POSTSCRIPT / August 7, 2008 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The President's duty to inform the people

INEVITABLE: With the plucking of a rib from the side of the Philippine corpus to create a new Bangsamoro state, President Gloria Arroyo should — before going on another foreign trip — call all Filipinos together and tell them exactly what is going on.

The seeming stealth and the dearth of information are probably the main reasons why the giving away of a choice cut from the underside of the national territory to a band of Moro rebels is now threatening to tear the country apart.

If not handled properly, the dismemberment of what Ms Arroyo calls the Strong Republic could lead to civil war or prolong the centuries-old strife in Muslim Mindanao.

The Supreme Court’s postponing the formal signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front defining the Bangsamoro’s “ancestral domain” and other elements of the emerging state is just delaying the inevitable.

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LEGAL, BUT…: The carving of a Bangsamoro state from an existing sovereign Republic is too serious a matter to be left only to lawyers to pass upon.

Many lawyers, including justices of superior courts, test the MoA only against the Constitution and relevant statutes. Finding no legal flaw, one renowned constitutionalist even dismissed the MoA as a harmless scrap of paper.

Harmless? How do we tell that to distressed communities in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan (Minsupala) — the three areas mentioned in the MoA from which to draw the component areas of the aborning Bangsamoro?

Some Muslims outside the MILF loop are themselves objecting. Hearing of MILF marauders attacking innocent villages when the MoA signing was suspended, many Christians are already arming themselves for self-defense.

The fact is dawning on us: Nobody, not even the vaunted Armed Forces of the Philippines, can hold back Moro warriors when they set their minds to sowing mayhem. If even their leaders are unable to restrain them, who can?

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OTHER REBELS: Talking of the MILF, did the government peace negotiators examine the credentials of the MILF group that sat opposite them?

What is the guarantee that the MILF truly represents the Muslim population of Minsupala, or that it has been validly sent as their representatives?

Assuming they are validly accredited MILF agents, is that enough?  The MILF is just one of several Muslim blocs operating in Mindanao and adjacent areas. Do we have to talk to these other armed groups later, grant them concessions and parcel out more areas?

Assuming further that the MILF truly represents Moro rebels, why did the Philippine government formally sit opposite them as equals and thereby give them a status of belligerency?

This is one of the reasons why the MILF, as also the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari) before it, has grown in stature in the eyes of the watching world. This has helped it/them gain sympathy and logistical support from Islamic nations.

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NAIVETÉ: The Philippine government’s handling of the issues smacks of unpardonable naiveté.

By our clumsy, amateurish acquiescence to many of the preposterous demands of the rebels, we have given them undeserved status and helped them appear as a full-blown co-equal of the Philippine government.

The government panel forgot that the people before them are rebels whose violent frame of mind was all too obvious. For instance, when they did not get promptly what they demanded, they went rampaging.

That attitude was again betrayed when their spokesman said after the Supreme Court issued a TRO (temporary restraining order) on the signing of the MoA that they did not recognize the tribunal and that the draft agreement was a done deal to them.

Even in the International Court of Justice — where our Sabah claim was filed once upon a time — all parties must first recognize the Court and submit to its jurisdiction before the dispute is heard. (Malaysia refused to submit, so no dice.)

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NOT FILIPINOS?: If the MILF does not recognize the government (which includes the Supreme Court) as well as due processes enshrined in the Constitution, what was the point in talking to them?

The point, alas, is that MILF members are our brother Filipinos and we have to talk to them — although we are not even sure if they consider themselves Filipinos and us as their brothers.

By the way, did the government panel ask its MILF counterpart the killer question – if they considered themselves Filipinos?

I am afraid the question was actually asked, casually or formally, and that they replied flatly that they were NOT Filipinos.

If they did say that they were not Filipinos, then THAT IS THE CORE PROBLEM. If that was their answer, then we are in deep trouble, and may God have mercy on us.

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TELL THE PEOPLE: These points cropped up in my abbreviated commentary because of lack of information.

The MoA shown to us, assuming it is a genuine copy, is not sufficient basis for forming an intelligent opinion about many issues.

President Arroyo can help the nation survive this looming crisis by leveling with the people and telling them exactly what is going on before our beloved Philippines is dismembered.

If the Commander-in-Chief tells us that the government is afraid of the Moros and their foreign patrons, including Malaysia, then maybe we can start to understand why the President and her negotiators look confused and overwhelmed.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 7, 2008)

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