POSTSCRIPT / June 18, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Correction of errors delaying MILF talks?

IMPATIENCE: Unlike the Chinese playing their territorial game within a wider time frame, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front itching to carve out its own Bangsamoro sub-state in Mindanao is not used to waiting.

MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said that their field commanders have been getting impatient as Malacañang takes time reviewing the annexes that provide the substance to a self-rule agreement awaiting signing by the Executive and ratification by the Congress.

Jaafar said some of their men are starting to feel that Malacañang is deliberately delaying the annexes on how the central government and the MILF — claiming to represent the Muslim minority — will share territory, power and resources.

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CORRECTING ERRORS: Having started off on the wrong foot by dealing only with the MILF on issues (such as territorial integrity) that are non-negotiable, Malacañang is hard put to correct its missteps and shaky commitments.

It seems the difficult task of righting those errors at this late date is what is delaying the resumption of the talks in Kuala Lumpur. Rewriting contentious annexes is no easy task.

The Executive is afraid to fall into the same errors of the Arroyo administration, which was forced to scuttle its MoA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) with the MILF when the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional.

Another constitutional error this time could just result in the rejection of the new agreement by the Supreme Court, or even the impeachment of President Noynoy Aquino who has been led, bit by bit, to give in to unusual MILF demands.

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REVISE CHARTER?: Even if it now wants to pedal back, or dilute some commitments, Malacañang will have a hard time doing that since its concessions have been initialed – with Malaysia and other third parties watching — and embodied in official statements.

The admission of the parties that the proposed contract may require amending the Constitution indicates how legally defective the draft agreement is.

But why should the Constitution be rewritten just to accommodate the MILF demands on the creation of its own sub-state, the devolving of powers now exercised exclusively by the national government, and the sharing of revenues and wealth?

The proper approach is to write the MILF agreement and all its annexes in conformity with the Constitution – not the other way around.

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SHARING ISSUES: Malacañang’s panel head Miriam Ferrer has said that the Palace intends to revise the draft annexes under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, particularly on taxation, fund transfer mechanisms and revenue-sharing.

“The exchange of notes has already commenced,” she said. “We hope to come as close as possible to agreed language and return to Kuala Lumpur to be able to finalize the annexes on power and wealth-sharing very soon.”

On the power-sharing annex, she added, three classes of powers were identified pertaining to the central government and the Bangsamoro regional government:

• “Reserved” powers or matters over which competencies are fully retained by the central government. These include those on defense and external security, foreign policy; common market and global trade (provided that the power to enter into economic agreements allowed under RA 9054 shall be transferred to the Bangsamoro); coinage and monetary policy; citizenship and naturalization, and postal service.

• “Concurrent” powers or aspects of jurisdiction subject to the shared or joint authorities of the central and regional governments.

• “Exclusive” powers or competencies that are to be devolved to the Bangsamoro.

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NECESSARY FORCE: It is assuring to hear, meanwhile, a responsible official clarify that Filipino authorities reserve the right to use force, if necessary, in arresting Taiwanese fishermen poaching in Philippine waters.

For a while there we thought that with the plan to explore possible joint fishing operations and avoid force in apprehending poachers, local authorities would start like tiptoeing on eggs when Taiwanese boats heave into view.

While we should maintain good relations with neighbors, we should not surrender sovereign rights over our waters which have, as long as we can remember, been virtually open to Chinese/Taiwanese fishermen.

Chairman Amadeo Perez of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, said: “If they use force against our law enforcement agencies, the alternative is to use force also. But as much as possible, we have agreed to forego using force.”

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PRELIMINARY: Perez is right in promptly clarifying that both parties will notify each other when there are interceptions and that appropriate force will be applied when necessary.

A timid Philippines might be seen by Taiwan as having been intimidated by the economic pressure it applied after a Taiwanese fisherman was killed by the Coast Guard at the Balintang channel last May 9.

The confusion arose after Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the two parties have agreed not to use force in fishing disputes. That was after the first preparatory meeting on fishery cooperation held in Manila the day before.

Perez said the agreement in principle was just preliminary, adding: “We’ll be tackling very sensitive issues… it will take time before we come out with a formal agreement.”

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NEAREST FRONTIER: After it adopted a one-China policy, the Philippines downgraded its embassy in Taipei to an economic and cultural office. Taiwan (aka Republic of China) did the same thing with its embassy in Manila.

Although just biding its time and not actively pressing Taiwan’s recovery, Beijing regards it as a renegade province.

An interesting question arises from Manila’s one-China policy. If there is only one China and Taiwan is a province of China, Taiwan is the nearest Chinese frontier-island in the West Philippine Sea from which China’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone can be measured.

That would place the Batanes islands and Northern Luzon even closer to China’s maritime boundary.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 18, 2013)

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