WikiLeaks: US backed MILF

Washington favored MOA-AD, cables show

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12:12 AM September 8th, 2011

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By: Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., September 8th, 2011 12:12 AM

US INTEREST IN MINDANAO. Then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief Murad Ebrahim emerge from a closed-door meeting at Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao on Feb. 19, 2008. EDWIN FERNANDEZ/INQUIRER MINDANAO

Purported secret US Embassy files released by the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks showed that Washington had a direct hand in the ill-fated deal to create a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in 2008 that critics warned could lead to a dismemberment of the Philippines.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo said that this “disturbing pattern” of American intervention in the Philippines was apparently triggered by a letter sent by then Moro rebel chief Hashim Salamat to US President George W. Bush on Jan. 20, 2003.

Salamat’s letter, coursed through then US Ambassador Frank Riccardione in Manila, sought assistance in hammering out an agreement between the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the creation of a Moro homeland.

Ocampo said that that US interest was clearly seen from the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 2008, where the funding for socioeconomic projects in Mindanao would be handed over to the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

MOA-AD leaked

Ocampo said the Arroyo administration’s peace negotiators apparently were not too keen on the US involvement that they leaked the MOA-AD a few days before it was supposed to be signed in Kuala Lumpur in August 2008 in the presence of then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney.

The chief Philippine negotiator, General Hermogenes Esperon, apparently gave the document to then North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol  because the Arroyo administration felt the United States would be getting too much economic power under the deal, said Ocampo. Piñol later went to the Supreme Court to contest the agreement.

“We are therefore appealing to the basic principle of American fairness and sense of justice to use your good offices in rectifying the error that continues to negate and derogate the Bangsamoro People’s fundamental right to seek decolonization under the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 1514 (XV) of 1960. For this purpose, we are amenable to inviting and giving you the opportunity to assist in resolving this predicament of the Bangsamoro People,” Salamat wrote to Bush.

Ocampo said that it was no coincidence that two years after Salamat’s plea, the United States held its first official meeting with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim (as detailed in WikiLeaks 07MANILA3676 cable titled: Muslim Insurgent chairman, Malaysian Facilitator) which was held a year after they met with MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jafaar (WikiLeaks  06MANILA1747 cable titled: MILF welcomes regular dialogue with US Embassy). Both documents were classified as secret.

US officials have declined comment on the substance or authenticity of the WikiLeaks papers.

Salamat died in 2003 and was replaced by Murad as MILF chief.

Different political interest

“Hashim Salamat’s letter for George Bush to intervene led initially to the USIP’s (US Institute for Peace) interest in Mindanao and then the US Embassy’s direct intervention a few years later as exposed in the WikiLeaks reports. We knew that the US was getting involved in the peace process and we told them (MILF) to be careful because the US had a different political interest. Nobody had proof then but the WikiLeaks reports confirmed the US hand,” Ocampo said in a phone interview.

First official meeting

Ocampo said Salamat’s letter set the tone for the peace agreement as a way for the United States to rectify its “sins” when it ceded Bangsamoro land in Mindanao to its then Philippine colony.

Based on the 07MANILA3676 cable classified as secret, “the first ever official US government meeting with the leader of the Muslim insurgent organization engaged in peace talks with the government” was held in November 2007 inside Camp Darapanan, near Cotabato City.

Gov’t resistance

In her report, Kenney stated: “Our direct engagement is clearly welcomed by all parties and can help pull the complex peace process toward concrete progress, possibly including step-by-step eradication of terrorists from Mindanao.”

Murad, who was described as “friendly, confident and well-versed” and spoke excellent English, “suggested during the meeting that the US sign a protocol supporting the peace agreement along with other countries because he feared that Congress would not give its approval to the deal without international support,” Kenney said.

The WikiLeaks documents showed persistent questions on the constitutionality of the MOA-AD and resistance from “conservative forces” in the Arroyo Cabinet and Congress.

Kenney reported that the government peace panel secretariat director, Ryan Sullivan [name sounds American but he’s Filipino], reported that the government and the MILF panels were divided on governance (MILF wanted specific terms while the government wanted it kept in general terms), political status (MILF wanted to use freedom in the Bangsamoro which the government objected to), and  natural resources (MILF wanted to  have a firm hand in the exploitation of its petroleum and natural gas reserves).

“The US apparently believes that it can do what it wants with Mindanao’s natural resources by dealing with the MILF in the Bangsamoro rather than with the national government,” Ocampo said. “The US is eyeing with interest the potential of Mindanao for oil and gas.”

Jurisdiction

“Since both parties have different concepts of the meaning of   ‘ownership,’ this term was excluded from the draft territorial agreement. In place of ‘ownership,’ the MILF wants to use the phrase ‘jurisdiction and control,’ while the Cabinet wants to limit the language in the text to the word “control.” The phrase “jurisdiction and control” implies greater authority and a recognized right to control strategic resources within the territorial boundaries of a new Muslim political entity,” Kenney said.

“By limiting the language to the term “control,” Sullivan said the government would grant authority to the new Moro political entity to  develop and exploit strategic resources, though such  authority could be taken away under certain circumstances, such as a national emergency. The MILF is apparently concerned that the government could use a calamity or other event as a pretext to take over strategic resources indefinitely, according to Sullivan.”

Aside from getting the details of the MOA-AD, the US Embassy was also advised about a “two-tier advocacy and public relations campaign to prepare for the congressional action/plebiscite required after a territorial agreement is signed.”

Complex issues

“To ensure that the parties stay focused and push the process forward, Mission officials continue to engage the parties at the most senior levels … making clear that the US  strongly supports a peace agreement that will help bring  prosperity to Mindanao and remove safe havens for terrorists,” the report said.

In her commentary, Kenney said: “The slow, sometimes halting negotiation process reflects the complexity of the issues with which the parties are grappling, as well as the complex politics surrounding them. Our contacts continue to report that government and MILF negotiators are working diligently to craft a territorial agreement that not only meets with Cabinet and MILF approval, but passes constitutional muster.

“We continue to press both sides to come to agreement soon on the significant set of governance, territory, and natural resource issues currently under negotiation. Such an agreement would be a significant milestone and open the field for advocacy and increased attention to security issues in the next stage of negotiations.”

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