Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Earlier, I posted a whole page ad published in the newspaper entitled "A Call for Discernment and Unity". It was a statement by several Mindanao-based groups regarding the peace process. Here are my comments:

The unsigned GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain has sparked so much controversy and debate. Perhaps understandably so because the issues addressed by the agreement itself are, by themselves, subjects of negotiations between the two parties. It cannot be removed that in negotiations, there two, even more sides to the issues.

I think it will also be fair to say that parties not privy to the negotiations are not out of order when they begin raising questions about the negotiations itself and the product of such talks. Most especially if the outcome of the negotiations has an impact on the lives and concerns of those not party to the talks.

Therefore, it is only proper that an in-depth, objective and sober deliberation on the matter of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain be undertaken with all those who have concerns allowed an opportunity to be heard and to listen. After all, peace in Mindanao is not a desire limited to those who live in that great frontier but a just and lasting peace is a national vision and aspiration for all Filipinos.

It is disheartening to hear that those who raise questions about the agreement seem to be portrayed as not in unison with the objective of achieving peace in Mindanao and upholding the rights of the indigenous people. As mentioned earlier, these objectives are common to all, and it is not monopolized by those who are direct participants in the peace process. Those who ask questions want peace too.

Rhetorics such as “politicians who in the past few days became willing mouthpiece in fueling chaos, fear, hatred and communal violence” tend to demonize anyone who raises a point of concern about the MOA-AD. Such statements seem contradictory to the call for people to “be responsible enough to tackle this issue in an intelligent and dispassionate manner, bearing in mind that we are all brothers and sisters, and that everyone in this country has the right and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity”.

While it cannot be denied that there may be some who may be throwing in a monkey’s wrench into the process for political gains, it does not give a justification to lump all those who raise questions about the MOA together and brand them as anti-peace, and prejudiced against indigenous people’s rights.

Just as we frown upon those who discriminate against minorities, we should equally frown upon those who fall into arrogance in the practice of reverse discrimination.

In a democracy, the right of the people to information and be heard on matters that affect their lives serve as a cornerstone. True peace advocates also exercise patience and tolerance, sometimes to the point of being unfair to themselves. While the proponents of the MOA-AD are consistent in saying that adequate consultations were made, the fact of the matter is that there are those who were not consulted but affected by the MOA.

While the government panel claims that there were 110 consultations, can they directly dispute the claim of Mayor Celso Lobregat, whose City Hall was included in the areas to be made part of the proposed BJE, that he was not consulted? If not, which they have not, then it is beyond argument that there were not enough consultations. Considering the impact of the agreement on the governance of the mayor, it is illogical for him to be left out of the consultations.

In the bigger picture, the continued negation of the executive department to educate the legislature about the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, to my mind, does not help to quell the furor over the agreement. It may be arrogance or simply a lack of political acumen, but their failure to reach out to the legislature during these times of controversy over the MOA will only serve to raise more doubts as to the true motives behind the moves. The government is the one doing the injustice to the indigenous peoples by not taking the extra step to convince those to whom the MOA will eventually go to that the MOA will be good for the country (after the signing, the amendments to the legal framework will have to be done through congressional action).

Before I filed a resolution for the House of Representatives to conduct an inquiry into the MOA for Congress to be better apprised of its contents in a formal venue, the GRP panel met with select members of the House. I found it to be ineffective because even if they were able to convince those select members (which they did not), they would still have almost two hundred others who are still in the dark about the basis, purposes, and prospects of the MOA’s provisions.

After I had delivered a speech on the need for Congress to be briefed as an institution, the GRP panel once again met with select members, once again alienating others. Is this the transparency that they are harping about?

I am all for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao. I am supportive of any move to uphold the rights of indigenous people. But let us do it in a manner which will not be tainted with controversies of our own doing. If there’s anyone to be blamed for the snag in the peace process, the government has no one else to blame but itself.

1 comment:

Ariel Anthony Tizon said...

There must be a deliberate determination as to the government's ultimate motive and purpose of the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement. The draft clearly shows the creation of a "de facto" state for the Bangsamoro nation. Consider these:

1.The name Bangsamoro Juridical Entity has an implied acceptance on the part of the government that the BJE has a separate domestic and international personality. It is a prelude to secession and declaration of independence. All it takes is for other sovereign countries willing to conduct business with the BJE to establish embassies in the BJE territory and recognizance of its international personality;

2.The BJE will have its own independent government with practically internal sovereignty;territory; defined group of people and international relations though conveniently disguised as economic missions. One will recall Taiwan's situation. It does not have embassies abroad in the ordinary understanding of the concept "embassy" but has numerous economic missions which for all intents and purposes, may conduct the functions of a regular embassy;

3. It is submitted that the underlying principle of the Indigenous Peoples Act of the Philippines [Rep. Act 8371] is for the indigenous peoples to become stewards of ancestral domains with rights and obligations confined and bounded by the 1987 Constitution. It is not a mandate to surrender territory claimed as ancestral domains. It may admitted that if the Bangsamoro people has a legitimate claim to ancestral domains, the present constitution prohibits the government from surrendering or giving up lands to qualified indigenous peoples without the approval of the Legislature and judicial review by the Judiciary since it is a constitutional issue to do so;

4. The Agreement may contain provisions that would be contrary to statutory laws relevant to land ownership rights considering that the BJE will ultimately be the entity determining proprietory rights ot third persons involving lands included in the ancestral domain. Can a government "treaty" or executive agreement expressly or impliedly repeal a statutory right?;

5. Lastly,as an academic and legal question, are the Bangsamoro people "indigenous peoples" as defined by the different international treaties and declarations? Were their forefathers originally living in the land they claim as ancestral domain before pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies or were their forefathers "colonizers" in the mold of the western countries when they settled in Mindanao Island?

Atty. Ariel Anthony A. Tizon, LLM