It’s tempting to ascribe what the Arroyo government has done — forge a contentious MOA that’s likely to provoke more war rather than usher in peace — either to stupidity, a failure to fully appreciate the situation in Mindanao, or to plain clumsiness. But the temptation is tempered by the suspicion that it knew from the beginning what it was doing — and what its consequences were likely to be.
Among other epithets, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between itself and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) it would have signed last Tuesday had not the Supreme Court intervened has been called treasonous, a betrayal, and unconstitutional. It in fact creates an entity — an autonomous state within an existing non-federal, centralized system — the present Constitution doesn’t sanction. To mean anything, it would require the restructuring of the entire Republic into a federation via the charter change of our worst nightmares.
That’s contentious if not mind-boggling enough. But the MOA also includes in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) not only what’s now the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM, where the Moro National Liberation Front rather than the MILF has decisive influence) and those Lanao del Norte municipalities that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in 2001. It would also include in the BJE, after a plebiscite, some 700 barangay in Basilan, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga Sibugay and Palawan.
In addition, the MOA would allow the BJE — the governing body of the “state” that would be created — to negotiate directly with foreign governments and organize its own defense forces, thus imbuing it with powers a state within a federal system doesn’t usually have, foreign affairs and defense being the prerogative as well as responsibility of the central, or federal government. The MOA in short creates a fictional entity with powers beyond that of a state within a federation, but premises the realization of that entity on amending the Constitution.
Charter Change as a means of remaining in power has been in the agenda of the Arroyo government since the fraud-ridden elections of 2004, when it concluded that only a miracle — or a shift to a parliamentary form of government — could keep it in power beyond 2010. Naturally the MOA has aroused the usual suspicions that it’s part of an elaborate scheme to keep Her Majesty and her cohort of trapos in pelf and power, while seeming to be focused on peace in Mindanao.
War is the more likely, the MOA having so fanned the usual anti-Muslim jingoism in such places as the Lobregats’ Zamboanga there’s beginning to be talk of a Christian jihad there. Egged on not only by the irresponsible politicos who infest the body politic like lice, but also by their own primitive impulses, thousands of so-called Christians have been protesting the inclusion of alleged Christian areas in the BJE. The usual gunpowder-for-brains are also talking darkly of raising their own armies to fight the Moros once they come by land or sea, and even of secession from the Republic.
The inclusion of, say, certain Zamboanga City barangay in the BJE is premised on plebiscite results, thus making these protests premature. But any idiot could have anticipated this kind of reaction anyway — and should have conducted the appropriate consultations with residents, local officials and members of Congress before the MOA was even drafted.
The government’s reply to complaints that it did no such thing is right between the lines of statements from such life-long peace activists and democrats as Marcos era general, now Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and former Armed Forces Chief, now Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.
It’s that consultations would have taken too much time. No point arguing that it would have been time well spent, in that it would at least have spared us the drudgery of having to listen to the macho posturings of the usual hotheads in Congress and at the local level who see virtue only in dead Moros. The bottom line is that the government, most specially Gloria Arroyo and Hermogenes Esperon, wanted an agreement — any agreement — signed, sealed and delivered ASAP, meaning before 2010.
Not in heaven’s name, but in that of the United States, the 800-pound gorilla in our midst. Since 2003 the US has been “expediting” the making of a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF through its Institute for Peace. Supposedly an independent, nonpartisan institution, USIP was established and funded by the US Congress to prevent Mindanao’s turning into that horror of horrors, a terrorist haven — and not incidentally to open its vast resources to exploitation by various business groups including, and most especially, US multinationals.
In the meantime, those Filipinos who do want lasting peace in Mindanao, and who do recognize the Bangsamoro right to ancestral domain and autonomy, would have had to put their money where their mouths are by agreeing to Constitutional amendments via a constituent assembly.
Once begun, that process will create a parliamentary form of government under a federal system, under the terms of which Mrs. Arroyo and cohort can stay on beyond 2010. But it will not stop there, and will go on to repeal those provisions in the 1987 Constitution that protect the media and the country’s natural resources from foreign ownership, and even allow foreign professionals to practice in these shores.
Does this sound too devious and too convoluted a plot to be anything but the stuff of which Hollywood films are made? Not in a country where you have a former general as peace adviser it doesn’t.