What can government give the MILF that it didn’t give the MNLF?

Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from March 2001 to May 2003, told the forum, “in the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) peace agreement in 1996, wala kasing (there was no) agreement on ancestral domain.. that’s why the MILF is carrying the flag for this.”

The MILF broke away from the MNLF under Nus Misuari in the late 1970s with his vice chair Salamat Hashim heading the “New MNLF” that was later renamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia, a retired Army general whose last post was as Armed Forces Vice chief of Staff, acknowledged during the forum the historical injustices inflicted on the Moro people.

“Ancestral domain as a precise definition,” he told the open forum after lunch on Saturday, ” actually refers to the .. leadership of the Bangsamoro, it refers to land areas, bodies of water, including the aerial space that … since time immemorial, had been accessed to and which …the Bangsamoro (had) laid claim to.”

“If you look at the history of Mindanao,” he continued, “there’s quite a lot of documentations on these, based even on actions by the colonial government … when they started the Moro province…. when the area was ceded by the Spanish to the Americans in 1898.”

He said the Moro had “their own legal systems, they had sultanates in Sulu, Maguindanao and Pat a Pangampong (ko Ranao) that was established in Lanao, vis-à-vis is adequate historical references including traditions pertaining to what really (were) the areas that the Bangsamoro and the Lumads as the first residents of Mindanao, occupied.”

Garcia noted that Mindanao’s demography has changed over the years “and so the Bangsamoro has been relegated to the areas that are more in the hinterlands or  areas reduced to, for many reasons either they were … or they were tricked into it…”

But Garcia stressed that “we cannot solve the problem of Mindanao with just a reference to history because if that will be so, we will be creating a problem, a bigger problem in the entire Mindanao considering that the realities are that this land, although owned by Bangsamoro or Lumad first.. are (now) occupied by Christians who (had) settled in since the early 1900s up to its height in the 1960s and  1970s.”

“So what formula do we use here? While we acknowledge the ancestral domain rights of the Bangsamoro, what would it actually be? Would it be translated into land territory and marine areas based on what (the) system (was) since the 13th and 14th century…That cannot be. It definitely cannot be. The MILF themselves accept that, that there are realities up front that cannot be (dismissed): that these places have been bought, occupied by Christian settlers and they now own it, they own titles to it, they have vested interest in those areas, those lands, they have vested rights…”

Garcia said “the way it is evolving,” ancestral domain,  “as far as the government side is concerned,  would be a historical acknowledgment of that fact of prior presence and occupation by the Bangsamoro and the Lumads of these territories, areas before the coming in of these settlers and save what can be saved and expand what can be expanded if it can be expanded, the areas that can be part of BJE (Bangsamoro Juridical Entity) territory which should not shrink anymore. It is there, delineated, demarcated and will no longer shrink. Because if we let this be, as it is now, without interventions in final peace agreement on territory issue, then the sure fact would be that these areas would further constrict.’

According to a primer on the GRP-MILF peace process which the Joint Advocacy Group from both panel issued in October last year, the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front “have not fully addressed the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination, self-governance and recognition of their ancestral domain, their identity, history and way of life.”

“Over the last 100 years, the Bangsamoro people and other indigenous peoples had been marginalized due to colonial and national government policies that encouraged and supported the waves of settlers from the Visayas and Luzon to settle in Mindanao. National integration programs failed to correct the resulting inequities. The Bangsamoro people want these historical injustices corrected and the Philippine government is willing to address these,” the primer reads.

Before the split in the late 1970s, the  MNLF managed to negotiate for 13 cities in Mindanao and Palawan and the cities therein, as “areas of autonomy”  under the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 signed for them by Misuari

These “areas of autonomy” were then subjected to a plebiscite that eventually led to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ creation of two regional autonomous governments. The MNLF cried violation of the peace agreement.  Hashim’s group later broke away from the MNLF.

The post-Marcos administration of Corazon Aquino immediately met with Misuari but the negotiations failed. When the Constitutional Commission amended the Marcos Constitution, it included in the 1987 Constitution the creation of autonomous regions in Cordillera and “Muslim Mindanao.”  This was the Aquino administration’s attempt to implement the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. The MNLF  and MILF called for a boycott of the plebiscite to ratify the 1987 Constitution.

But because of the Constitutional mandate, the regional autonomous governments were abolished and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created by law. Residents in the areas originally listed in the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 as “areas of autonomy”  were again asked in a plebiscite in November 1989 if they want to be part of the ARMM. Only four provinces voted for inclusion: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Tawi-tawi and Sulu.

The first ARMM governor was Zacaria Candao (1990 to 1993), one of the legal counsels of the MNLF during the signing of the 1976 Tripoli pact; followed by Liningding Pangandaman (1993 to 1996), former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

By 1992, the new President, Fidel Ramos, started negotiating with the MNLF, eventually leading to the signing on September 2, 1996, of what is now called the “Final Peace Agreement” to implement the 1976 Tripoli Agreement.

To get other provinces and cities to join the ARMM, a transitory implementing mechanism was set up through the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), with members coming from the ARMM and the other “areas of autonomy” under the 1976 Tripoli Agreement.

By the time the SPCPD areas were subjected to a plebiscite in 2001, only one province, Basilan, and one city, Marawi, opted  for inclusion in the ARMM. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Comments

comments