At the last minute, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, approved a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the signing of the GRP-MILF memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) in Putrajaya, Selangor, Malaysia today, August 5. The government side acknowledged the TRO while the MILF noted it but insisted that the MOA-AD is already implementable. It averred that the signing was a mere formality and that the real commitment was done when government negotiators initialed it.
The TRO was a triumph for the petitioners–the local governments of Iligan City, North Cotabato, and Zamboanga City. It was also a blow to the secretive approach taken by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in making the memorandum–the SC rejected its argument of “executive privilege” and directed the government to make public the memorandum.
Having said this, it is a given that the whole issue has just started. The Supreme Court is still to pass on the merits of the memorandum, including its constitutionality. The GMA administration still wants it to be signed and will be launching a public campaign to make the agreement acceptable. All stakeholders are gearing up for a very public fight on the issue.
The GMA administration has botched the negotiation process. It failed to consult with other stakeholders–especially the MNLF, the Lumads, the leadership of various Moro tribes, the Mindanaoan Christians, Congress, the presidentiables, and civil society peace advocates. It also attempted to negotiate beyond the constitutional mandate of Moro autonomy, twisting the process to force a wide-open constitutional change. It thereby wakened the specter of another GMA run for continued stay in power.
I do not subscribe to the view that people should not worry about the MOA-AD since it will still be subject to the formal peace talks, to Congress approval and to a plebiscite, particularly in the light of the insistence that it is already implementable. The explanation of the government negotiators regarding the steps of the peace negotiations imply that–as far as the Executive branch is concerned–the topic of “ancestral domain” contained in the MOA-AD will not anymore be revisited in the formal talks. In fact, they also admitted (but glossed over it) that a constitutional revision is necessary to shift to a federal state system in order to accommodate the GRP concessions in the MOA-AD.
The MILF threat of a return to the battlefield and actual battles on the ground do not add anything to the issue and may backfire on them, especially in the light of the huge concession they got from the MOA-AD. It is understandable that they would insist on its signing and implementation, but it is doubtful if violence or threats of violence will convince other stakeholders to support the agreement.
The dynamics of the situation will certainly lead to decisive results, with victors and losers. At the moment, both the GMA administration and the MILF are fighting an uphill battle against the strong public opinion against the MOA-AD. If they failed to stem the tide, they may lose the option for a negotiated political settlement–they may even lose their own constituencies.
A lameduck presidency with an unprecedented unpopularity and lack of support from the people cannot bind the Filipino body politic to any peace agreement–much more, such a sweeping agreement as the MOA-AD. Politically, time had already ran out for the present stage of peace negotiations. It is more prudent for both sides to wait for the new president to come on board to resume them.
Risking more conflicts is not the objective of peace negotiations. Just and lasting peace is. All stakeholders must be brought into the GRP-MILF negotiations–unless there are other agenda on the table aside from achieving a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.