Dark clouds over Mindanao

No, this is not about the bad weather. Yet the disturbance is as compelling.

The dark clouds hovering in Mindanao is ironically about peace.

The agreement on the contentious ancestral domain issue between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) set to be signed in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow is causing serious concerns in several key areas of the island, notably in North Cotabato, Iligan and Zamboanga.

The inclusion of parts of their territory – without prior consultation – is among the gusty winds heaping up various protests. The other stormy blows are the continuing armed clashes in certain areas of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, and attempts to move the elections in the Muslim autonomous region scheduled for next week.

The recent armed attacks appears to have three-sided aims. One, to expand MILF controlled territory, two, to disrupt the elections, and three, to force the hand of both parties to sign or not to sign the pact.

I favor the peace agreement yet I worry how these new developments are unfolding.

For instance, we have seen how voters rejected the inclusion of many territories in the previous peace accords. I see the futility of including them again in this new agreement. Both panels are raising false hopes in this attempt to expand the areas to be covered under the envisioned Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. I am certain that this would be voted down in a plebiscite.

In the case of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberal Front (MNLF), attempts were likewise made to include, for example, Davao del Sur under the autonomous region and Davao City under the Special Zone of Peace and Development in Southern Philippines. The former was rejected by the people of Davao del Sur in a plebiscite; the latter rejected by the government panel in the final negotiations.

I was in Jakarta to represent Mayor Rody Duterte in the final rounds of the 1996 peace talks and I witnessed the discussions on the inclusion of Davao City in the SZOPAD. The government panel stuck firm on its position that Davao City was not among the areas covered in the Tripoli Agreement, which was the basis of the GRP-MNLF pact.

Well, even if Davao City were included, it would have seen defeat in the plebiscite.

The government should consider seriously the objections being raised by local officials in North Cotabato, Iligan and Zamboanga. Otherwise, it would fan the fire of protests that can lead to more “unpeace” in Mindanao. The peace agreement should be an instrument not just to appease certain sectors, it should bring genuine understanding and cooperation among all the stakeholders in Mindanao.

5:34 a.m.

Update – The Supreme Court issued a stop order for the signing  of the MOA on ancestral domain during its en banc meeting yesterday afternoon. – 6:40 a.m. August 5

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