Philippines: Government to sign deal with MILF

General July 31, 2008
By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

The provincial government of North Cotabato, a predominantly Christian
province of Mindanao, Southern Philippines, has petitioned the Supreme Court
to issue a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the Philippine government
signing a secret deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on 5
August that would expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and give the
Muslim entity all the elements of a state. MILF rejects accusations that the
deal is secret, saying that the details will be released as soon as the deal
is signed.

The expanded Muslim area -- which will be called the Bangsamoro Juridical
Entity -- will not be under the jurisdiction of the Philippine government and
is set to incorporate some 712 villages (subject to plebiscite) across swaths
of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and
Palawan as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, the capital of Basilan
island.

North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan and Vice Governor Emmanuel Pinol want
the court to compel government negotiators, particularly presidential peace
adviser Hermogenes Esperon, to release details of the agreement for
consultation before it is signed. (Link 1)

----------------------------------

On Thursday 24 July, representatives from the Government of the Republic of
Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) met in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia to finalise a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral
Domain and set a date for its official signing.

Despite the breakthrough that had been made on 16 July, the negotiations broke
down and MILF walked out. But the government negotiators drew the rebels back
to the table and at 8:15pm on Sunday 27 July GPR chief negotiator Rodolfo
Garcia and his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, signed a joint communique
settling the issue of ancestral domain. Ancestral domain -- the final and most
contentious aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 -- has been in the agenda
of GRP-MILF Peace Talks since December 2004.

Failing a Supreme Court intervention, the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on
Ancestral Domain will be formally signed in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday 5 August.
Theoretically this should pave the way for a Comprehensive Compact Agreement
(CCA) between the GRP and MILF. However the path between the MoA and a future
CCA is fraught with obstacles that could themselves be triggers for conflict.

In January 2008 the Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) warned that some
provisions of the draft MoA were unconstitutional and threatened the
sovereignty of the Philippines. (Link 2)

Emmanuel Pinol, the vice governor of North Cotabato province, recently warned
that if the MoA is signed, "There will be chaos and it will be bloody." (Link 3)

"BREAKTHROUGH" ON ANCESTRAL DOMAIN

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was first established in 1990
pursuant to a constitutional mandate to provide for an autonomous area in
Muslim Mindanao Southern Philippines. In a 1989 plebiscite held in thirteen
provinces and nine cities of Southern Philippines, only four provinces --
Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi -- elected to be part of the
new province of ARMM. Cotabato City was designated the capital.

In 2001 a law was passed to enable the expansion of the ARMM subject once
again to plebiscite. Only Marawi City and Basilan -- but not its capital,
Isabela City -- elected to be integrated with the ARMM. Understandably,
Christian dominated provinces have repeatedly rejected incorporation into the
ARMM.

MILF has long demanded that some 1,000 barangays (villages) in Central
Mindanao be added to the ARMM and that this not be subject to plebiscite. The
breakthrough in negotiations came on 16 July when the government agreed to
adding 712 barangays, subject to plebiscite, to the Muslim entity in exchange
for MILF dropping the word "freedom" from the draft MoA, supposedly to
indicate a rejection of separatism.

MILF agreed to stay silent on "freedom" after talking with Datuk Othman Abd.
Razak, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who reminded them that all
the previous documents, including the General Framework of Intent signed on 27
August 1998 and the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, contained the word "freedom".

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer notes: "The insistence by the MILF Panel on
the inclusion of the phrase 'non derogation of prior agreements' more than
makes up for the silence on 'freedom' because this binds both parties to all
previous agreements in which freedom is cited as a major principle." (Link 4)

The GRP's insistence that all prospective new territory be subject to
plebiscite has also long been a sticking point for MILF. Past plebiscites have
not worked in MILF's favour. Initially the GRP had insisted that a
comprehensive peace deal be signed before the plebiscites were held. The
compromise agreement dictates that plebiscites will be held in the 712
villages within 12 months of the signing of the MoA.

Another sticking point has been the GRP's insistence that it work within the
"constitutional process". This has been such an obstacle that MILF demanded
the government implement the MoA first and deal with the legal and political
hurdles later. Amazingly, government negotiators appear to be agreeing to do
just that. Hermogenes Esperon, a peace adviser to President Arroyo told
reporters after the 16 July "breakthrough" in negotiations, "The final
political solution will still be negotiated, and, if needed, we will amend the
constitution to reflect what was agreed upon with the rebels." (Link 5)

"BALKANISING" THE PHILIPPINES?

In January 2008 the Philippines' Department of Justice issued a five-page
memorandum to the government peace panel warning that a draft MoA on ancestral
domain would result in a separate government for the separatists. Justice
Secretary Raul Gonzalez warned that not only do some provisions in the draft
agreement violate the 1987 Constitution, they threaten to dismember the
nation. (Link 2)

The MoA recognises the Bangsamoro people as the natives of Mindanao "distinct
from the rest of the national communities". Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez
warned that this provision "suggests that the Bangsamoro people are not
Filipinos."

The MoA also grants the Bangsamoro people their own "distinct territory"
(Bangsamoro Territory) and "government" (the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity)
along with international recognition. The Bangsamoro Territory will "not form
part of the public domain" -- that is, it is "not within the jurisdiction of
the Philippine government". As Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez pointed out in
January, this is "tantamount to the surrender of a part of the territory and
sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines".

Justice Secretary Gonzalez, highlighting the necessity of "constitutional
process", also warned that this entity cannot be given juridical personality
in the absence of an enabling law passed by Congress. However, according to a
30 July 2008 article entitled "Transition gov't seen for Muslims" in the
Philippine Daily Inquirer, MILF political affairs chief Ghadzali Jaafar says
that the Comprehensive Compact Agreement (CCA) will contain details of how the
BJE would be governed, i.e. "who will run it". According to Jaafar, once the
CCA is signed "a transition government will immediately take effect". (Link 6)

TRIGGERS FOR CONFLICT

The Department of Justice is not the only place where anxiety is simmering.
There is also considerable anxiety in Christian communities in the Southern
Philippines. They fear that the MoA may actually trigger unrest and even the
displacement, dispossession and persecution of Christians.

North Cotabato vice governor Emmanuel Pinol told the South China Morning Post
(21 July, link 3) that some Muslims in his province who had simply abandoned
their lands or sold them during the Mindanao conflict in the 1970s were now
returning and demanding their land back. He anticipates bloodshed and chaos
will follow the signing of the MoA.

Furthermore, analysts such Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a former Chairman of the
government's peace panel that negotiates with MILF, and Camilo Montesa, a
lawyer and policy adviser of the Cotabato-based think-tank the Institute for
Autonomy and Governance (IAG), have warned that the MoA threatens to open the
door to a MILF declaration of independence.

According to ABS-CBN news, Fr Mercado said that if the Arroyo government fails
to implement the ancestral domain accord [i.e. by failing to secure a
congressional mandate to amend the constitution] then MILF can claim the moral
high ground and declare independence while accusing the government of
negotiating in bad faith. "This is the first time that I've seen a document as
such", said Fr Mercado. "You have all the elements of a state. That entitles
the Bangsamoro to a self-declaration [of independence]. Because it's all
there: you've been recognised, you have territory, you have
self-determination, your ancestral domain is your birthright, it's not part of
the public domain." (Link 7)

There is also the likelihood that the MoA will lead to division along ethnic
and religious lines in mixed areas.

In January, Mayor Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City reiterated to a peace
advocacy forum his position that Zamboanga City (which is around 75 percent
Christian, mostly Catholic) be excluded from the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity
(BJE) or any proposed Bangsamoro homeland. According to one report, "His stand
was directly opposed to the popular clamour of the Bangsamoro residents of
Zamboanga City which the Bangsamoro participants during the peace advocacy
forum have openly advocated. They presented to the MILF Peace Panel members a
position paper/petition for the inclusion of the Bangsamoro dominated
Barangays before the end of the forum."

Hadji Abdulla U Camlian spoke to the forum of the historical role played by
the Bangsamoro people of Zamboanga City in the history of the Mindanao region
and the role they have to play in the current peace talks. According to the
report: "He recalled the historical fact that Zamboanga is home to the
Sama-Bangingi Bangsamoros and other Islamised Moros since time immemorial. The
arrival of migrant-settlers from the Visayas and Luzon has altered the
demography of the City. He therefore urged his fellow Sama to unite in order
to restore the Bangsamoro hegemony in the City." (Link 8)

Furthermore, a prospective plebiscite on status can of itself be incentive for
violent intimidation and even ethnic cleansing.

-------------------------------

It remains to be seen whether a land-for-peace deal can bring peace and
prosperity to the Southern Philippines. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
seems to believe it will. But why should creating a de facto Muslim state --
the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) -- bring peace and prosperity to the
Southern Philippines when after 18 years the establishment of the ARMM has
brought neither?

Will the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity eventually employ Sharia Law? Or maybe a
Malaysia-style system where Islamic courts decide all matters pertaining to
Islam? This would be a profoundly regressive move, one the BJE's excited
prospective Muslim citizens may profoundly regret, especially as
radicalisation and its consequential Talibanisation spread unhindered,
challenging rights long taken for granted -- rights guaranteed in the
Philippine Constitution.

Recently on Basilan Island, where 96,000 Catholics form 30 percent of the
population, Christians were issued with threatening letters from "mujahidins".
They contained the classic Islamic ultimatum to convert to Islam, submit and
pay Islamic jizya (protection money) or face violence. (Further details: see
link 9)

Concerning this, the Catholic Explorer reports that in Manila on 21 July,
Hamid Barra, the Muslim convener of the Bishops-Ulama Conference and an expert
on Islamic law, explained that non-Muslims who are protected by an Islamic
government are required to pay jizya, which, he says, the state uses to
support the poor and the needy. (Actually jizya is little more than protection
money to secure protection from Islamic jihad, and to compensate for the fact
that non-Muslims cannot serve in a Muslim Army.) Barra added that in a
non-Islamic country like the Philippines, "there is no such payment required
of non-Muslims". (Link 10)

By his own testimony, Hamid Barra would have to agree that extracting jizya
from Christians in a de facto Muslim state such as the Bangsamoro Juridical
Entity would be quite legitimate.

It is difficult to know whether the MoA will lead to the Balkanisation of the
Philippines (a tearing apart along ethnic-religious lines), or to the headache
of yet another Muslim FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area, as in the
"tribal bad lands" of north western Pakistan's FATA).

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) North Cotabato execs ask SC to stop GRP-MILF peace signing
By Leila Salaverria, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20080730-151503/North-Cotabato-execs-ask-SC-to-stop-GRP-MILF-peace-signing


2) Ancestral Domain Claims violate 1987 Constitution -- DOJ
By Jomar Canlas, 18 January 2008
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2008/jan/18/yehey/top_stories/20080118top4.html

See also:
What is the GRP-MILF agreement on ancestral domain?
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=126194

3) Christians fear Muslim land grab after deal with Manila, leaders says.
Raissa Robles in Manila, 21 July 2008
South China Morning Post (subscription)

4) AFP sees peace, clergy get threats
By Kristine L. Alave, Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer 20 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view_article.php?article_id=149521


5) Philippines Muslim area to expand. 17 July 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7512401.stm

6) Transition gov't seen for Muslims
By Charlie Senase, Edwin Fernandez, Nash Maulana, Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau, 30 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20080730-151502/Transition-govt-seen-for-Muslims

7) Ancestral domain accord opens door to MILF declaration of independence:
analysts
By Isagani de Castro Jr. 24 July 2008
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=126218

8) Peace Advocacy Forum held in Zamboanga City. 9 January 2008
http://moroland.net/2008/01/09/peace-advocacy-forum-held-in-zamboanga-city%20/

9) Southern Philippines: Terror on Basilan Island
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 488 | Wed 23 July 2008
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=1971
ALSO
Basilan Catholics get threats to convert. 19 July 2008
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/107980/Basilan-Catholics-get-threats-to-convert

10) Philippine bishop reports receiving threat to convert to Islam
By Catholic News Service. 22 July 2008
http://www.catholicexplorer.com/explore4325/nationworld/philippine-bishop-reports-receiving-threat-to-conv.shtml


-----------------------------------------
**WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis**
< Religious-Liberty@hub.xc.org >
-----------------------------------------

Please feel free to pass this along to others giving attribution to:
"World Evangelical Alliance - Religious Liberty News & Analysis."

WEA RLC operates two mailing lists: the WEA RLC News & Analysis list and the
weekly Religious Liberty Prayer list.

The WEA RLC News & Analysis mailing list provides reports on religious liberty
and persecution around the world for those with a special interest in the
field. Most subscribers are involved in church-based religious liberty
advocacy, academic research, missions leadership, creative-access missions,
religious media, or have prayer networks supporting these groups, although
anyone is welcome to join. Postings average one per week. Information shared
does not necessarily reflect the opinion of World Evangelical Alliance, or of
the WEA Religious Liberty Commission.

For those who would like regular detailed information specifically
for prayer and intercession, we recommend that you subscribe to the
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer List (RLP). Each week a different
nation or situation is highlighted. A short summary is included for
use in church and other bulletins.

**SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE FREE**

To subscribe for WEA RLC News & Analysis, please send your request to
< join-religious-liberty@hub.xc.org > Please include your name and country or
state of residence.

To subscribe for the weekly Religious Liberty Prayer(RLP) bulletin, please
send an empty e-mail to < join-rl-prayer@hub.xc.org > with any or no subject.

For more information on the World Evangelical Alliance, please see:
< http://www.WorldEvangelicalAlliance.com >,
For the Religious Liberty Commission of the WEA, see:
< http://www.WorldEvangelicalAlliance.com/commissions/rlc/ >.
All WEA RLC material is archived at < http://www.ea.org.au/ >.

Advocates International < http://www.advocatesinternational.org > serves as the
legal and judicial advisor to the RLC. Advocates International links many
Christian lawyers and judges around the world and has been involved in
religious liberty issues for many years.