Posted by: luvin | August 10, 2008

Mindanao Peace Deal

Here is one piece about peace that would make this problem a lot clearer.

Making and Unmaking Mindanao by Miriam Coronel Ferrer

For a long time, Indonesia refused to let go of East Timor even if it meant military occupation of the territory and international condemnation for the massive human rights violations committed to enforce its rule. Then the 1997 regional economic crisis struck. Indonesia’s economy crashed and the Suharto regime was shaken. Indonesians wondered if keeping their conflict-ridden, lowest-income province was worth the trouble…

East Timor is just one example of how new states were born from existing ones. There are many other new states in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Eriteria was annexed to and later disengaged from Ethiopia. The former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has metastasized into the independent states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. To its credit, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia peacefully. Quebec almost became independent from Canada but the sovereignists narrowly lost the vote in two referenda.

Meanwhile, the divided countries of North and South Vietnam and East and West Germany have been reunited.

I am citing these examples to make the point that states are not fixed and irrevocable entities. This is the wide and deep perspective that we need in order to appreciate the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, although in fact the talks and the controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Ancestral Domain are not even about ceding.

Unfortunately, many other political issues and the lack of transparency have jeopardized the process, but let me get to that later. For now, let us just open our minds to this fact: that throughout history, empires, kingdoms, unions and republics were made and unmade by men and women. These political projects were achieved through costly wars, occupations, uprisings, international arbitration, constitutional processes like referenda, negotiations, or a combination of these means.

The Philippines was a late 19th century creation. What we call “The Philippines” did not exist since time immemorial, nor was it a product of nature. Neither is it immutable.

The provinces and the politico-administrative units making up the country are even more malleable to redrawing of boundaries. In the short history of the Philippine republic, their histories are even shorter.   The current provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat were created only in 1973. Since 1914, there was only one Cotabato province, until 1966 when part of it became South Cotabato.  From 1903-1913, Cotabato, Davao, Lanao, Zamboanga and Sulu made up the Moro Province.   Before the Spaniards came, there was a Cotabato empire ruled by the Maguindanao sultanate, with a counterpart in the Sulu seas under the Sulu sultanate. Before this, there were only island and mountain people governed by tribal councils.


My point is that a new political map of Mindanao and of the country is not unthinkable as it seems. Nor should a remapping necessarily be unconstitutional.

But any remapping should be transparent and consensual so that it would solve rather than create more problems. The lack of prior consultation on the contents of the MOA caused the vehemence that greeted it.  Peace Secretary Hermogenes Esperon’s use of executive privilege as excuse only fed the agitation. Moreover, the fear that the peace agreement will be used for a GMA-orchestrated charter overhaul has made it impossible to appreciate the bigger context of what political negotiations can possibly achieve in lieu of war, and how new political arrangements can possibly improve the way things are.

North Cotabato and Zamboanga officials base their opposition to the MOA on existing rights or the status quo while the Bangsamoro advocates pursue their historical claims founded on prior rights. Between these two camps, there are other equally legitimate claimants  – the lumad; the different Moro tribes, groups, women, youth and political elites not affiliated with the MILF;  the migrant settlers; the ordinary residents; private business.

Whose rights among them shall prevail? How should any political change take place taking into account the multiple stakeholders to Mindanao?

Ideally, any new governance structure should ensure representative and participatory mechanisms so that all conflicting rights are judiciously accorded their due.  Secondly, it is only proper that this new entity be given real autonomy.

Here, I think the MILF was promised what any self-respecting, responsible autonomous local government should in fact enjoy – bigger share in revenues from and control over their natural resources; authority to negotiate overseas development assistance and send foreign trade missions, which some developmental local governments are already doing; reforming the banking system to suit local cultural beliefs and needs; and police power.  (The LGUs and the ARMM have not really been liberated from Malacanang. That’s why their officials are so beholden or sipsip. What exists is patronage-based autonomy.)

How then to achieve this political change? Based on the MOA, Congress will have to draft the law(s) for the plebiscite, and the creation and broad design of a more genuinely autonomous government body. Both the plebiscite and enhanced autonomy can be legislated within the framework of the current constitution, or at most through a very specific constitutional amendment.

The people of Mindanao in the identified areas will be asked if they wish to join this new entity.  In this plebiscite, they can say NO – just as the referendum in Quebec twice defeated the Quebecois nationalists.

Whatever the outcome, Mindanaoans can pick up the process and through consensus-building chart a new political arrangement for themselves. As things stand, I don’t see how the House Representative from the district of Makati can have any more right than the MILF to claim to know what is good for the affected Mindanaoans. I don’t see how the Senate can speak in behalf of all when there is not even one Moro among them.


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