August 2008

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The ugly turn of events in Mindanao in the past several weeks makes me wonder if what happened was accidental or deliberate. It may seem accidental, but in politics events are sometimes programmed to make them look accidental but in reality were deliberately planned.

After drafting a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that seemed to be in violation of the constitution, Gloria — to avoid embarrassment by a Supreme Court reversal — canceled the MOA-AD. But any intelligent person — and Gloria is a very intelligent woman — would know that the MOA-AD violated the constitution. So, why did she push hard for the signing of the controversial treaty when she knew that it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and Congress. What did she really have in mind?

What I find intriguing was that Gloria preempted the Supreme Court by canceling the MOA-AD before the High Court could decide on whether the agreement was in order or not. Had she allowed the High Court to reject the MOA-AD, she could have washed her hands and blame the High Court for denying the Muslim Filipinos’ right to a homeland or ancestral domain. She could then renegotiate the MOA-AD and make it more compliant with the constitution. That would have been a win-win situation. And she would have redeemed herself and at the same time demonstrate her statesmanship. And, the Muslims will have their Bangsamoro homeland and perhaps peace will finally reign in Mindanao. Who knows, Gloria might even be able to tweak the constitution and achieve her dream of an “Enchanted Kingdom” as the nation’s Prime Minister for the next 20 years. That would have been the high road for her to take. But she chose to waddle in murky waters.

Gloria played a queen’s gambit by sacrificing the MOA-AD to gain a strategic offensive position against the MILF. The MILF fell for it and declared that they will not renegotiate the MOA-AD claiming that the treaty is a “done deal.” Immediately, elements of the MILF went on the offensive and struck at government forces as well as civilians. Civilian casualties were heavy and more than 200,000 were displaced.

On August 18, 2008, Gloria addressed the nation and said: “We will not tolerate and will crush any attempt to disrupt peace and development in Mindanao. I’m also calling for an emergency meeting of the National Security Council this afternoon. I’m with you in peace. We’re all in this together.” She then convened the NSC Cabinet cluster — not the entire council which includes the past presidents and congressional leaders. Gloria then instructed the members — many of whom are retired generals serving in her administration — to come up with recommendations on how to deal with the Mindanao imbroglio. I wouldn’t be surprised if the generals would recommend an “all-out war” against the MILF.

Of course we all know that an “all-out war” is not going to vanquish the MILF or, on broader scale, the Muslims of Mindanao. The Muslims in Mindanao have never been totally subjugated in the last 500 years. War between the government and the Muslims would only end in stalemate.

The Arroyo government has made its position: It will not sign the MOA-AD in its present form. The government also demanded that the MILF turn in the three “rogue” commanders who initiated the attacks in Mindanao. In addition, the government said it will only renegotiate with the MILF only if they surrendered their weapons. The MILF’s position is: It is willing to go back to the negotiation table; however, it considered the MOA-AD a “done deal” and will never renegotiate it. In regard to surrendering the “rogue” commanders, MILF said, “No way.” Unless the parties change their positions, the peace process is in the deep freeze. And for now, it’s war

I often wonder what Gloria had in mind when she appointed her retired Chief of Staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, as Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process in Mindanao. It was like putting a wolf in sheep’s skin. And true enough, the moment Esperon took charge of the “peace process,” the whole thing went haywire. His predecessor, Jess Dureza, said that the draft of the MOA-AD had been changed drastically where he left off.

I am beginning to suspect that the real objective of Gloria was to create a “war,” not the peace that she had been parroting for the past weeks. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record. Indeed, this could be the war that Gloria has been waiting for to put in place a scenario that would ultimately end in a martial law. Indeed, all the signs are there for Gloria to replicate what Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972 and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in 1999. They were both supported by the U.S. Marcos stayed in power for 14 years before Uncle Sam booted him out of the country and dumped him in Hawaii. Musharraf was in power for nine years until Uncle Sam forced him to resign last week. Can Gloria do 10?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The attempt of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to secretly grant “statehood” to a large area of Philippine territory has sparked uproar and also brought to the forefront of international debate the issue of federalization of the Philippines. After failing to carve out a Bangsamoro “ancestral domain” for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Gloria has put into motion another Charter change (Cha-cha) — to change the present unitary presidential system of government to a federal system.

Last August 4, 2008, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order stopping the signing of the “Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain” between the Philippine government and the MILF, which was to occur the following day in Malaysia.

The Supreme Court had been kind — and accommodating — to Gloria on matters involving executive privilege; however, it has been vigilant when it comes to tinkering with the constitution. It appears that the Supreme Court is the only institution left which would protect the sanctity of the country’s constitution. With the House of Representatives seemingly in Gloria’s pocket, the Senate has been wishy-washy on how to deal with Cha-cha. They didn’t seem to know what they were bargaining for when 12 senators signed Joint Resolution No.10 authored by Senator Aquilino Pimentel, which calls for the creation of 11 federal states including a homeland or “ancestral domain” for Bangsamoro. However, once Cha-cha is on, Gloria could introduce any amendment including a provision that would allow her to remain in power beyond 2010 either as a Prime Minister for an indefinite period or President without term limits. Didn’t she at one time promise that if the people would stay with her she’ll transform the country into an “Enchanted Kingdom” within 20 years?

What then would Resolution No.10 accomplish? First of all, it will convene the Congress into a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of revising the constitution to establish a federal system of government, which shall consist of 11 states and a Federal Administrative Region. It calls for the election of six senators from each state and increase the number of seats in the House of Representatives to a maximum of 350. The new states shall be Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Minparom (Mindoro, Palawan, and Romblon), Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. Metro Manila shall serve as the Federal Administrative Region. So far, so good.

But here is the stinger in Resolution No.10: “No state may dissolve itself, secede or separate from the Federal Republic of the Philippines unless it first secures the approval of two-thirds of its qualified voters in a plebiscite called for that purpose. Thereafter, the Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its members, voting separately, act on the proposed dissolution, secession or separation of the State concerned.” The question is: Why did Sen. Pimentel include a provision that would allow a State to dissolve, secede or separate from the Federal Republic? All constitutions of the Philippines, past and present, have not allowed secession. Why now?

It is important to note that the MILF’s absolute goal has always been independence, not statehood. In my opinion, statehood to them would just be another step closer to independence. One may argue that while it would be possible to get two-thirds of a State’s voters to secede, it would be improbable for the Congress to muster two-thirds to allow secession. And when that happens, would a seceding State take it sitting down? Or would it go to war to free itself from the federal government? Wasn’t that what happened in 1861 when seven states seceded from the United States? When the U.S. federal government rejected the secession, the secessionists formed their own country and went to war against the U.S. More than 620,000 Americans died in the War Between the States or better known as the American Civil War.

Indeed, the specter of a Kosovo-like war in Mindanao is making a lot of people jittery. Recently, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani provinces became war zones when government military forces and MILF guerillas had running battles that caused massive evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians. Christians are arming themselves to the teeth.

Once the country is federalized, conflicts could erupt in Luzon and the Visayas. Northern Luzon, the largest of the 11 states, could become a hotbed of secessionist activities. The indigenous tribes in the four mountain provinces, which cut across Northern Luzon from north to south, have been yearning for autonomy for many years. Long neglected by the Philippine government, they’re likely to demand for their own state or secede.

In the Western Visayas, the predominant Ilonggos have also been yearning for a separate Ilonggo Republic. In the Eastern Visayas, the predominant Cebuanos have always maintained that they were the largest ethno linguistic group in the entire archipelago. They have been claiming that they were neglected and exploited by the “ruling Tagalistas” in “Imperial Manila.”

At the end of the day, the nagging question is: Is federalism good for the Philippines? One of my readers, Ike Santos, said it succinctly: “Federalism is a natural political creation, not a work of a committee. We cannot artificially create a new form of government overnight. Creating federalist regions, as suggested will only create more private armies, political animosities, corruption and power grabbing. It’s just another layer of bureaucracy. The current constitution has enough elbow room to allow laws to be made to provide political and geographic ‘autonomies’ while we continue to preserve the national government’s role in equitable revenue and shared governance. We’ve created the autonomous barangays, Metro Manila, etc. Congress can enact laws on revenue sharing, forego pork barrels, implement current laws, etc. With the present state of political and economic affairs in the Philippines, we do not need another rock to hit our head with and ask why we’re in pain.”

In my opinion, Resolution No.10 is a blueprint for the Balkanization of the Philippines. What was once the “Pearl of the Orient” could become a chopped-up archipelago in a sea teeming with infernal warfare. Are the Filipino people ready for this? Or would they try to work within the framework of “One Nation, One People”?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz
Quo Vadis, Mindanao?

Within a matter of days, Mindanao was thrown into a cauldron of turmoil which could — if not handled judiciously — explode into a civil war in Mindanao. Muslim separatists and Christian settlers who have coexisted for the most part of the last century are arming themselves for what could become a Kosovo-like strife.

What could trigger an armed conflict is the “Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain” (MOA-AD) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which would establish the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). Accordingly, the BJE “shall have the authority and jurisdiction over the Ancestral Domain and Ancestral lands” and whose territory shall encompass the “land mass as well as the maritime, terrestrial, fluvial and alluvial domains, and the aerial domain, the atmospheric space above it, embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan geographic region.”

The agreement stipulates that “the core of the BJE shall constitute the present geographic area of the ARMM, including the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite.” ARMM stands for “Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” which is comprised of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Lately, the MILF demanded that the southern part of Palawan be included in their “ancestral domain.”

In regard to internal waters, “the BJE shall have jurisdiction over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization and disposition of all natural resources, living and non-living, within its internal waters extending fifteen (15) kilometers from the coastline of the BJE area.”

In regard to territorial waters, “the territorial waters of the BJE shall stretch beyond the BJE internal waters up to the Republic of the Philippines (RP) baselines south east and south west of mainland Mindanao. Beyond the fifteen (15) kilometers internal waters, the Central Government and the BJE shall exercise joint jurisdiction, authority and management over areas and all natural resources, living and non-living contained therein.”

In regard to resources, “the BJE is empowered with authority and responsibility for the land use, development, conservation and disposition of the natural resources within the homeland.” And here is the stinger: “The BJE is free to enter into any economic cooperation and trade relations with foreign countries.” And it also have the option to “establish and open Bangsamoro trade missions in foreign countries with which it has economic cooperation agreements.” The MOA-AD further stipulates: “Jurisdiction and control over, and the right of exploring for, exploiting, producing and obtaining all potential sources of energy, petroleum, in situ, fossil fuel, mineral oil and natural gas, whether onshore or offshore, is vested in the BJE as the party having control within its territorial jurisdiction.” It’s no wonder Uncle Sam is supportive of the MOA-AD.

On governance, “the BJE shall be empowered to build, develop and maintain its own institutions, inclusive of, civil service, electoral, financial and banking, education, legislation, legal, economic, and police and internal security force, judicial system and correctional institutions, necessary for developing a progressive Bangsamoro society.”

All in all, the MOA-AD — if signed and implemented — would create an autonomous state within a state. The BJE has all the functions and powers of a sovereign and independent state. The only thing under the MOA-AD that the Central Government would control is its duty and obligation to take charge of external defense.

Set to be formally signed by the Philippine government and the MILF last August 5, 2008 in Malaysia, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) the day before the scheduled signing. The High Court’s TRO has put a monkey wrench on the questionable “peace formula” concocted by Malacanang. As soon as the TRO was issued, warfare between government forces and MILF rebels broke out in North Cotabato.

According to some legal and constitutional experts, the MOA-AD is unconstitutional since it would create an autonomous state within a state with a centralized system of government. However, the BJE would fit under a federal system of government. In other words, before BJE could be created, the Philippine constitution must first be amended to change the unitary system of government to a federal system. It is in this context that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. conveniently advanced the idea of a constitutional amendment.

What Esperon has done is create a situation where Muslims in Mindanao and proponents of federalism would be allied with him and his master in Malacanang, Gloria Arroyo. The Supreme Court’s TRO would actually play into Gloria’s hands. Since the MOA-AD couldn’t be implemented at this time, Gloria could put the MOA-AD on the back burner and fast-track Charter change (Cha-cha) through a People’s Initiative or Constitutional Assembly. An amendment to the constitution could then be introduced to allow Gloria to be in contention for Prime Minister or President without term limit after her current term ends in 2010.

But the Muslims should watch out. There is no guarantee that once Gloria has achieved her goal of staying in power beyond 2010, she could scrap the controversial MOA-AD and move to quell the MILF rebellion once and for all.

For the Muslims in Mindanao, it would be back to square one. For Gloria, her dream of an “Enchanted Kingdom” would come closer to reality. All she has to do next is look for the rest of Yamashita’s gold and she can then live happily ever after in her “Enchanted Kingdom.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)