Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

The peace deal signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could soon collapse, as the draft law that would give autonomy to Muslims in the southern part of the country has yet to be submitted to Congress.

Aside from the delay, the MILF is accusing the government of reneging on its commitment to uphold the agreement that the two parties signed last March. The Muslim rebel group, which has been waging a war for independence since the 1970s in Mindanao, revealed that 70 percent of the proposed “Bangsamoro” law was deleted or substantially revised by government lawyers.

Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator of the MILF, told Reuters in an interview that their group will reject the draft law, which needs to be approved by Congress. “We will lose face if we agree to this. Their version clearly departed from the letter and spirit of the peace agreement, which was the basis in crafting the proposed law.”

The MILF also noted that the government panel spent two months reviewing the signed peace deal, which caused the delay in submitting the document to Congress.

In an earlier statement, the MILF expressed frustration that the government is adopting “a very conservative interpretation of the Constitution,” which prevents it from fully supporting and implementing the signed peace agreements.

“The current government proposals will not restore dignity to a people who suffered tyranny and will not secure a peaceful and prosperous future,” the group said. It also asserted that “all those issues that are settled in the (past) will not be subject for renegotiation.”

Decades of conflict between the government and MILF’s forces have exacerbated poverty and economic hardships in Muslim Mindanao. There were previous peace and economic deals initiated by the government, but all of them had failed to improve the conditions of the Moro people. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is hoping that the MILF peace pact that his government signed last March will be among his enduring legacies after his term ends in 2016.

If passed by Congress, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law has to be approved in a referendum. Under the original plan, a transition authority would be created to oversee the election of officials in the new autonomous region. However, there are some experts who warn that the law could be declared unconstitutional, because it will give greater autonomy and taxation powers to the MILF. Some also believe the country’s constitution must be amended if the government is serious about securing a final peace deal.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda admitted that there will be a delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Law, but denied that the peace process is in danger of collapse. “The panels are aware of the timeline. But the panels are also equally aware that the substance should be discussed mutually and agreed mutually.”

The two panels are meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week to finalize the proposed law. But since Congressional sessions have already underway, it will be difficult to approve the bill this year.

That the MILF panel publicly accused its government counterpart is a distressing sign that there is a serious rift between the two sides. With greater legal and political challenges to overcome in the next few months, this issue requires urgent attention.

Aquino: The First Filipino Nobel Laureate?

Written for The Diplomat

There are reports that Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his leadership in pursuing and finalizing a peace agreement with Muslim separatist rebels. But Aquino’s detractors are alleging that the president’s subordinates actively lobbied for the nomination in Europe. They also described Aquino as unworthy of the prestigious award.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda admitted that the president’s peace adviser was in Norway last week to attend an international conference, but he denied that there was a lobby effort to nominate Aquino for the Nobel.

Still, he did add that “it is possible that there are groups who do wish to nominate” Aquino for signing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) early this year. He noted that CAB is already the most significant peace accord in the Asia-Pacific region after the end of hostilities in Aceh in Indonesia in 2005. “It is, in the eyes of the international community, a big milestone for the promotion and propagation of peace.”

He went on to note that “It would be an honor for the Philippines to have President Aquino nominated.”

If he succeeds in receiving the Nobel, Aquino will be the first Filipino Nobel Laureate. His mother was nominated in 1986 after the peaceful uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship but did not win.

However, Philippine opposition groups were quick to reject the idea of Aquino receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Leftist group Bayan called Aquino as “highly unqualified for such an award.” It cited the poor human rights record of the administration in the past four years reflected in the 192 cases of extrajudicial killings and 21 cases of enforced disappearances. It also highlighted a recent European Union report about the alarming cases of torture in the country and the continuing “culture of impunity” under Aquino’s watch.

The Manila Standard Today, a newspaper that has been critical of Aquino, questioned the president’s credentials as a man of peace: “The notion that President Benigno Aquino III could win a Nobel Peace Prize is laughable, but it is a cruel joke at best, given how insulting it is to the millions of Filipinos who must live with the dire consequences of his misguided policies and to the scores of other world leaders who actually deserve the accolade.”

The Moro National Liberation Front, which has been complaining that it was excluded in the peace process, ridiculed Aquino’s nomination as “self-nomination” and a “desecration of the spirit” of the Nobel award.

But Aquino found an ally in Yuriko Koike, Japan’s former Defense Minister and National Security Adviser, who praised Aquino’s “courage and tenacity” in ending the Muslim rebellion in southern Philippines. “For the people of Mindanao, this is a life-changing development. In the few short months since the peace deal was reached, Filipino and foreign investment has been flowing into the island.”

The Japanese parliamentarian also believes that Aquino deserves the Nobel for his role in “reining in China’s regional ambitions.”

“Mr. Aquino’s bold and calculated leadership can succeed in knocking China down a few pegs, thereby bolstering stability and security throughout Asia,” she wrote.

Whether or not he deserves the Nobel, Aquino’s bigger challenge today is how to successfully implement the peace deal he signed with the Muslim rebels. The agreement could face stiff opposition in Congress and its constitutionality might be questioned in the Supreme Court. Last week, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation urged the Philippine government not to set aside previously signed peace agreements. Aquino must also deal with the communist forces that are still waging a guerrilla war in the countryside.

The Nobel nomination must not distract Aquino from his avowed goal of establishing a true and lasting peace in the country.

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