Three days ago, in the reception for US Peace Corps Volunteer Director Ronald A. Tschetter, I had an interesting conversation with US ambassador Kristie Kenney. For the information of conspiracy theorists out there–for what’ s its worth–she officially and forcefully repeated her statement that the US had nothing to do with the MOA-AD, that she had not read it, that she was invited by the Philippine government, as many other diplomats, to witness the Kuala Lumpur signing. She also reiterated that they have no plans to put up permanent US bases in Mindanao or in Palawan. She would later come out in various media saying the same things.
That should do it for the official US view. Now for the intriguing part.
I refer you to this particular article in the World Politics Review, Preserving the Southern Philippines’ Threatened Peace Deal by Prashanth Parameswaran, an intern of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). To political science scholars, CSIS is a bi-partisan US thinktank chaired by former US Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sam Nunn (D) and includes key defense and foreign policy gurus as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Schlesinger, and Brent Scowcroft. It often hosts lectures and discussion groups participated in by former and sometimes current Philippine policy-makers such as former president Fidel Ramos. It is expected to have an influential voice in the coming US administration, whether it be an Obama or a McCain one.
CSIS, last March 2008, inaugurated its new Southeast Asian Studies Initiative, a permanent research focused on the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
The article had four specific and interesting quotations:
1. “The United States should be concerned at the recent developments [i.e., MOA-AD, the opposition to it, and the renewed war in the South] in the 30-year bloody struggle between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group and the Philippine government. After all, it was Washington that granted independence to a unified, majority-Christian Philippine state in 1946 despite calls by Moro Muslims for a separate status. These grievances later crystallized into a full-blown insurgency.”
2. “… the best way to test the MILF’s sincerity, unity and capacity, all of which are major concerns of critics of the peace deal, is to give the MILF its first opportunity to govern as a willing partner. The ball would then be in the MILF’s court, allowing the Philippine government to test the group before determining its future posture. The approach is at least worth a try. Contrary to popular belief, the MILF remains a homegrown nationalist group with limited ties to international terror networks, and its steadfast commitment to a peace accord despite a near two-year deadlock suggests it is more committed to the peace process than critics give it credit for.”
3. “A final peace deal will continue to be caught up in intense political infighting unless the Arroyo administration can muster the political will to overcome a host of significant obstacles. As it navigates through heated debates, the administration would do well to clarify its policies in order to squelch speculation and educate the public about this controversial issue — like specifying exactly which constitutional amendments it may seek.”
4. “The next U.S. administration, for its part, should continue to play a constructive role in the Southern Philippines. That means encouraging the Philippine government to go forward with the peace deal as well as playing a largely behind-the-scenes role in facilitating negotiations. All this should be done with adroit diplomacy that is ever mindful of stoking the sensitivities of Philippine nationalism. Washington must also continue its robust counterterrorism assistance in the region, which involves a holistic approach of economic development and military training that will play a vital role in bringing sustainable peace to an underdeveloped region marred by violence. In this way, the Philippines can continue to be a model for how the U.S. can help its allies battle international terror and constructively facilitate reconciliation with nationalist rebel groups.”
Of course, this is a piece written by an intern of a private thinktank (read: deniable). However, the article is remarkably candid and touched on many key elements in the current political crisis related to the MOA-AD. Is pursuing the MOA-AD the real US policy? Then, I fear it is out of touch with the reality here on the ground.