reconciling whatever variances or differences surrounding this very sensitive and emotionally incendiary issue, is to create an independent and non-partisan technical team composed of experts in anthropology, sociology, political science, geodetic engineering,  cartography, international law, and ancient and colonial history of Mindanao and Sulu. The membership of this technical team maybe drawn from the leading and most prestigious public and private academic institutions or from a pool of distinguished and highly credible and respected individuals in the above-mentioned fields of specialization. This may prevent the repetition of the blunders and fiascos which are attributable to the defective, un-reconciled and biased definition of the concept of “ancestral domain,” a central and crucial issue in the new round of peace talks between the GRP and the MILF. This of course, is purely an opinion of an ordinary mind and could be out-rightly ignored if found to be of no diplomatic value and usefulness. 

Since the birth of the revolutionary movement or armed uprising in Mindanao and Sulu which was given belligerent identity and offensive reputation globally by two major liberation organizations, namely; the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), respectively, the casus belli or the primary bone of contention that was given the highest premium in all failed peace talks, is the politically inflammable issue on ancestral domain. The obstinate and hard-line positions taken by both negotiation panels on what constitute an ancestral domain and how big a territory should be slashed or carved out from Mindanao and Sulu for a sub-state or autonomous region as demanded by these belligerent organizations has always been the primary cause why the peace process for decades remains in limbo.

Factually as borne out by history the cataclysmic soap opera of peace talks between the GRP and the two major Mindanao-based revolutionary fronts is unmistakably attributed to the irreconcilable and contrasting viewpoints about what should technically, operationally, legally, historically, and politically constitute an ancestral domain. This is aggravated by the fact that the colonial and imperial powers responsible for the conquest and unlawful sale and cession of Mindanao and Sulu and the eventual arbitrary and unilateral incorporation of these two ancient political institutions to the Republic of the Philippines are not even involved in the Peace Process. Worst, the de jure deposed and dispossessed sovereigns of these illegally sold territories are not distinctly and prominently represented in all past and present peace talks leading a lot of skeptics to consider the whole peace process as no more than a diplomatic sham.

Of course, the Philippines will not want any piece of geography to be dismembered from its national territorial integrity as originally defined in the 1935 Constitution. The big problem is, all belligerent states do not recognize the Constitution of a de factor government in which they operate and seek to overthrow. This is the reason why the MILF always boldly asserts that they are not subject to the binding effect or applicability of the present Philippine Fundamental Law. Hence, any definition of ancestral domain based or falling within the parameters of the 1987 Constitution is unacceptable to them. They claim that being belligerents, they have no allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. Neither do they have any obligation of obedience and adherence to any jurisprudence or doctrine issued by its Supreme Court. They know that “belligerent occupation is governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the customary laws of belligerent occupation.” From the perspective and status of belligerence, it is illogical to insist that the MILF should submit to the supremacy of the Philippine Constitution and abide by the decisions or rulings of its Supreme Court.

Under international law on belligerence, the MILF has been recognized as a belligerent government and therefore, exercises sovereignty over its component units and territories of control. It is a state by itself enjoying equal existential legitimacy and status with the Republic of the Philippines. That is why under a bilaterally declared truce, ceasefire, and any other pact forged for the suspension of hostilities between the GRP and the MILF, negotiations for peace or settlement of disputes, maybe undertaken under mutually agreed terms and conditions. When peace talks collapse, the combatants go back to the battlefields and fight.

This has been the destructive alternating episodes since the outbreak of the war between the GRP and the Liberation Fronts in Mindanao and Sulu. Can we expect final resolution of the Mindanao conflict under the new round of peace negotiations? Only history can accurate judge after everything has been said and done.

By Clem M. Bascar




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