Gov’t eyes new deal with MILF


By Paolo Romero
Saturday, August 16, 2008

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Malacañang is eyeing a renegotiation of the agreement on ancestral domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but it remains firm on amending the Constitution to convert the Philippines into a federal state to give greater autonomy to Muslims.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza and presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio said negotiations with the MILF would be “retooled” if the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional the agreement on ancestral domain and the Senate junks a resolution calling for a shift to a federal system of government.

The administration will continue to push for Charter change before President Arroyo’s term ends in 2010, the two officials said.

At the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said yesterday several provisions of the agreement on ancestral domain are unconstitutional.

Carpio spoke during oral arguments at the SC on two petitions seeking to stop the government from signing the agreement with the MILF.

Carpio raised questions on whether the Lumads and other indigenous peoples are part of the “Bangsamoro people.”

He also wanted to know if the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) would have control over natural resources in the area, create its own police force, establish its own central bank, and hold its own elections without the aid of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“This is unconstitutional because all natural resources belong to the state and BJE is not a state,” he said.

Carpio said the Comelec is authorized to supervise all elections in the country, while the police are under a police commissioner.

“Can government create a separate police force?” he asked.

Carpio said the BJE could not also have its own central bank.

“We can only have one central bank,” he said. “We cannot have two monetary authorities.”

On the judiciary, there must be a united judicial system, and that the SC reviews the performances of all the courts in the country and dismisses judges, Carpio said.

During the oral arguments, Chief Justice Reynato Puno said all the country’s presidents have taken an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution.

The province of Zamboanga del Norte also filed a petition questioning the agreement with the MILF, Puno said during the proceedings.

The next hearing was scheduled on Aug. 22 at 9 a.m.

Dureza said the government has no other recourse but to have the Constitution amended to put in place a federal state.

“Negotiation is not simple,” he said.

“You have to look at dynamics… how it moves forward. It will be a little complicated in due time when things settle down… at this point in time it’s hard to discuss this because nothing has been signed yet.”

Dureza said when he was presidential adviser on the peace process, the MILF refused to recognize the Philippine Constitution and wanted the agreement on ancestral domain to be immediately executory.

The MILF later agreed to recognize the “existing legal framework, and the deadlock was broken,” he added.

Dureza said Mrs. Arroyo is determined to push peace despite adverse developments in the Senate and indications that the SC would declare the agreement on ancestral domain unconstitutional.

“Search for peace is constant so resolve is always there… the alternative to a situation of not getting peace settlement is unimaginable,” he said.

“The alternative is war. From the beginning of her term, she is hoping and working for building blocks of peace for Mindanao not just for Muslims, but for Lumads and Christians and for the whole country.”

The administration is reviving Charter change to attain “lasting peace” in Mindanao, Dureza said.

Claudio said the government will never run out of avenues for peace.

“If a path is closed, we will go to another,” he said.

“Let’s wait for the final word of the Senate and there might be something in the decision of the SC that will guide us on how to proceed with legal processes to give life to the intent of the MOA.”

Claudio said Malacañang will push the peace process to satisfy the aspirations of the Bangsamoro for greater autonomy through a federal system of government.

“I think it behooves the government, the peace panel and everybody concerned to have a backup plan if we are really determined to pursue the peace plan,” he said.

“I’m not just talking about Charter change… we won’t die without Charter change. We will not stop. You know no setback is big enough to stop us from pursuing this.”

‘Renegotiate agreement’

Two senators urged Malacañang yesterday to renegotiate the agreement on ancestral domain ahead of the SC ruling to save itself from embarrassment.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II and Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said the agreement was obviously unconstitutional.

“We have learned over the past several weeks how unaware the affected local governments and their people were to what the government peace panel was doing behind their backs,” Roxas said.

“By creating a separate Bangsamoro Juridical Entity within the country, the government would have only succeeded in increasing hostilities in the south, under the guise of a ‘peace agreement.’”

The government peace panel had mishandled negotiations with the MILF, leading to an unconstitutional agreement, Roxas said.

On the other hand, Pangilinan said it would be better for Malacañang to renegotiate the agreement because its provisions are unconstitutional.

“Only peace negotiations and aggressive efforts at effective governance with concrete results will bring about lasting peace and prosperity,” he said.

Pangilinan said there was no way the agreement could be forced down the people’s throats.

“The credibility of the peace pact is now highly suspect with Malacañang pressing for Cha-cha along with it, and the flawed, exclusive process undertaken to have the agreement,” he said.

Residents rally vs Bangsamoro entity

In Tacurong City, some 10,000 residents rallied yesterday to dramatize their opposition to the agreement on ancestral domain with the MILF.

Tacurong City Mayor Lino Montilla said the rally was aimed at urging the government to make public the contents of the agreement.

“It is imperative for them to take a stand and sympathize with those opposing the inclusion of Mindanao communities in the planned Bangsamoro Juridical Entity,” he added.

Montilla said the Tacurong City Council has passed a strongly-worded resolution asking the Supreme Court to void the agreement on ancestral domain.

“Our local leaders and the people in the so-called villages covered by the BJE were not consulted before the document was laid down for finalization by both panels,” he said. — With Evelyn Macairan, Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, John Unson, Katherine Adraneda, Artemio Dumlao

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