‘The big difference is we were consulted’

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ALEOSAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/15 October) –  The big difference between the 2008 GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) is  they were consulted, Aleosan Mayor Loreto Cabaya said.

Cabaya said he and five other town mayors in North Cotabato – where 39 villages that voted yes to inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  are now part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, the entity that will replace ARMM by 2016 – are supportive of the FAB  because they have been part of the process unlike in 2008.

Four years earlier, residents in this municipality were reported to beef up their  firepower to defend themselves from the attacks mounted by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under then commander Amiril Umra Kato, following the aborted signing in Malacañang of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008.

Cabaya, head of the Mindanao cluster of the League of Municipalities, told MindaNews that government peace panel members and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had conducted a series of consultation among Mindanao leaders on the GPH-MILF peace process.

“We still need to go down to the people, in the grassroots level, to inform them of the content of the Framework Agreement as we can see the sincerity of our President and the government panel,” he added.

“The 2008 experience, the conflict on MOA-AD had given us lessons,” he said. “One of which was the lack of consultation among the people during the drafting of the agreement” and “the panel members were even secretive about the signing.”

The signing itself was not a secret as the MOA-AD had been initialed on July 27, 2008 also in Kuala Lumpur and the signing date, August 5, was announced.  The contents of the agreement,  however, were not made public until the day of the signing.

“After 2008, I made a research by asking Muslim communities. They themselves have no knowledge of the provisions in the MOA-AD. They were only told that there was a signing of it and after that they would claim the lands that were being returned to them,” he said.

He added that in MOA-AD, all barangays were listed and yet it was not explained very well to the people. That is why the people now are concerned that they might be included in the territory of Bangsamoro without even knowing it, he said.

“Now we see the openness and transparency of the GPH panel to the leaders in Mindanao, especially in North Cotabato, although kulang pa ang konsultasyon sa baba (consultation in the grassroots are not yet enough),” he added.

Cabaya also noted that the good thing about the Framework Agreement is that there is an assurance that it will not be signed unless there is enough consultation among leaders, and that there will be a plebiscite.

The Framework Agreement on the  Bangsamoro was signed today (October 15) in Malacañang.

The mayors of the towns mentioned in the Framework Agreement met last Thursday and manifested their support provided that there will be no coercion or intimidation in the conduct of the plebiscite and the people are given the freedom to choose what they want.

“We consider this as a solution to our long conflict in Mindanao. Let’s not be ahead of this as this is far from over because the details of the agreement are not yet done. But, we hope that this will become our road to peace here in Mindanao,” he said.

Aleosan has a population of 36,000 spread across 19 barangays, six of them Moro-dominated. The Moro people account for 25 percent of the total population, the mayor said.

Three of its barangays, namely, Dunguan, Mingading and Tapodoc, voted for the inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite.

In the Framework Agreement, the core territory of Bangsamoro will include villages in the municipalities of Kabacan, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap of North Cotabato that voted for the inclusion in the extended ARMM. In 2001, these municipalities had 208 barangays, 39 of which voted for inclusion, including three from Aleosan.

Wait and see

Most of the barangays in Aleosan are adopting a wait-and-see situation, the mayor said.

He said they will first observe the performance of the Bangsamoro entity before deciding to be included in the territory.

Boy Montero, 47, barangay captain of Mingading since 2007 and member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during his bachelor years, said he is yet to consult his constituents whether or not they want to be part of the Bangsamoro by 2016.

“I will consult this to my people so that whatever happens, we have one decision and we could avoid being blamed,” he told MindaNews.

But, personally, he said he would rather stay in the government of Aleosan because he has witnessed some developments.

Cabaya said Mingading voted Yes in the 2001 plebiscite because majority of its constituents were members and supporters of the MNLF, but now the agreement is between GPH and MILF.

He added that there is still a plebiscite after the Basic Law that will govern the Bangsamoro will be passed by Congress, so the barangays can oppose if they do not want to be part of the Bangsamoro.

“Although we respect their decision in 2001 for voting yes for expansion of ARMM, maybe their decision will be different now as they have seen the development in their livelihood.  Same is true maybe with other localities, in Kabacan, Pikit, Midsayap and Pigkawayan,” he said.

The Framework Agreement states that  all other contiguous areas where  there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of  the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro.

However, there are still other issues that are not clear in the framework agreement such as the inclusion of barangays that are not contiguous  to ARMM, Cabaya said,

“We don’t want to comment whether or not it is good to belong in Bangsamoro territory but we hope that this agreement will bring good to everyone. Whether one is inside or outside the Bangsamoro entity, what matters is our relationship as fellow Filipinos,” he said. (Lorie Ann  Cascaro / MindaNews)

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