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Muslim Mindanao is not Aceh

In her briefing Tuesday, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, head of the government’s panel in the talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said:

“The signing of the “comprehensive agreement” is also our global contribution to the pursuit of peace in our immediate neighborhood, the Southeast Asia region, and the rest of the world. The last momentous agreement of this kind was those sealed in Aceh, Indonesia between the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement in 2005.”

It was a slip of the tongue that confirms what I had been told since the so-called “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” was signed October 2012.

President Aquino, his peace-talks adviser Teresita Deles, and Ferrer— and the Muslim insurgent organization’s leaders — are patterning their hoped-for peace pact after that of Indonesia in 2005 with the Free Aceh Movement (known as Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM, whose official name is the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front).

The GAM fought for the independence of Aceh from 1976, in which 30,000 lives were lost until it entered into peace agreement with the Indonesian government in 2005, brokered by the government of Finland.

It did usher in peace in Aceh. I don’t think though Filipinos would like the system in Aceh now, which became more Islamic than elsewhere in Indonesia, which is already  the biggest Islamic nation on earth.

A tale of two Muslim insurgencies: (Right), the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia; the MILF—or “Free Moro”—fighters.

A tale of two Muslim insurgencies: (Right), the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia; the MILF—or “Free Moro”—fighters.

If Aquino and his negotiators think the Aceh agreement is such a good thing, for it to be their template, they’ve got to have a reality check, rather than keep dreaming of winning the Nobel prize. (Indeed the aim of Aquino’s rush to meet the MILF leaders in Tokyo in August 2011, as I had written and which explains why so much was committed to the MILF, was to meet the February deadline for nominations for the Nobel awards in February 2012. Strangely or purposively, the government press release on Ferrer’s appointment as chief negotiator in December 2012 pointed out: “She was also one of 27 Filipinos nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.” However, Nobel nominations are kept secret.)

For starters, consider the international newsmagzine The Economist’s article Feb. 14, 2014 on Aceh titled “Laying down god’s law.” The article read: “The (Aceh) provincial parliament passed laws against drinking, gambling and ‘seclusion’—being alone with someone from the other sex. An Islamic police force modeled on Iran’s “vice and virtue” patrols started to round up women for not covering their heads or for wearing trousers that were too tight. The first public caning took place in 2005.”

That won’t happen in Muslim Mindanao, as it didn’t in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao?

Shari’ah justice

Check again Aquino’s “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” agreed with the MILF, specifically Part III (“Powers”), paragraph 4:

“The Parties recognize the need to strengthen the Shari’ah courts and to expand their jurisdiction over cases. The Bangsamoro shall have competence over the Shari’ah justice system.”

But what is more worrying is that Aquino has taken as his template the Aceh agreement, when the political structure and history of both Aceh and Indonesia are totally different from ours.

First, the Indonesian government had launched a full-scale war against GAM from 2002 to 2004, which halved the insurgent’s forces with its head even killed in a battle with the Indonesian army.

The GAM was also so severely hit by the December 2004 tsunami that it declared a unilateral ceasefire. Because of alleged atrocities and human rights abuses by the Indonesian military, and because of the widespread publicity of the devastation by the tsunami, foreign governments put pressure on Indonesia to enter into peace talks with GAM. In short, the GAM entered the peace talks in a condition of weakness, unlike the MILF now.

Second, and most important, Aceh even before the 2005 peace agreement was among the four provinces of Indonesia (the other three being Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Papua, and West Papua) that had a high degree of autonomy, with their own powerful legislative bodies.

The peace agreement merely expanded the autonomy of Aceh to near independent status.

The core of the Aceh pact actually was the Indonesian government’s commitment to pass a law expanding the province’s power, and even promising a March 2006 deadline for that commitment, or just seven months after the pact was signed.

In sharp contrast, the agreement with the MILF requires not just a law, which is also necessary, but amending our Constitution. This is because the pact’s crucial provisions violate the Constitution.

Among these agreements that do not comply with the Constitution are (1) for the MILF to have its own police force, (2) for the “Bangsamoro” (which in Bahasa means “Moro nation”) to have a parliamentary form of government, and (3) for that essentially Islamic state to get 75 percent of the revenues from national taxes and from those generated through natural-resources extraction.

This point in fact makes the much-hyped ceremony yesterday for the signing of the agreement an utter farce. What agreement?

No consultations

The agreement is an agreement only between the MILF and Aquino together with Deles and Ferrer.

Even Aquino’s Cabinet, much less Congress, which Aquino still controls, had absolutely no role in crafting the “Framework Agreement with the Bangsamoro” and its annexes. Aquino’s small circle dealing with the MILF did not even consult with Congress for the pact even if the lawmakers will play the most crucial role in making it a real pact, by enacting a law that would implement its provisions and call for amending the Constitution.

The requirement for such consultations was in effect one of the two major grounds the Supreme Court cited when it ruled unconstitutional in 2008 the so-called “Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains” former President Arroyo’s negotiators agreed with the MILF.

The Court’s words in that ruling applies exactly to the Aquino government’s pact with the MILF:

“The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by E.O. No. 3, Republic Act No. 7160, and Republic Act No. 8371. The furtive process by which the agreement was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined.”

Furtive certainly has been the Aquino’s talks with the MILF. First, the crucial details — such as on power sharing and demobilization –were referred to only as “Annexes” in the Framework Agreement. Then the negotiators would suddenly just announce that these “Annexes” had been agreed upon with the MILF, after a period of closeting themselves with the insurgents.

It is actually astonishing why Aquino’s negotiators seem oblivious to the constitutional principles laid down in the Supreme Court’s decision on the MOA-AD case, as if simply because it is Aquino who is sponsoring the new pact with the MILF makes it constitutional.

The panel’s disregard of the MOA-AD precedent also reflects one of its main fatal weaknesses: None of the negotiators are lawyers, reflecting their utter ignorance that other than good-will, it is the legalities that are crucial in any agreement between two parties, whether it is for peace or the purchase of a house.

Aquino’s negotiators, I would bet, didn’t even bother to read the Court’s decision on the MOA-AD issue. If they did, they would have known the most important reason why it was ruled unconstitutional, which would make their agreements with the MILF a waste of time and money.

Senior justice Antonio Carpio in his concurring opinion in that ruling best summarized this reason, which so precisely applies to Aquino’s pact:


“The agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF is patently unconstitutional. The Executive branch’s commitment under the agreement to amend the Constitution to conform to it violates Sections 1 and 4, Article XVII of the Constitution. The Executive branch usurps the sole discretionary power of Congress to propose amendments to the Constitution as well as the exclusive power of the sovereign people to approve or disapprove such proposed amendments.”

The Court’s decision in fact was written by Aquino’s favorite justice then, Conchita Carpio-Morales, now the Ombudsman:

“(The agreement) virtually guarantees that the necessary amendments to the Constitution and the laws will eventually be put in place. Neither the GRP Peace Panel nor the President herself is authorized to make such a guarantee.

“Upholding such an act would amount to authorizing a usurpation of the constituent powers vested only in Congress, a Constitutional Convention, or the people themselves through the process of initiative, for the only way that the Executive can ensure the outcome of the amendment process is through an undue influence or interference with that process….

“(The) act of guaranteeing amendments is, by itself, already a constitutional violation that renders the agreement fatally defective.”

Three petitions in fact have been filed with the Supreme Court questioning the legality of Aquino’s pact with the MILF.

I don’t think the Court will agree to be Aquino’s puppet and ignore the constitutional principles it laid down in the case of the MOA-AD agreement. This is especially so since the President had sent a message that he doesn’t care what the Supreme Court decides by having a grandiose event the other day celebrating the agreement with the MILF, even witnessed by foreign governments’ representatives, even if there is a very serious constitutional challenge against it.

Plagiarists — whether in writing or in politics — always make poor copies of the original. The Indonesian government’ pact with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) had the following provision, which I quote verbatim, in its August 2005 “Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement”:

“GAM undertakes the decommissioning of all arms, ammunition and explosives held by the participants in GAM activities with the assistance of the Aceh Monitoring Mission. GAM commits to hand over 840 arms.

The decommissioning of GAM armaments will begin on 15 September 2005 and will be executed in four stages and concluded by 31 December 2005.”

There is no such specific commitment from the MILF in Aquino’s agreement with them. The MILF has not committed to hand over a single rifle or even pistol.  Section C, paragraph 9 of the “Annex on Normalization” merely says:

“The decommissioning of MILF forces shall be parallel and commensurate to the implementation of all the agreements of the Parties.”

What a poor, poor copy of the Aceh peace pact.

(On Monday, my promised piece on how SEC and PLDT defied the Supreme Court.)