Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peace advocates hopeful about Aquino counter-proposal to MILF substate

Maradeka Sec-General Nash Pangadapun speaks on peace

MANILA, Philippines—With a week to go before the peace talks resume, negotiators for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are interested to know one thing: Is the Aquino administration willing to compromise over the proposed substate?

Peace advocates, on the other hand, are decrying the public quibbling over the proposed Bangsamoro substate as counter-productive at this crucial stage of the peace negotiations.
Negotiators from the government and the MILF are returning to the table on Monday next week in Malaysia, with the government panel expected to present its counter-proposal to the creation of a substate. “Is he (President Aquino) willing to cast his political capital for this problem, for this process?’’ MILF senior panel member Michael Mastura said in an interview Thursday.

Mastura believed that the government panel, headed by former UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen, would be ready with its counter-proposal by Monday next week. “The issues are clear. If they will accede to using our draft as a working draft, that will fast-track everything,’’ Mastura said. After Aquino’s secret meeting with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo over a week ago, the MILF declared it had dropped its bid for a separate Islamic state and was settling for a substate.

As a substate, it will exercise powers over its political and economic affairs, and enforce security within the Bangsamoro territory, but remains under the Republic of the Philippines. It would have “asymmetrical relations’’ with the national government, similar to Hong Kong’s relations with China, MILF consultants said. Raissa Jajurie, member of the MILF’s board of consultants, expressed the rebel group’s hope that the government would meet it halfway and agree to grant the substate status.

“Bangsamoro wants to have its own responsibility in governing Bangsamoro lands. It’s a compromise. Just for the sake of having peace, they’re agreeable to a substate at this point,’’ Ms. Jajurie said. “They’re hoping that the Philippine government will be ready to compromise their position and grant this to the Moro, given the historical injustice through the years,’’ she added.

The MILF has contended that a provision on the substate could be appended to the 1987 Constitution by legislation, and without going through the politically divisive process of a constitutional convention or constituent assembly. UP Law Prof. Harry Roque and former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the proposed substate would likely require an amendment to the Philippine Constitution.

Maradeka secretary general Nash Pangadapun also cautioned the public against such premature comments pending the government’s submission of its counter-proposal, and called for sobriety.
“Hyper-reactions can hurt confidence-building measures of both sides, while spoilers are feasting on the recent development,’’ he said in a text message.”Let us make the peace process work.’’ Pangadapun said that it would be premature to comment on the proposed substate since the government has not articulated its counter-proposal.

The more immediate concern has been to bring to the mainstream the group of MILF commander Umbra Kato, who has declared breaking away from the MILF over its frustrations with the peace process, he said. “We don’t believe that future talks can be possible without the MILF resolving first its internal conflict, and fighting and dislodging Kato and his forces cannot either be the solution,’’ he said.

Maradeka is an alliance of pro-democracy Bangsamoro civil society groups that sat as an official observer in the 2006-2008 talks. Despite the high-level meeting between Aquino and Murad, there’s still work cut out for both panels, peace advocates conceded.
“This is a breakthrough move. You need something dramatic to show goodwill and sincerity.

This move was quite important,’’ Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute executive director Karen Tañada said in an interview. “It’s still not easy. There are a lot of issues that need to be threshed out – this aspect of the Constitution, the issue on the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), the issue on territory,’’ Ms. Tañada added.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MILF eyes new state

COTABATO CITY—A senior Moro rebel leader on Monday demanded a genuine Muslim autonomous state not subservient to Manila, and President Benigno Aquino III indicated Christians and Lumad would be given a choice of whether they would want to join a new autonomy setup.
Civil society groups warned against a military-civilian “third force” which, they said, could sabotage a peace deal between the Aquino administration and the Moro insurgents.
Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), denounced the 21-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a “fake” autonomy symbolizing mendicancy. Jaafar reiterated the current MILF leadership would no longer push for a separate Islamic state and was ready to settle for a “Bangsamoro state” under the Philippine government.
For the first time after he met with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo four days ago, the President gave some details of what he and Murad talked about in their secrecy-shrouded meeting in Tokyo. Talking with reporters in Manila, Mr. Aquino made it clear that a future peace deal would not be a purely executive agreement but “probably will take congressional action also.” He also said “one of the things agreed upon is, how do we define territory.”
“At the end of that is a plebiscite, which is also my point,” Mr. Aquino said in Filipino. “The people who will be affected should be the one to say if they want to be part of [an autonomous region] or not.” He added: “We will come up with a proposal that we will present to the people.”
Third force
In the face of scanty details released by the Palace, the leader of an alliance of pro-democracy Moro civil society and political groups— Maradeka—said the government and the MILF should be wary of military officers and local officials who might try to undermine a final deal.
“We’re wary as this new development unfolds about the third force—the spoilers of the peace agreement in the ranks of military officers and local politicians,” Maradeka secretary general Nash Pangadapun said in a phone interview. Maradeka who hailed the Tokyo meeting as the initial step forward in sealing Bangsamoro sub-state also sat in as an official observer in the 2006-2008 talks between Manila and the MILF.
Another group, called the Mindanao Peaceweavers, also warned against such “spoilers. “We pray that the peoples of Mindanao and the rest of the country become ever more vigilant against ‘spoilers’ from all sides who will brook at nothing to scuttle anew the peace at hand,” it said in a statement. The Peaceweavers is an alliance of peace advocacy groups composed of Christians, Muslims and Lumad.
System of mendicancy
“We do not recognize the ARMM as a solution to the problem of the Bangsamoro people,” Jaafar said in an interview. “We want a Bangsamoro state where its people are empowered to decide for themselves, charting peaceful ways and means to improve their social, economic and religious life.” Jaafar said the ARMM was a “fake” setup because it “does not have autonomy, power… Up to now the region is still poor if not the poorest in the country.” “(We) would demand empowering Muslim Mindanao, unlike the present setup of mendicancy,” Jaafar added. “We rely too much on the national government for practically all the region’s needs. This is an insult to… autonomy.”
Jaafar said the Bangsamoro state that the MILF was proposing would cover the present ARMM region with possible expansion. “That’s the content of the Proposed Comprehensive Compact Agreement we submitted to the government. It’s good that President Aquino believes that we are sincere in talking peace,” Jaafar said. He refused to give details of the MILF proposal.
Splinter group
MILF negotiators previously proposed the setting up of a so-called “substate” similar to a US federated state. It would perform all government functions except those pertaining to national defense, foreign affairs, currency and postal services, which would be left to the central government.
South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pinggoy expressed concern about the emergence of an MILF splinter group. “Are we assured there will be no group organized after the signing?” Pinggoy asked, referring to groups like that headed by Umbra Kato.
Kato severed ties with the MILF early this year, accusing the Murad-led group of veering away from the struggle for self-determination espoused by founding chair Salamat Hashim. Kato, who has formed a group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), had expressed hope the Aquino-Murad meeting would conform with Salamat’s battle cry of an independent Moro homeland.
Kato doubted any agreement with Manila would be acceptable to everyone. Kato has been the target of a manhunt for leading attacks on civilian villages in 2008 after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a government proposal for a Bangsamoro homeland as part of a peace package with the MILF.
Aug. 22-24 talks
Palace officials said the envisaged peace agreement would not be like the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain—or MOA-AD—that was forged during the Arroyo administration.
The MOA-AD, which detailed the areas belonging to a so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. Mr. Aquino said the two sides agreed on the need to define what “territory” means in their talks to be held Aug. 22 to 24 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Mr. Aquino also said the ARMM would figure in the talks. “The best thing I heard from Murad was when he said that our negotiating panels should be problem-solvers and not adversaries. We are here to solve the problem,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said no agreement had been reached so far, when asked how much autonomy the government intended to give the MILF. “The bottom line is, we will make known to all stakeholders and even prospective ones as this is not a Muslim problem alone,” he said, pointing out that these included the Lumad and the Christians living in the so-called Bangsamoro homeland.
“Will it (ARMM) be expanded or will it be contracted? This will be discussed by the negotiating panel,” the President said. (Inquirer)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

After 22 years, ARMM needed Muslim reformist

Moro CSOs belonging to the Maradeka and PAAC in action
Manila Muslim civil society groups and the Muslim community joined hands in observing August 1, 2011 as the 22 years existence of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) since its creation by the passage of Organic Act 6734 in Aug. 1, 1989. This remembrance come with people's dissent after past governments waywardly failing to deliver people expectation in 22 years. 

As this date coincide with 1st day of Holy Month of Ramadhan, Maradeka, pro-democracy Muslim alliance advocating peace, Moro self-determination, and good governance and the anti-corruption group, People’s Action Against Corruption (PAAC), responded with message to make this religious observance of fasting, or cleansing of personal sins and spiritual renewal as another way of cleansing too societal sins and political wrongdoings,

The Maradeka in a turnaround makes an affirmative action to support the president after affirming in his SONA "Totoo po: Personal talaga sa akin ang paggawa ng tama, at ang pagpapanagot sa mga gumagawa ng mali in gesture to critics that he’s getting personal in going after crooks allied to former president Arroyo. “Muslims too make it personal to support the president for as long as he looks for the welfare of the Muslim constituents in the ARMM.” 

This is timely as the call of the Pres. Aquino III to pursue ARMM postponement to bring about atmosphere conducive for peacebuilding and a window of opportunity for reforms in 21 months. The Muslim civil society groups resoundingly stood to be behind leaders whose policy of governance will look up to the welfare of Muslims in the country and put away without qualms the Bangsamoro people from the ravages of war.

If the president will find the good wisdom to get his reform plans in ARMM, they must look for non-politicians and no-nonsense Muslim official cum administrator with peace and development expertise. 

"The Muslim CSOs has seen these criteria with the Muslim reformist, Usec. Dimas Pundato, who also helped the late Pres. Cory Aquino, mother of the Pres. Aquino III in support for her return of Philippine democracy after toppling the Marcos dictatorial regime," as explained by Nash Pangadapun, Secretary-General of Maradeka. He added, "Enough of the local traditional politicians because they’ll be understandably not focused to deliver reforms in 21 months but certainly will be pre-occupied preparing for the 2013 elections."

During the remembrance of the 22 years of the first Organic Act 6734, the Muslim civil society groups, anti-corruption groups and the Manila Muslim community staged their symbolic public burning of effigies in front of the Manila golden Mosque in Globo de Oro, Quiapo, Manila. This effigies represented the societal sins, graft and corruption, massive poll cheating, dominance of the traditional politicians and transactional politics, extra-judicial killing and right abuses that had engulfed the ARMM for miserable 22 years.

This is lamentable that for so long as there will be no reforms that can be instituted and the right person can selected to carry on these reform agenda, the rotten political system cannot possibly democratically elect genuine leaders and legislators and perpetually frustrate our people’s expectation for Islamic reforms.

In the run up to choosing the ARMM Officers in Charge, the Muslim alliance wanted the selection process opened up for public scrutiny all aspirants to look into their credentials and their vision for good governance in ARMM. It is also batting for the ARMM Screening Committee (ASC) to admit representative from the NGO, civil society or Muslim religious groups. As this developed, it is endorsing the person of Aleem Said Acmad Basher, president of Imam Council of the Philippines to ably represent the Muslim non-governmental sector. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Full, delegated sovereignty & people's justice system for Muslim Mindanao


Full but delegated sovereignty & people’s justice system in Moroland

If I were to decide what peace pact should be done in Mindanao, I will insist that the Muslims be granted full but delegated sovereignty over their territories and its justice system should be what I could call as “people’s justice system.”

By a legislative fiat, or an act of the Congress, this can be done without going against the principles of the present Constitution. This proposal will answer the long story of blindness to pay for the sins committed for at least four centuries and give recognition and respect to the humanity and religion of the Moros who have long deserved to be heard by the deafness in us Christians.

These sins were constituted in part by the tens of thousands of natives killed by the Spanish conquistadores who used Visayas and Luzon natives to invade them. These sins were constituted in part by other tens of thousands of Moros killed by the American occupation forces that also used Visayas and Luzon natives as part of their infantries in their bid to subjugate the Datus and their men. Furthermore, these sins were constituted in part by the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the invasion by the national government when Marcos sent in soldiers from Visayas and Luzon to stop the call for freedom of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari.

These types of sins were repeated when then President Joseph Estrada staged all-out war against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that led to the recovery of Camp Busra. Tens of thousands were killed in this particular official action of the national government. These deaths were aggravated by the Japanese occupation forces during World War II.

Past is past and those lives lost can never be resurrected to life once more. We can never repay for these sins but we can repent and beg for forgiveness from the Moros and hope they will forgive us Christians. But giving them full but delegated sovereignty whereby they can determine their own fate with only the Constitution as the limitation will reinforce the faith in the virtue of forgiving.

Sins of the past were also constituted by other acts. The American colonial government in the 1930s sent in Christians from Visayas and Luzon to occupy lands in Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu through homestead patents of 24 hectares each. After independence was granted by the USA on July 4, 1946, the national government again sent in Christian settlers from the Visayas and Luzon, massively, during the presidency of Magsaysay by means of luring them out of Hukbalahap rebellion with homestead patents of 12 hectares each.

As a result, the Moros and the indigenous people lost substantial part of their ancestral domains to waves of migration of Christians from the Visayas and Luzon. Yes, we can no longer give back the lands they lost to Christian Filipinos, but the national government can always deliver an official statement of apology through the Congress of the Philippines to be reiterated in flag-ceremonies in all schools in Mindanao, particularly in lands now belonging to Christian settlers.

As men of hearts, too, the Moro people will embrace the virtue of giving in order to make life worth living. And I believe that if the national government will pass a law to give reparation payments for all the lands lost to Christian settlers, the Moro brothers will always be ready to embrace us Christians as their brothers in blood and brothers in need.

And giving them full but delegated sovereignty over what remained of their territories will always be a welcome road to peace. And if this is a road to peace, we all must take that path. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is no road to peace. Peace is the path.” Along with these enumerated and irreversible sins of the past, the national government dominated by Christian politicians and the Christian settlers exhibited discriminatory acts and behaviors embodied in the laws, acts in the actual implementation of laws, policies and rules that the benefits given just trickle down to the Muslims, acts and discriminatory stereotypes of belittling dignity when Moro people come passing by, and other acts of bias that are revolting to conscience. Yes, we Christians have never thought: “What if we Christians were born Muslims and the Moros were born Christians?”

These deeply-rooted biases are the general explanation why you can hear extremist Abu Sayyaf beheading Christian marines whenever they would have the opportunity. These are the reasons why you can hear Christian hostages also got their heads falling on the ground, too. These are the reasons why you can hear brutalities done by them whenever they would have opportunities. We condemn these acts because they are truly revolting. But have we Christians ever condemned Christians doing the same to Moros?

Nevertheless, if we compare these brutalities done by the Moros to the centuries of madness that had bedeviled them we can readily see that the former pales too far in comparison to the latter. In the present, we hear full details of brutalities brought forth by the high-technology communication facilities. But it is very reasonable to conclude also that the brutalities of the past could have been worse had they been reported.

Yes, it is very sure that the Spanish officers and their soldiers composed mainly of Christian Filipinos must have committed detestable and despicable acts against the fighters and residents of Lanao, Cotabato and Sulu archipelago. Yes, I also believe that the American soldiers must have also committed acts that are revolting to conscience when they invaded Mindanao and Sulu. Remember that the .45 pistol was invented because of the “juramentados” of the Datus, when kris swords even cut into uselessness the rifles the Yankees used.

Yes, I also believe in the stories of Ilaga (a militia of Marcos composed mainly of my fellow Ilonggo settlers in Mindanao) eating the ears or whatever flesh of their Muslim captives in the 1970s. Can we Christians now stand up and have an uncommon bravery to ask for forgiveness although we see our marines beheaded and pastors or priest brutally killed and although it is almost impossible for them to forgive us?

Yes, I believe there is such a thing as love that springs eternal for one who knows how to repent and ask for forgiveness. And if this full but delegated sovereignty is given the Muslims in the South, the act of great peace will open the door.

The full but delegated sovereignty

The full but delegated sovereignty I am proposing to give to the Muslims is one where the people of the Bangsamoro land will have full discretions of what they would do with respect to all aspects of governance, civil and political rights, rights to explore and develop and utilize the national wealth and other forms of natural resources, rights to impose and collect taxes, rights to have own police forces, rights to education curricula, and almost all other rights.

An organic act for Bangsamoro may be passed by the Congress to give it the right to pass its own laws and for it to be exempt from the application of the laws supposed to be for the entire Philippines with only the Philippine Constitution as the limit. Thus, with this organic act it can now have the power to create provinces, towns, cities and barangays and it shall be governed by a Governor General they themselves choose. It can supervise its own elections through the delegated power form the Commission on Elections. It can have its own judicial governor under the delegated powers from the Supreme Court. It can determine its taxation and customs schemes with only the Constitution as the limitations. It can do almost endless acts with only the Constitution as the limitation.

In terms of military, the national government will still be the one that will provide them external defenses against foreign invaders and terrorists because the Constitution wills that there will only be one armed force in the Philippines. Now, for every income the Bangsamoro will get from taxes, fees, customs and utilization of the national wealth and other natural resources, it will be shared with the national government on the proportion acceptable to both parties. Of course, the Moros shall retain the right to vote for president, vice-president and senators in national elections and will still retain the right to send their own district congressmen to fight for their welfare in the national government.

People’s justice system

Since it is not repugnant to the Constitution, I will put in place a justice system where the present courts, including the Shari’ah courts, shall be peopled by the representatives chosen by raffle from the Muslim people themselves. These people shall form as a group of laymen who will adjudge who are telling the truth and who are not in all cases. The judges in these courts, including Shari’ah courts, shall perform the job of applying the laws on the truth found by the laymen-jurors.

To ensure that the non-royal blooded Moros have fair fighting chance in every criminal complaint to be determined to be brought to court for trial or not, the fiscal’s or the Ombudsman’s job of saying who should be tried in court shall also be given to the representatives chosen from Muslim voters.

Each group of those picked to perform the duty of saying who should be charged in court in every Muslim province shall serve for a term of six months and their faces and names shall be hidden from the Moro communities so as to ensure their independence of deciding who should be charged in court and who should be spared.

Recommendation to MILF panel

The proposition I state here is being earnestly recommended to the MILF panel headed by Mohaqher Iqbal. I strongly believe that if I am given the full opportunity to explain this idea to the MILF panel, I believe I can convince the Moro people to embrace this as their main talking point when the peace negotiation begins on February 9, 2011 in Malaysia.

I also believe that the Filipino Christians will embrace this idea as their official act of repentance for the past sins, recognition of the Moro blood and lands, and respect for the way they worship. When this is accepted, I can see the whole land singing the song, “There is not a Christian Filipino. There is not a Muslim Filipino. There is not an indigenous Filipino. There is one Filipino.”