COTABATO CITY – The reaction people here have on the establishment of a Bangsamoro Political Entity is mixed and a question also raised prior to the foiled signing of the 2008 Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain is again being asked: what will befall lands that will fall under its control?
For Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr., this is a matter best left resolved via a plebiscite; one which will be held as a matter of course following the “framework agreement” signing which will be held today, Oct. 15, between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the national government, together with the Malaysian facilitator of the MILF-GRPH peace talks.
It’s a sentiment shared by Gov. Lala Mendoza of neighboring North Cotabato, a province of two cities and 17 towns, some of which became battlegrounds in 2008, when troops loyal to them MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato raided several villages in reaction to the failed MOA-AD signing.
“What’s important is that there is an opportunity for people, whether Muslims, Christians or indigenous to the area, to decide and chose for themselves what they want so that this is immediately understood by lawmakers in congress,” Mendoza said in Tagalog.
The MOA-AD, drafted during the term of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo aimed to establish a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. Local leaders, which in turn were local land owners and plantation barons, protested it’s crafting, saying no consultations were made. The Supreme Court eventually struck it down on constitutional grounds.
The awareness needed for informed choices on the upcoming plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Political Entity under the new framework, however, is not yet there, Cotabato City Mayor Guiani concedes.
“I have not seen fully (the) terms and conditions, he in fact admits.
Moreover, the two-party dichotomy of Christians versus Muslims, and all that this perception implies, remains prevalent as per interviews with residents in the towns of Midsayap, Pigkawayan and Pikit, all in North Cotabato.
“What law will be implemented (in territories belonging to the Bangsamoro Political Entity), will it be Shariah Law? What will prevail, Shairah law or civil law?” posed Cotabato City’s Mayor Guiani.
President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III announced today’s scheduled signing of the framework agreement in a televised speech last Oct. 7. He called it the blueprint to a final peace agreement between the national government and the MILF.
A copy of the draft agreement indicates that the territory of the would-be new political entity will largely be the geographical area presently comprising the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), confirming the special province’s dissolution.
“The ARMM is a failed experiment. Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform,” Aquino said.
But Other than the territories of the ARMM, the proposed new entity will include Cotabato City and Isabela City in Basilan.
Cotabato City has a predominantly Muslim population and hosts the seat of government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) though, like Isabela City and despite a plebiscite in the past, is not part of the jurisdiction of the special province.
The new entity will also include the towns of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte, and the towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Midsayap and Pikit in North Cotabato, which, based on data posted on the province’s website, only 19.68 percent of the population is Muslim.
“This Framework Agreement paves the way for a final, enduring peace in Mindanao. It brings all former secessionist groups into the fold,” nevertheless read the president’s speech.
“This means,” he added, “that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations, and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens.”
The president likewise warned against existing prejudices and asked the general public to cast aside the “distrust and myopia that has plagued the efforts of the past.”
“Basahin po sana natin ang kasunduang ito hindi bilang “sila” at “kami,” kundi bilang nagkakaisang “tayo” sa ilalim ng bandilang Pilipino,” he added (Let us not read this agreement according to us and them but as a united we).
The framework agreement is well-received by various non-government organizations who’ve been, for years, monitoring and supporting the progress of the peace talks.
Representatives were set to arrive in Manila via a caravan yesterday so they could witness the signing and, as per a press statement, “show our deep gratitude and thanksgiving that we have finally reach the light at the end of the long dark tunnel.”
The Darul Iftah of the Philippines, headed by Ustadz Jaafar Ali and considered to be the largest organization of Muslim religious leaders in the country, as well as representatives of Mindanao-based Christian organizations are likewise elated over the framework agreement.
“We have long been waiting for a solution to our problem here in Mindanao,” said Ali in Tagalog.
“I hope this will pave the way to a final agreement and that both parties will stick to what has been agreed,” Georgia Gapol of the Church Servant of the Immaculate Conception meanwhile said.
Acting ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman supports the framework agreement and hinted his readiness to relinquish ARMM in favor of the Bangsamoro Political Entity which will be forged as soon as the framework agreement is signed, ratified and implemented.
Sultan Kudarat town mayor Tucao Mastura likewise expresses his support, calling it a “great breakthrough to peace in Mindanao.” His town belongs to Maguindanao Province and is under the jurisdiction of the ARMM.
His town also hosts Camp Darapanan, the MILF central headquarters. (Reported by Ferdh Cabrera for Pecojon.PH/knr)