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08:14 AM October 11th, 2012

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By: Malou Guanzon-Apalisok, October 11th, 2012 08:14 AM

Except for discredited Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari, majority of Muslim and Christian leaders representing different sectors hailed the so-called Framework Agreement between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The agreement for the new political entity in Muslim Mindanao spells out the general principles that would guide the drafting of a Bangsamoro Basic Law under the sponsorship of the Philippine government. The agreement will eventually put in place a new autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity to replace, within three to four years, the present Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao ARMM.

The name Bangsamoro, in the words of President Benigno Aquino III, “symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao” and “celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation.” The Presidential proclamation brought Muslim leaders to tears, as they embraced the peace deal that took more than 15 years to establish.

* * *

The peace deal between the government and the MILF immediately raised doubts about what kind of concessions were traded in the course of negotiations. The suspicions are not without basis because of the country’s experience with the same MILF, which together with the government reached and “initialled” the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.

The MOA-AD during the time of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would have culminated in the final signing of a covenant between the parties, except for the timely intervention of the High Court which issued a court injunction and later, a decision that struck down the agreement because it violated the Constitution.

The MOA-AD would have added 712 barangays to the existing ARMM configuration. Not only that, then executive secretary Eduardo Ermita hinted of broad powers for the new political body in the areas of defense, natural resources, finance, education and foreign relations. Even on paper, it was a tempting scenario for young Muslims to join the MILF’s clamor for separatism.

Naturally, the pact agitated politicians in North Cotabato, Zamboanga and Iligan who were highly suspicious of the agreement’s effect on their political interests. It was then North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat who led local government officials in bringing the case before the Supreme Court.

In the wake of the MOA-AD debacle, my favourite Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon wrote an article where he implied that the negotiation between the MILF and the GPH was chiefly aimed at granting MILF its real purpose—legitimacy abroad. Certainly, the separatist group didn’t believe the Arroyo government would deliver on the substance of the pact, Quezon said in so many words.

Ano sila sinuswerte?

As a rejoinder, I wrote then that even if the MILF waved a document that is sure to be derailed by Congress, or trashed in a plebiscite, the group would have already gained the “respect” of the United States, Australia, European Union governments, and especially the Organization of Islamic Conference. The title of Manolo’s piece: “The Agreement Itself is the Prize”.

* * *

The Christian majority in Mindanao must have subjected the Framework Agreement to closer examination to check if the creation of the BJE, subject to the guiding principles of the FA, would alter existing political territories.

According to MindaNews, the would be new autonomous political entity will have for its “core territory the present five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the six towns in Lanao del Norte (Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal) and the barangays in the towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the 2001 plebiscite; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan and all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or there is a petition of at least ten per cent of the qualified voters in their area.”

I’m not going to interpret this information, but if the reaction of Mindanao politicians is any indication, there are no major changes in political territories, which means the MILF agreed to drop belligerence and work within the aegis of the national government with no conditions, except changing the name of the autonomous region from ARMM to BJE. Still, that is not something to sneeze at because the new set up places the MILF in the center of political and economic power.

* * *

There are many factors that brought about the birth of the Framework Agreement, but chief of that would be the realization by Muslim leaders that time is no longer on their side. The younger Muslim generation has wakened up to a new world where education and new technology, certainly not political extremism, could enable them to achieve economic liberation.

The Muslim separatists are ageing and if their chief goal is really to bring peace and development to Muslim Mindanao they need to act fast or they lose their chance. When that happens, these Muslim leaders become irrelevant.

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