By ISAGANI DE CASTRO, JR.abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newbreak
The Philippines will not lose any territory or sovereignty in the agreement on a new Moro homeland that will be signed August 5 in Malaysia, a top Arroyo adviser said.
Ret. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, presidential adviser on the peace process, told ANC that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) will also go through democratic processes:
? First, it will require an enabling law from Congress on the holding of a plebiscite within a year after the agreement is signed; and,
? Second, residents of nearly 730 villages will then be asked in a plebiscite whether they want to join an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and only those villages where majority of voters choose to join will be included in the expanded ARMM.
"Let’s be clear that any territory that will be added to the present ARMM will only be because of a plebiscite or after a plebiscite that could only be conducted after Congress has enacted an enabling law to do it," Esperon said.
"There is no surrender of territory here. That is why we are providing for a plebiscite, which is consulting the people if we have to put some additional geographic areas into what is now the ARMM," he told ANC’s Crossroads. "So, there’s no talk here of territory loss or sovereignty loss."
Not yet final
Not yet final
Esperon also pointed out that the MOA-AD is not yet the final peace agreement since it will still lead to negotiations on the comprehensive compact or the final peace agreement.
"The MOA is a preliminary agreement before we go to the final peace talks or the formal peace talks. Therefore, it is not the final agreement that should bind us to all the agreements," he said.
Esperon said the MOA-AD is "not the final document for the peace process."
"It is a preliminary document, together with the ceasefire arrangements, the rehabilitation and construction provisions, and now the MOA-AD. These are the preliminaries before we go to the formal peace talks," he said.
Esperon said these and other provisions in the MOA-AD comply with the 1987 Constitution.
"In fact, one of the provisions, a major provision of the MOA is that all provisions must conform with the Constitution or the legal framework of the land," he said.
No property confiscation
No property confiscation
On the provisions on exploitation and use of natural resources in the expanded ARMM, Esperon said the MOA-AD will not lead to transfer of properties or land titles from Christians to the Moro people.
"There’s nothing to fear here. It is not confiscatory as some people would now want to tell the people in Zamboanga or Cotabato. No lands will be given to the Moslems, titles will be respected, licenses will be respected," he said.
Zamboanga city, provincial and district representatives asked the Supreme Court on Monday to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the signing of the MOA-AD since they were not consulted. They said they have twice voted not to join the ARMM, one in 1989 and 2001. If the signing pushes through Tuesday, they asked the SC to declare the MOA-AD null and void.
On the issue of lack of consultations, Esperon said the period for consultations and public information and education on MOA-AD has already started and that more information will be disclosed after the signing.
"As soon as we get that signed, we can start all these consultations and all the debate, and I believe that by going through this, we can have a better position and better results for the peace process," he said. "I’m willing to go there again and discuss it again, consult with them."
Esperon also confirmed that he has already given unofficial copies to local officials of North Cotabato and the Zamboanga provinces.
He denied the government has being dictatorial in its approach to the peace process as some politicians said.
"This is not ramming peace through the throat of the people of North Cotabato. We are all for peace. If I fought in Cotabato, it is because we wanted peace in Cotabato and other parts of Mindanao," Esperon said.
No separate state
No separate state
Meanwhile, Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF negotiating panel told ANC’s Dateline Philippines Monday that the MOA-AD will not lead to the creation of a separate state.
"There is one line which says that it cannot go against the Republic," Mastura, a former member of Congress, said.
Mastura stressed there is still time to discuss controversial questions on the MOA-AD since the final peace agreement has not yet been signed.
"This is not the stage that will solve all these many questions that are raised now before the public. Because there is a last and final stage, which is the negotiation of the comprehensive compact," he said. "I would appeal to those who are opposing now, or those who put a doubt that the real issues will be faced in the comprehensive compact after the signing of the MOA."
He said this is why the ancestral domain accord is only a memorandum.
"It’s a memorandum only of agreement for ancestral domain because the framework agreement, although it [MOA-AD] can stand on its own, needs also a transition process that will be contained in the negotiation of the compact agreement. So let us wait for that stage and we can go public and we can debate."
Former Senate President and Liberal Party chief Franklin Drilon said Sunday that the proposed MOA-AD clearly violates the 1987 Constitution because it grants the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) a status of belligerency, which is a step closer to granting it international recognition as a separate and independent state.
"It will reportedly authorize the BJE to sign trade pacts, friendship treaties and other international agreements with foreign countries and send representatives to ASEAN and the United Nations," he said.
Moreover, Drilon said that the Terms of Reference cites the UN Charter, the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which only sovereign states can be party to.
He explained that the proposed agreement unconstitutionally surrenders Philippine government authority over exploitation of natural resources, such as oil exploration, as the Bangsamoro territory no longer forms part of the national public domain.
"You cannot divide sovereignty, which the MOA provides for when it allows BJE to exercise shared authority and responsibility with the Philippine government over the Bangsamoro homeland," he pointed out.
The former justice secretary also said while he had always supported the peace process in Mindanao, as a lawyer and a liberal democrat, he would see to it that any Mindanao peace agreement should be within the boundaries of the present Constitution.
"This MOA goes beyond the constitutional parameters and boundaries, which provides only for autonomous regions. I am for the granting of full and genuine authority to the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but the process should not violate the Constitution," Drilon said.
May lead to independence
May lead to independence
Other analysts have also expressed concern over the MOA-AD.
In a recent panel discussion on the MOA-AD organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a former member of the government negotiating panel, said that if the Arroyo government fails to implement the ancestral domain accord, it gives the MILF reason to declare independence.
Mercado said the essence of the agreement on ancestral domain is not on the expansion of the Moro homeland but on its concept.
"This is the first time that I’ve seen a document as such. You have all the elements of a state," he said. "That entitles the Bangsamoro to a self-declaration [of independence]. Because it’s all there: you’ve been recognized, you have territory, you have self-determination, your ancestral domain is your birthright, it’s not part of the public domain."
Camilo Montesa, a lawyer and policy adviser of the think-tank IAG, agreed with Mercado, saying the MOA already contains the elements of the state—government, people, territory, and "concedes international recognition."
Mercado praised the MILF negotiators for doing a good job pushing their agenda in the peace talks through the MOA on ancestral domain.
Mercado said the MOA is not just a "symbolic recognition" of the Moro people and state but "a real recognition."
He said the government may have agreed to grant this as "restitution of historical injustices" against the Moro people or it could be a "formula for peace and development."