By Saeed A. Daof
MANILA, Philippines—For almost two decades now, I have been devoting a part of my time to helping win the peace in Mindanao by publicly sharing my views and undertaking activities that may help advance the peace process.
A recent proposal by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the establishment of a Bangsa Moro substate is a departure from its previous secessionist stance and an apparent shift in policy. It is an honorable adherence to the principle of pragmatism and flexibility on the part of MILF chair Ibrahim Murad.
Looking deeper into the timing and essence of the announcement of the MILF initiative against the backdrop of a conflict going on for almost 40 years, this development could change the complexion, character and speed of the peace talks.
This is due to the fact that the proposed creation of a Bangsa Moro substate will need the enactment of a bill by both houses of Congress.
Consequently, any peace agreement between the government and the MILF, which will serve as the basis for legislation establishing the Bangsa Moro substate, will also have to “fully affirm and recognize the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.”
(In an interview with the Inquirer in September last year, MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said the powers of the central government and the substate would have to be defined in the peace talks. He said the areas to be placed under the substate would be those where there was “Moro majority.” Iqbal said the constituents of the areas that would form part of the substate would be consulted. He refused to name the areas but said the MILF had bent backward to give up areas that the Moro people had considered part of their ancestral domain.)
Assuming that the Philippine government is receptive to the MILF initiative and the constitutional constraint is out of the way, the next move is the installation of a management and advisory team to help implement a vision that looks far beyond the rigors of forging a peace agreement—a herculean task that will likely fall on the laps of the government and the MILF.
This view can be made possible only when both sides work together as a team in fast-tracking a unified position to justify to Congress and the public what the Bangsa Moro substate is all about and what benefits it can offer to the country and people.
The ramifications of the act of creating a substate—and the intentions behind it—should also be made known to the judiciary to ensure the constitutionality of the proposed law. This is to avoid the error committed in drawing up the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which ended in a fiasco.
That would also help to fast-track the preparation of programs for the post-war transformation of the region and its people into a force for social change.
This may include, among other things, reconstruction and development, trauma healing, promotion of a culture of peace, governance education, as well as accelerating a public information campaign ahead of a national plebiscite to ratify any such peace agreement.
I would like to leave a message to my former colleagues in the MILF: As a peace advocate and a supporter of Muslim empowerment through peaceful and nonviolent means, I wish and pray for the good health of MILF chair Ibrahim Murad and his key men.
(Editor’s Note: The author chairs the Southern Philippines Development Authority and serves as the vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Constitution Association, or Philconsa.)
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