(First of a Three-Part Series)

One month of fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has made the Philippines a host to the largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region in recent years. As of this writing, civilian deaths have risen to 69 while IDPs are estimated at 512,000. Violence and fighting erupted as the Philippine government abandoned the proposed memorandum of agreement (MOA) for an expanded Bangsamoro homeland.

Last week the government dissolved the peace panel which drafted the proposed MOA after five years of negotiations with the MILF on the proposed MOA, despite the increasing human toll of the ongoing armed conflict. The defense secretary even reasoned that the MILF has become “irrelevant” with the latter's refusal to surrender the leaders who instigated the attacks against civilians.

Yet the series of events also smacks of betrayal on the part of the government. On 4 August 2008 or a day before the signing of the proposed MOA in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order. However, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has chosen to be silent rather than defend the proposed MOA throughout the public discussions including the oral arguments at the Supreme Court last month.

“The eventual abandonment of the MOA confirmed the suspicions of the MILF on the government's insincerity. For how could you throw away something that you worked for over the years?. We are not even back to square one but negative 100 steps. All the interfaith dialogues went to nothing. It is not only the document that was lost but the trust among people as well. We are seeing a Mindanao of the 1960s,” lamented Raissa Jajurie of Saligan, a lawyer's collective that has presence in Mindanao focusing on women, fishers, farmers, and local communities, among others.

She also criticised the Supreme Court's handling of the petitions against the proposed MOA, which failed to account for the historical background of the document and merely yielded to an otherwise misinformed public pressure. Jajurie begged to differ to the popular perception that the proposed MOA was a prelude to the dismemberment of the Philippine archipelago nor one that failed to undergo public consultation.

The proposed MOA was a mere resolution that asks the government to table the expansion the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). However, unlike the past and present resolutions asking for a discussion on federalism in Congress or other topics which are otherwise uncovered by the Philippine Constitution, the proposed MOA has generated too much controversy and to a certain extent, has surfaced the biases of some government officials, people and the media.

Saligan was among the civil society organisations which MILF approached in order to subject the principles of the proposed MOA in public consultations. Jajurie admitted though that some aspects of the peace negotiations were too critical to be publicly divulged at certain times. However, she belied the claims of some local government units that they were not aware of the document. Some LGUs were among those who asked for a TRO on the proposed MOA.

With the dissolution of the peace panel, it is not clear where and how a new round of peace-building can begin. More alarmingly, it is not clear how a ceasefire could be brokered at this point, making the possibility of having an increased human toll immanent. Along with the peace panel, its critical components such as the ceasefire committee and the international monitoring team were dissolved.

Although Malaysia remains willing to facilitate the peace talks even as the proposed MOA was junked, much would have to be initiated by the Philippine government. As Jajurie asserted, “ARMM may not be a model of good governance but the MILF has legitimate demands. It is incumbent upon the government, Bangsamoro, and civil society to work it out.”

Sources:
Alberto, Thea (September 15, 2008). “MILF talks stay suspended; no gov’t panel formed—Esperon.” URL: http://www.inquirer.net/specialfeatures/mindanaopeaceprocess/ view.php?db=1&article=20080915-160753
Ubac, Michael Lim (September 3, 2008). “Teodoro: MILF now irrelevant, no peace talks.” URL: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20080903-158331/ Teodoro-MILF-now-irrelevant-no-peace-talks
Phone interview with Raissa Jajurie (September 10, 2008).

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