POSTSCRIPT / September 2, 2008 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA finally buries MoA, peace process

DEATHBLOW: So that’s it. It looks final – and fatal.

President Gloria Arroyo has dealt the final deathblow on the Bangsamoro peace process. And bahala na if there is still life after death.

In a desperate bid to evade a likely Supreme Court ruling that the President and her Little Men had negotiated and initialed an invalid Memorandum of Agreement on (Moro) Ancestral Domain, the Chief Executive has declared among other things:

* The government will not sign the MoA-AD in its present form or in any of its possible reincarnations.

* The other party, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, must lay down its arms first before her government will sit down for another attempt to revive the peace process.

* * *

CASTRATION: One sure way of abruptly ending any negotiation with finality – hopefully without being blamed for the scuttling of the talks — is to insist on a condition that the other side has no choice but to reject.

To demand, as President Arroyo did, that the rebel Muslims first lay down their weapons before resuming the stalled talks is like asking them to castrate themselves. You can see a Moro warrior with a missing arm or leg, but not one without a gun.

Moro fighters will never give up their weapons, and Ms Arroyo knew that. This means that by asking for the impossible, she was in effect serving notice that the time for talking peace has ended.

If any talking keeps on, it will be as in a Big Debate on what to write on the death certificate as the Cause of Death. Watch the two sides point at each other, first with their fingers, and then with their deadly weapons.

* * *

MISUARI BACK?: But the end-talk pertains only to the MILF, a splinter of the older Moro National Liberation Front headed by Nur Misuari, who was once governor of the then newly established Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Seeing the collapse of the peace process involving his detractors in the MILF, the 66-year-old Misuari appears to have seen an opening for inserting himself back into the picture.

Misuari, whose MNLF is the only local Muslim group with observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference, is now talking of building a 120,000-strong security force to “protect the peace” in the same Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan area embraced by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity under the MoA-AD.

* * *

CO-OPERATOR?: Misuari is out on bail as the government drags its feet pursuing rebellion charges against the Tausog warrior-leader.

If he plays his cards well — and gains the support of the OIC – the MNLF under his guidance may yet wrest back from the MILF the key role in pursuing the Bangsamoro dream.

The security force he now talks about is envisioned to make MinSuPala communities safe for natives and foreigners, and end kidnapping, arson and lawlessness in general. He says he is ready to boost the force to 300,000-strong or even half a million.

What or who emboldened Misuari to light the fire again? Who will supply the staggering logistical requirements for such a security force — which he calls the MNLF Armed Forces — that could rival the regular Philippine armed forces (without the navy and the air force)?

By the way, like the MILF, the MNLF has not been declared a terrorist organization by the US government. Theoretically, that makes it a potential co-operator in the search for peace in the South.

* * *

OIC SPEAKS: As expected, the influential Organization of Islamic Conference is starting to make its presence felt in the raging dispute over the MoA-AD and the outbreak of hostilities.

Through its secretary-general, the 57-member OIC urged the Philippine government and the MILF to enter into a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table.

While it deplored the “illegitimate acts” of “wayward elements” of the MILF, it also expressed concern over the Arroyo administration’s declaration that it would not honor the MoA-AD in any form. It warned that the crisis “threatens to thwart the peace process.”

In case Malacanang failed to read through that statement, that is a gentle nudge that could become a shove if the OIC is convinced that their fellow Muslims in the South are not being treated fairly or if the Philippine government is seen as reneging on its commitments made with the international community as witness.

This should have been anticipated and emissaries sent posthaste to the OIC to explain the total picture, especially the government side.

* * *

LEGAL DETOUR: The 1976 Tripoli Agreement being invoked by Misuari and also by the MILF was negotiated by the Marcos administration using the good offices of the Libyan government under the strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Like the MoA-AD being pushed by the MILF, the Tripoli Agreement also has provisions on ancestral domain, territories, and administrative system. Their implementation is also subject to constitutional and legislative processes — a legal detour that the Moros say slows down, if not derails outright, the process.

The establishment of the ARMM under the Ramos administration was in compliance with the Tripoli Agreement. Misuari, whom the Aquino administration had asked to come home from self-exile in Saudi Arabia when Ferdinand Marcos was deposed, was the first governor.

During the Arroyo administration, however, Misuari was ousted as MNLF chairman by an internal “Council of 15.” Last April, Mayor Muslimin Sema of Cotabato City took over as chairman. But Misuari, although a bit sickly, continues to enjoy considerable following.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 2, 2008)

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