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Posts Tagged ‘MOA-AD’

[This is my forthcoming column in Catalyst. I’m posting it here because of numerous requests.]

President Aquino arrived in Tokyo at 6 p.m. Thursday, met the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim at 8:45 p.m. at the Ana Crowne Hotel, and left for Manila at 10 a.m. Friday. By doing so, he set off a wave of speculations roiling across the nation, especially in Mindanao, where the MILF insurgency is situated. The request for the talk came from President Aquino, cutting through the usual protocols.

On its face, both sides agreed that the top-level one-on-one talk was successful. They both agreed on fast-tracking the negotiations, citing the boost the talk gave to the formal process. The MILF said in a statement that the meeting gave “a tremendous boost to the peace negotiations and in rekindling public expectation to fast-track the peace settlement.” The Chairman of the government panel, Professor Marvic Leonen, on his part said that the meeting “helps the formal negotiations between the panels on both sides.”

Professor Leonen also said that both sides “agreed that the implementation of any agreement should happen within [the term of] the current administration.” The MILF was a bit more reticent, saying only that there was “consensus that all substantive and outstanding issues discussed by both leaders will be taken up by the peace panels for deliberation on the negotiating table.”

It is inconceivable that the Philippine president will seek a personal, one-on-one meeting with the MILF chairman just for coffee talk, “getting-to-know-you,” or to merely boost the ongoing peace negotiations. This is all crap talk.

I think reading between the lines of the formal statements of both sides and subsequent pronouncements of both sides, plus a contextual assessment of the recent history of the peace talks, is more productive and can lead to an understanding of the President’s risky out-of-the-box move.

It is evident from the formal statements that the President discussed bottomlines and feet-on-the-ground options with Chairman Murad and that these were received with openness by the latter. What are these? The government side, in subsequent pronouncements, broadly hinted that it will not accept the idea of a Moro substate or any proposal akin to the ill-fated Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). There was heavy speculation last June that the President rejected the government panel’s original position, among other reasons, of resuming formal negotiations based on BJE and other major elements of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court already declared as unconstitutional.

The government, after the Tokyo talk, instead pointed out that the MILF has already set aside its strategic position for an independent Moro homeland and is opting for Filipino citizenship “with a Moro national identity.” It presumes that some kind of an autonomy arrangement will accommodate this position.

It is a fact that the MILF is losing ground, politically and militarily. The split by Commander Umbra Kato, who has strong ties with the late MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat, was a body blow to the MILF. The failure of the MOA-AD also weakened MILF’s political standing. It now faces an Aquino administration with a huge reservoir of political goodwill and unfettered by the sins or promises of the past Arroyo administration.

A political moment has arrived for a possible meeting point. President Aquino took the risk. Now, history will judge him whether he has the instinct of a peace warrior or the foolish imagination of a court jester.

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The plight of overseas Filipino workers in the Arab and Middle East countries should be attended to and immediately!

A new order is coming into being in these countries–and depending on specific national conditions–Filipino OFWs will have to contend with its implications. The Aquino government should not underestimate these implications, not only to the OFWs themselves but also to our oil supplies, to inflation, local and global job availability, government tax income, Moro situation, great-power rivalry, international terrorism, and our democratic people power legacy.

The loss of possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs in these countries can lead–in the medium term–to a dip in the Philippine GNP growth. In a situation of global recession, this can lead to a “squeeze” effect when foreign jobs gets scarcer even as new graduates enter the labor market and the local job market cannot sufficiently expand to accommodate the slack.

Oil supplies may also suffer even as the oil prices shoot through the ceiling. This is also a “squeeze” situation where scarcer but pricier oil and gas products drive up inflation even as foreign reserves scramble to cover higher-priced oil importation.

The government basically and indirectly taxes the OFWs through their remittance spending (consumer goods in malls, land and housing acquisitions, tourism, and other family-based spending). This will slow down and marginal business may collapse. Government income may thus take a hit.

As instability engulf the Arab world and the Middle East, big powers will increasingly compete for scarce resources–not only in these countries but throughout the world including southeast Asia. We are already well within the ambit of this hidden “resource war,” as a possible major resource for oil, gas, and other minerals.

Politically, we are also vulnerable to the events in the Arab world and in the Middle East because of our own Moro Muslims–who have living ties to the Arabic world. The Al Qaeda network extends into the region and into the Philippines. And to a certain extent, the events there mirror our own 1986 people power.

It is now a question of when–and not if–a major global crisis hits us from the events in the Arab world and the Middle East. The crisis opens both the door to our own crises and our own opportunities. Interesting but dangerous times. Also, dangerous but interesting times.

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The Supreme Court, in a tight 8-7 decision, declared the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 unconstitutional. The reported swing vote was that of Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, the last appointee of former President Fidel Ramos. There were also reports that two of those in the minority tried to discern the majority vote before they cast their own votes–hinting of a possible indecision.

The votes of the seven were predictably in line with the broad hints that Malacañang had been giving the justices, that is, declare the suit as moot and academic and citing the withdrawal of the Executive from the MOA-AD. This is, of course, to preserve flexibility in negotiations and avoid complicating the current political crisis. For one, an unfavorable decision can be a basis for a credible impeachment of the president.

Though it is still too early to say, the breaking of ranks among the pro-GMA in the SC indicates that the hands at the helm of power is slipping, that the lameduck scenario is developing, and that the ruling coalition may be headed for a public break. This will have a deleterious effect on the current Charter change initiative of the GMA forces and suggests a favorable turn for a possibly successful impeachment move .

The scenario to watch out for is how the non-GMA political groups in the ruling coalition will cast their choice in the current situation. Will they opt for a continued GMA stay in power which almost will result in the deepening of the political crisis? Or will they try for a serious presidentiable outside of ruling coalition which makes them junior partners in the next ruling coalition? Or will they stick it out with their own presidentiable, hoping he or she will win and thereby preserve their hold on power?

The SC decision means–playing their cards close to their chests–that they are preserving their options. However, in two of them, there’s no GMA in the picture.

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The mutual fiasco of the Cha-cha adventure’s interweaving with the MOA-AD has not deterred increasingly-pressured Malacañang’s strategists from attempting–for the umpteenth time–another try. Sec. Peter Favila’s feeble citing of the need to change the 60-40 Filipino ownership in the Constitution is the new rationale.

I do not know if this is in response to the reported demand of the Chinese partners in the Mt. Diwalwal mining venture with a newly-organized Filipino mining company controlled by cronies close to the Palace. Mr. Favila was accused of signing earlier a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on this with the ZTE corporation of the NBN fame. His call for Cha-cha is suspiciously close to the announcement by the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC), the mandated government corporation, for bids on joint ventures on developing the Mt. Diwalwal gold area. The Mt. Diwalwal motherlode, estimated to amount to more than US$5 billion, has been supposedly discovered recently. Strangely, the area is part of the Category B areas listed in the MOA-AD.

In the light of Mr. Favila’s call, the initiative for charter change once again exposed another objective for the attempt to maintain GMA beyond her 2010 end of term. Huge, lucrative contracts and superprofits, as well as possible largesse from political corruption, awaits the new president as the opening of mining and oil ventures swamp the country in the next decade.

When former Sec. Nonong Cruz (and the Former Senior Government Officials-FSGO) warns of possible martial rule or state of emergency, he was actually saying–in the subtext–that those in power are quite desperate now as the window of opportunity for Charter change inexorably narrows and all attempts to do so fail.

Federalism, even if Sen. Pimentel’s resolution has started its committee hearing, lost steam as Cha-cha vehicle. Even Sen. Gordon, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Laws has said that Charter change can only come about after 2010. The corresponding House Committee on Constitutional Amendments has vacillated on holding national consultations, leading to suspicions that it is only dribbling the Cha-cha ball. Of late, there is rumbling from Speaker Nograles’ erstwhile GMA loyalist allies to unseat him for suspicion of disloyalty.

The only card left is the attempt to create a situation of national emergency, stage a palace coup, declare some form of martial rule, disorganize cha-cha opponents, and railroad Cha-cha. Will she do it?

Certain people close to her wants it and are mightily moving the AFP and the Moro rebels to enter the prepared script for a martial law declaration. Will she play along?

The situation generally points to the holding of normal elections in 2010; the Charter change express train shrinks by the day to being an irrelevancy. It was Alice of Wonderland who said, “If it had grown up, it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.”

Any other scheme faces big difficulties in execution. However, the current situation also says anything can happen because all political forces are moving, including the people’s movement against GMA’s Charter change.

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The judicial system has been in the news lately. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the signing of the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). Then, it affirmed its unpopular decision to uphold executive privilege over the constitutional right to information and the Congressional prerogatives in investigation in aid of legislation. Lastly, the Court of Appeals lost one of its justices and had others either suspended or reprimanded by the Supreme Court for acts unbecoming of a justice in the case of the GSIS vs. Meralco.

The judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, had always been viewed as the last line of defense in a democracy. The military, often portrayed as the last line, is not–it is an arbiter of democracy. When it decides, it can defend democracy or it can–such as in time of Marcos–ruin it.

The reason for this Supreme Court’s role is constitutional. It stands between the two other republican branches, the Executive and the Legislative, and arbitrates differences between them. In the 1987 constitution, the framers added the power to “determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”

This power is in addition to its administrative powers over the courts, including the Court of Appeals. When the Supreme Court disciplines its ranks, it always earn high marks from the people. However, the work needed to cleanse the lower judicial bodies of their unsavory reputation is herculean–a labor of a lifetime. The disciplining of CA justices happened within an unusual setting–the epic battle for control of one of the country’s biggest corporation between an economic elite family, on the one hand, and the country’s most politically powerful family and its allies, on the other hand.

The Supreme Court decision on the executive privilege issue, however, earns for itself a very low mark and dangerously tilted the balance between the Executive and the Legislative branches irretrievably in favor of the former. It thus brought nearer the day of absolute power to an already very powerful presidency. In the current political crisis, this is a real temptation.

The Supreme Court TRO on the MOA-AD signing basically postponed the day of decision on the Executive’s prerogative in peace negotiations. Due to the blatant violations of the constitution in the MOA-AD and the overreaching by Malacañang of its powers, everybody is expecting a Supreme Court finding for “a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the Executive.” If it refuses to decide on the issue (because of a convenient “moot and academic” argument provided by the Solicitor-General), then it will allow the resurrection of the MOA-AD.

On balance, the Supreme Court teeters on the crumbling credibility ledge of its own making. It is hard-pressed to define (and actually live up to) its role as the third branch of government. The creation of an automatic pro-Malacañang majority is suspected and this may impinge on its own credibility. A highly-credible Chief Justice in minority adds to the problem of credibility.

The Supreme Court may need to do a lot more hard work, not only to return credibility to the entire judiciary, but–more importantly–to preserve its own. The wavering last line of defense that is the Supreme Court must withstand the assaults on its independence and render justice to everyman, including the president of the Republic.

This must not only be done but it must also be perceived  as such by the people. Otherwise, the military becomes the arbiter of our democracy.

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The Arroyo administration just dissolved the ill-fated government panel that negotiated for the MOA-AD. This was an expected decision, after it also announced before the Supreme Court that it wquld not sign the MOA-AD “in its present form or in any other form.” The MOA-AD–in its present version and in any other version–is now dead, mourned over, and finally buried.

It is evident that the GMA adminstration wants a way out of the MOA-AD fiasco, with as few wounds as possible. It finally dawned on GMA that the MOA-AD adventure can well lead to the end of her own administration. The various protestations of Solicitor-General Devenadera that GMA did not read the agreement, nor given her authority even to the initialing of the document, nor would she give it if the agreement is known to her basically shows a desperate attempt to distance her from a Supreme Court decision that may not be to her liking and may not even spare her the ultimate responsibility for a botched peace process.

However, the consistent thread running through the maneuvers of Malacañang through all the vicissitudes of the public outcry, the MILF attacks, reported foreign pressures, and the drama in the Supreme Court is a consistent declaration for maintaining the peace initiative. The so-called DDR alternative strategy (disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation), smells of a hastily-drawn, temporary, and patchwork initiative. A new peace initiative is called for by the current situation unless the government and the MILF are already prepared for and has the political will for renewed war. I don’t think so.

The dissolution of the current peace panel but the retention of the position of the presidential adviser on the peace process and presidential instructions for review of the current peace process points to a new peace strategy in the near future. The specter of a resurrected MOA-AD in a completely new guise is still with us.

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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.

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