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MILF wants Mindanao, Sulu, part of Palawan for homeland

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A “SUB-STATE” which will share sovereign powers with the Philippine government and a territory encompassing more than one half of the Island of Mindanao, where residents would be called Bangsamoro, a Constitution and laws “consistent with their system of life,” an internal security and police force, the power to review and rescind land ownership documents, a seat in the Supreme Court, a representation in the Philippine Senate, and positions in the Cabinet, bureaus and government corporations.

These demands and more were among the points raised by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which must be met by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III so that the secessionist group will end its decades of bloody rebellion against the Philippine government which has caused the death of thousands and the displacement of tens of thousands of families.

Already, as rumors spread that President Aquino is inclined to give in to the demands of the MILF, there are grumblings among non-Bangsamoro groups, especially Christians living within the claimed ancestral domain area the MILF.

In a document titled MILF Final Working Draft on Comprehensive Compact, a copy of which was acquired by The Manila Times, the MILF wants the Philippine government to declare the “original” Moro Province of Mindanao under the American colonial government as Bangsamoro Ancestral Domain where they will establish their own nation called the Bangsamoro State which will be governed by a State Authority under a Chief Minister, a Deputy Chief Minister and several Ministers.

The MILF also demands the “reduction of the numbers and role of the Armed Forces” in Mindanao and wants to assume the task of ensuring internal security from the Philippine National Police.

The MILF also wants the Bangsamoro nation to be represented in the Philippine Senate by a senator who will be elected by the voters in the Bangsamoro State, a seat in the Philippine Supreme Court, two seats in the Court of Appeals and positions in constitutional bodies, departments, bureaus and government corporations in the “Central Government.”

The MILF also demands that the Philippine Government acknowledge the “legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro People arising from any unjust dispossession of their territorial and proprietary rights, customary land tenures, or their marginalization” and when “restoration is no longer possible,” “effective measures or adequate reparations” be made.

The details of the MILF’s demands which were submitted to the Philippine negotiating panel headed by University of the Philippines law dean Marvic Leonen are considered too overwhelming by legal observers and Constitutional experts prompting many to douse water on the excitement over the prospect of a peace deal signing by next year following President Aquino’s historic meeting with MILF chairman Ebrahim Murad in Tokyo last week.

“That (sub-state) is not allowed in the 1987 Constitution,” The Manila Times quoted Sen. Francis Escudero, a lawyer, as saying.

“Whatever they will agree (on) must be within the framework of the Constitution and within the framework of existing laws,” Escudero added.

Referring to the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA AD) which was almost signed during the time of President Macapagal-Arroyo, Escudero said, “Any agreement similar to MOA AD needs constitutional amendment. It will be a long process considering that President Aquino wants to sign a peace accord with the MILF within his watch.”

Escudero also pointed out that the government — in talks with the MILF — is basically negotiating with only two Muslim tribes from Central Mindanao, the Maguindanao’s and the Maranaos. He reminded the negotiators that there are other Muslim tribes who have been marginalized in the negotiations.

More than the legal and constitutional obstacles, however, President Aquino’s intent to forge a peace agreement with the MILF by next year is also saddled with complications especially involving the existing 1996 Final Peace Agreement that the government signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari in December last year warned that the GRP-MILF Peace Treaty is illegal and warned of a “civilized Islamic warfare” since the signing will leave them (MNLF) no other choice but to “return back to the beaten path of self-determination, decolonization and independence of the Bangsamoro people and their homeland under the aegis of the Bangsamoro Republik.”

Misuari, in saying the GRP-MILF Agreement would be illegal, quoted Stephen Worrobec, a political officer at the US Embassy in Manila who said that “jurists and legal luminaries (agree that) any peace agreement between the GRP and the MILF is illegal as it will be tantamount to an imposition or superimposition on a pre-existing international peace treaty agreement because any such deal could only but involve the same people, the same territory and the same administrative apparatus.”

Members of the Indigenous tribes who have not embraced Islam but whose ancestral domains are found inside the territory claimed by the MILF as Bangsamoro Ancestral Domain have also expressed concern on the implications of the sub-state governance covering their areas.

In a position paper dated Dec. 13, 2010 submitted to the government peace panel, the Teduray-Lambiangan Tribes which claims a 289,268-hectare ancestral domain that stretches from Cotabato City, to Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat Provinces, also demanded that they be allowed to form a single state along with other tribes outside of the ARMM.

The Indigenous People’s fears about their political and social status under an MILF-led government have a basis.

The MILF Final Draft defines the Bangsamoro as “natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization and their descendants whether mixed or of full native blood. Indigenous peoples who share the territory and cultural heritage are entitled by right of choice to identify themselves as Bangsamoro.”

The status of their ancestral domain under a larger Bangsamoro Ancestral Domain as claimed by the MILF is unclear.

But if the Non-Islam-believer Tribes are concerned about their uncertain role and future in the MILF-led Bangsamoro State, the Christians living within the areas claimed by the MILF as their Ancestral Domain, most of whom were born in the area of parents who migrated from either Luzon or the Visayas, are restless.

Among the concerns expressed by Christian leaders are the implication of a Constitution and laws crafted based on the “system of life” of the Bangsamoro.

It is assumed that the Constitution and laws would be shariah based and conflicts will be settled based on shariah laws.

“What will happen if there is a legal conflict between a Bangsamoro and a Christian citizen of the Bangsamoro State. What laws will be used to resolve the conflict? And where will the conflict be resolved?” asked businessman Mario Cacabelos, a Christian businessman from Midsayap town in North Cotabato.

What worries the Christian sector even more are the provisions on Patrimony and Land Ownership which state among others: “In the event of territorial changes, the Bangsamoro Basic Law shall in principle regulate details in so far as ownership of land and property rights, their contents and limits.”

The document further states: “There will be parallel wide-ranging review of the public land acts and land tenure system with prejudice to vested rights and right to reparation, for the purpose of incorporating customary land rights and law, indigenous rights.”

Land ownership has been one of the most controversial issues involved in the negotiations because it was the belief of some MILF groups prior to the aborted signing of the MOA AD that they would be able to repossess pieces of land which were sold by their parents to Christian settlers.

“There is going to be chaos. Instead of solving one problem, we are complicating the whole issue,” said one Davao City professional who expressed fears that President Aquino might be swayed by his peace advisers to give in to the demand of the MILF for an expanded “sub-state.”

There are persistent reports that the GRP (now GPH) Panel has already recommended to the President the approval of a draft Peace Agreement which basically carries all of the major demands of the MILF in its version of the Peace Compact.

Mindanao stakeholders are wondering aloud whether President Aquino is getting other views of the situation from other stakeholders in Mindanao aside from the advise he receives from his Peace anel, civil society groups and even religious groups.

Business groups have asked the government that they be represented in the GRP Peace panel so that they could observe and provide inputs to the government’s version of the Peace Compact.

By Manny Pinol




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