Saturday, 05 May 2012 11:48
There’s definitely more than meets the eye in the sudden interest of the Aquino administration in forging a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front at the height of the escalating dispute between the Philippines and China over the Scarborough Shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
Manila Standard’s Jojo Robles was on the right track in raising suspicion over the recent developments in the Mindanao front vis-à-vis the Scarborough Dispute although it’s hard to believe his source’s speculation that the United States was in a conspiracy with China to escalate the shoal dispute to prod the Philippine government to enter into a pact with the MILF that would include the establishment of an autonomous Muslim Mindanao region in exchange for an assurance of military assistance from the Americans in the event China becomes more aggressive militarily in the disputed area.
I don’t think China is involved in the alleged conspiracy, but it is easy to believe that the US was happy over the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea because it gave the Americans another ace in their desire to gain a military foothold in the country, particularly in Mindanao, for which the US government and corporations have long been salivating because of the region’s rich oil and mineral resources, vast agriculture potential, and its strategic location for maintaining a wider and stronger foothold in Southeast Asia.
It is not coincidental that the Philippine government was suddenly enthusiastic in forging a peace pact with the Muslim rebels and in granting them expanded autonomy at a time when the country is facing serious threats from China in the West Philippine Sea.
President Aquino presided over a Cabinet meeting on Mindanao just a few days ago, during which time its was announced to the media by chief Philippine negotiator Marvic Leonen that legislation would be filed to scrap the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to be replaced by a more autonomous entity as reportedly contained in an initial agreement signed by both the peace panels of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia.
Although Leonen said the panels have not reached a final agreement on what kind of powers would be granted the new autonomous government, she made it look certain that a final peace agreement would be signed within the year. In the same breath, she said that the two panels were still poles apart in terms of the “territorial scope.”
Now, why should the chief negotiator say with confidence that the peace pact would be signed within the year and that the ARMM would be replaced by a new law to be passed by Congress?
Obviously, there is already a deal to grant Muslim Mindanao expanded autonomy, and that it was just a matter of negotiating the terms of autonomy for the agreement to push through.
The Mindanao problem suddenly surfaced in the middle of heightened tensions with China and as the Balikatan military exercises were about to conclude doesn’t look like a mere coincidence. The announcement that the Philippine and MILF panels have signed an initial agreement also came in the middle of discussions between key US and Philippine foreign affairs and military officials in Washington.
Obviously, the Aquino administration is ready to surrender part of the Philippines’ sovereignty over Mindanao in exchange for an assurance from the US that it would come to its aid in case of a shooting war with China.
It must be recalled that the US was instrumental in helping the Philippine and MILF panels in forging the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in July 2008 that would have given the MILF vast powers, including the power to enter into treaties with other countries that would have allowed the US to put up bases in Mindanao.
The Supreme Court stopped the signing of the MOA-AD that the Philippine government and the MILF were about to sign in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the presence of, surprisingly, then US Ambassador Kirstie Kinney. The MOA-AD would have granted the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) its own internal security force, a system of banking and finance, civil service, education and legislative institutions, full authority to develop and dispose of minerals and natural resources. The BJE would also reportedly be able to send trade missions abroad and enter into international agreements under the MOA-AD.
It was clearly a surrender of sovereignty by the Philippine government to the MILF, making it necessary and urgent for the high tribunal to stop it. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, under the prodding of the United States, was willing to give up control over a region that, according to a US study, sit on rich mineral resources with an estimated worth of between $850 billion and $1 trillion.
A year after the MOA-AD was stopped by the Supreme Court, the MILF openly asked the US to mediate in the peace talks. A delegation of US Embassy officials, led by then US Deputy Ambassador Leslie Bassett, met with Ibrahim in August 2009 in Sultan Kudarat, where Bassett reportedly assured Ibrahim of American support in the peace talks.
All these developments were confirmed in correspondences from the US Embassy in Manila that were leaked to the press by Wikileaks.
While it is important that lasting peace be brought to Mindanao and that the country strengthens its position in its dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Island Group, the Aquino administration must never surrender sovereignty in Mindanao.
The Philippine government is willing to shed blood to fight for tiny islets and shoals in the middle of the sea, and yet is willing to basically give up control without a fight over a region that has long been described as the Land of Promise because of its vast natural and mineral resources?
It just doesn’t make sense.
by Val G. Abelgas
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