Just so it’s in context: Mrs. Arroyo’s deal for "peace" in Southern Mindanao is analogous to the Americans giving the descendants of Geronimo and his Apaches exclusive ownership of Arizona and New Mexico and the descendants of Sitting Bull and his Sioux exclusive ownership of Montana and parts of Wyoming and Dakota. Everyone should thus congratulate the MILF rebels for a great victory over the Philippine government and its armed forces.The deal is nothing less than a surrender.
While no one will dispute the great need to finally bring peace to conflict-troubled areas in Mindanao, the soldiers who’ve fought and bled and died there because they were told that this served the interest of their government surely have a right — or their families do — to now feel betrayed. After all, they sacrificed much — as much as the MILF fighters did — but they are not to be rewarded with the kind of settlement for which the word generous would be an understatement. The Filipino people, who are only now learning about what was to be given away in their names because Mrs. Arroyo and her panel of negotiators tried to seal this agreement behind their backs, also have a right to feel betrayed.
Presidential spokesmen and other apologists for the deal are being disingenuous when they call the agreement a mere "discussion document" and quibble that it will still require enabling laws, plebiscites, and an amendment of the Constitution before it can be called an agreement. They ask us to believe that recognizing the MILF as the sole representatives of a separatist group and treating them as equals in "a piece of paper" signed in a foreign country by authorized representatives of the Philippine government (including its secretary of foreign affairs) and witnessed by representatives of other foreign governments (including superpower mediator America) has no effect on the MILF’s standing in the international community and on our own actions regarding their separatist movement. They should try telling that to the marines in Mindanao.
Reading the wordy document, one cannot shake the feeling that the MILF leadership drafted it exactly the way they wanted — they even managed to delete all mention of our Constitution or of a National Government — and the Philippine panel just meekly agreed to it. That, of course, is a tribute to the MILF negotiators and their foreign supporters. Mrs. Arroyo and her panel should, however, consider this a sad reflection on their own negotiating abilities, assuming of course that their goal was actually the national welfare and not just their own personal interests or the interests of some foreign power.
Consider just a few of the things the Philippine negotiators agreed to. For one thing, the panel agreed to define the "Bangsamoro" people as "those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization of its descendants" and agreed that "ownership of the [Bangsamoro] homeland is vested exclusively in them by virtue of their prior rights of occupation that had inhered in them as sizable bodies of people, delimited by their ancestors since time immemorial, and being the first politically organized dominant occupants." Note that if it is the Spanish conquest referred to, the definition excludes all those who moved to Mindanao only after 1565. Note also that the so-defined Bangsamoro people own what is designated as their homeland "exclusively," with no apparent qualifications for who might own particular areas now.
Additionally, the panel agreed to acknowledge "any unjust dispossession" or "marginalization" of the Bangsamoros’ "territorial and proprietary rights (and) customary land tenures" and make restitution. This could be taken to mean that land that had been appropriated by Spanish and American colonial authorities or land that had been awarded to homesteaders and settlers for farming or land on which structures like roads and dams and buildings had already been constructed must now be given back. Moreover, "whenever restoration is no longer possible, the GRP [Philippine government] shall take effective measures of adequate reparation collectively beneficial to the Bangsamoro people." That would mean that the Bangsamoro people will have to be paid, presumably by the rest of us.
Then, the panel agreed that "the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) shall have jurisdiction over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization and disposition of all natural resources, living and non-living, within its internal waters extending fifteen (15) kilometers from the coastline of the BJE area. (and that) the territorial of the BJE shall stretch beyond the BJE internal waters up to the Republic of the Philippines (RP) baselines." This is significant because the panel agreed that "all potential sources of energy, petroleum in situ, hydrocarbon, natural gas and other minerals, including deposits or fields found in territorial waters, shall be shared between the Central Government and the BJE in favor of the latter through production sharing agreement or economic cooperative agreement." And this sharing? "All royalties, bonuses, taxes, charges, custom duties or imposts on natural resources and mineral resources shall be shared by the Parties on a percentage ratio of 75% / 25% in favor of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity." Wow.
Now who heads the BJE? Well, it can only be whoever is designated by the MILF signatories of the agreement. The agreement itself gives implicit recognition to the MILF leader as the representative of the entire Bangsamoro people. Note that it is not the MNLF leader. Nor the ARMM governor. Nor the governor of any province. Nor anyone else.
With respect to the nature of the relationship between the BJE and the Philippine government, the panel agreed that this "shall be associative characterized by shared authority and responsibility." That’s deliberately vague, but the word "associative" implies a relationship between equals. Other parts of the text shed some light on the intentions: "the BJE shall be empowered to build, develop and maintain its own institutions, inclusive of civil service, electoral, financial and banking, education, legislation, legal, economic, and police and internal security force, judicial system and correctional institutions. (and) is free to enter into economic cooperation and trade relations with foreign countries. (and) open Bangsamoro trade missions in foreign countries." Furthermore, the Philippine government is required to "take necessary steps to ensure the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity’s participation in international meetings and events, e.g. ASEAN meetings and other specialized agencies of the United Nations."
What is one to make of such munificent provisions other than that the Philippine government has agreed to surrender part of its territory and allow the establishment of an independent state by the MILF?
There really seems to be no way of interpreting the proposed agreement except as a deal intended solely to benefit the MILF and its foreign sponsors and Mrs. Arroyo and her factotums personally. What the MILF and its backers get from the deal is abundantly clear. The question before us is, what does Mrs. Arroyo get from this that is so important to her that she is willing to betray her soldiers and the Filipino people for it? Let’s guess.
Rene B. Azurin, Strategic Perspective, Business World