On the Zamboanga Crisis Part 3: Questions

Reading through the 1996 GRP-MNLF Agreement (see Part 2 of this series), I now have these questions:

1. First and foremost, how do we classify the MNLF (the MILF as well)? Rebels? Rebels as in terrorists? Or political activists? Because how we classify them would tell us if we should be transacting certain provisions with them.

2. These certain provisions in the Agreement pertain to the “joining of MNLF elements with the Armed Forces of the Philippines”. Regardless of whether they are rebels as in terrorists or political activists, and because they are still actively involved in their political struggle, they are bound to create dissension within the Army. This is common sense. The Filipino public expects the Philippine Armed Forces to be completely loyal to the Government and not divided among themselves as to who should rule the country’s regions. Otherwise it’s an ineffective Force. So why especially provide for the meshing in of MNLF elements into the army? If the issue is inclusion of Bangsamoro people in the army, is it not that application to the Academy is open to all qualified Filipinos regardless of ethnicity?

3. The Agreement states that it puts into operation the 1976 Tripoli Agreement which created the ARMM. But why is it asking the repeal of the very structure itself (RA 6734 or Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)?

4. How is it that the prescription for a plebiscite is after the enactment of the new law (i.e. replacement of the Organic Act) and not when it is still a proposal? That’s not how a plebiscite proceeds.

5. What is special in the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD)? Why is the economic development of ARMM not integrated into the development strategy of the whole Mindanao Region? My experience in the creation of special zones is that, if terms are not clearly defined and agreed with the others and adjustments made in the interim as a result of M&E, the approach turns out to isolate the special zone, be discriminatory to the others and divisive for the entire area in the long run. The best approach is liken to the treatment of a special child — while trying to work out the child’s disabilities with the child you’d also want to integrate him or her into the mainstream population. Focus all your resources on the special children and you’ll have nothing left for the normal ones (who are likely to end up as “special children” because of neglect!).

6. The Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCD) as prescribed in the Agreement appears to me as an almighty, all knowledgeable and all encompassing entity when it is only a council (as opposed to the LGUs who are the real authorities)! Every other structure is placed under its control: the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA); Regional and Field Offices of the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA); Regional and Field Offices of the Office of the Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC); Task Force Basilan/Basilan Development Task Force; Task Force MALMAR/Central Mindanao Development Task Force; Sulu Development Task Force; Special Development Planning Group (composed of experts from NEDA, etc.); all other entities engaged in peace and development in the “area”. My goodness! This is like the Pork Barrel Scam all over again — the very structure sets up its members for failure! The venture is so high risk that it topples down by itself, sooner or later. Let us compose ourselves here because this council is made up of human members not the gods of Olympus! Why put everything under it? Even Government has its Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches!

6a. The almighty, all encompassing, and all knowledgeable SPCD is composed of one Chair, one Vice Chair, and three Deputies — tasked to “control” plenty of entities mentioned in #6. These are Presidential appointees and their powers as such are derived from the Presidency. How? It’s not specified in the Agreement but the image this conjures is they’re little Presidents — but that’s the problem. “Little Presidents” are in everything little, that is, they can’t turn left or right without the go of Big Brother or Sister (or, the real President). As I said a recipe for failure. And who is the Chair when the Agreement was inked? I was thinking Nur Misuari — he ought to be the one because this is the big part of what he and his group are fighting for. By not placing Misuari as Chair when the Agreement was inked, it makes the ‘peace’ in the Agreement meaningless at the very start.

6b. And why Presidential appointees when the objective of the Agreement is autonomy? If it’s autonomy these people ought to be elected by the people for them to be legitimate.

7. And then there’s the prescribed 81-member (!) Consultative Assembly headed again by the SPCD Chair (!). Prescribed members are: the ARMM Governor and Vice Governor (supposedly made extinct by virtue of this Agreement); 14 Governors and 9 Mayors of the SZOPAD; 44 MNLF members; 11 members from non-government entities. The tasks of the CA are basically similar to those of the SPCD which makes one wonder how this large group adds value to the work of the Council.

8. The creation of the SPCD adds another layer to the already very layered bureaucracy in Mindanao. It is a council but then the Agreement prescribes that it will be assisted by an Advisory Council (Darul Iftah) that will be created by none other than the Chairperson of the SPCD. This is funny. How can a council be advised by another council? They are bound to pull at each other’s teeth. If the Advisors are to be effective at all their group should be independent or not appointed by the very person they are to advise. Naturally they are beholden to the one who appointed them.

9. The LGUs including the ARMM shall continue to exist and exercise their functions, states the Agreement. Confusing. This same Agreement prescribes the repeal of the ARMM Organic Act.

10. Financing peace and development, states the Agreement, is to come from the Office of the President and then from Congress appropriations. This statement is anathema to autonomy. Because it provides the SPCPD a way out, it cancels out the rationale and goal of the Agreement. Autonomy is back-breaking head-splitting work and not a magical walk through Santa’s workshop. The Council has to devise ways that would finance its peace and development work and if they are really good – think about all the brilliant CEOs who grew their business – they will.

10a. If the development of the “area” is from these sources/public funds, it follows that not only residents of Mindanao should be consulted in the plebiscite but the entire Filipino population/taxpayers.

11. Finally, the Agreement prescribes that the “concerned officials of the SPCD shall be provided security and protective assistance by the national government”, that “this special AFP/PNP security detail shall be composed of former MNLF regulars who shall have been granted AFP or PNP appointments and duly integrated into the AFP or PNP”, and that “this security detail shall be of appropriate size”. WTF? I’m a taxpayer and I don’t understand why my tax should go into one more security detail for an entity whose role in peace and development in the Region is unclear. And why is the size of their security detail greater or lesser than those earmarked for other public officials like, say, those in the equally perilous Cordillera hinterland?

Incidentally, after reading the Agreement and listing my questions, I came across a UP Diliman journal article in the Kasarinlan, SPCPD and Economic Development in the SZOPAD: High Expectations, Low Output.  I’m not the only one with these observations it appears.

As to Nur Misuari, it seems to me that the former professor has not been well advised because if he was his camp could’ve negotiated for more meaningful provisions for autonomy. The one meaningful provision, at least that which seems to jump above the maze of SPCPD shit (pardon me!) is the integration of the MNLF into the AFP and PNP. But then as mentioned in #1 above, why when they are still active in their struggle for independence? when the resolution to their demand for autonomy is yet to be attained during or until after the Agreement is evaluated or assessed for intended results. These provisions don’t make sense.

So that when the Zamboanga crisis broke out the question is how is it that the AFP (already infused with MNLF by now) could be fighting the MNLF? The integration is supposed to be the one successful result of the Agreement. But it’s like firing at yourself in the mirror. As such, the charges against the MNLF “rebels” are rendered moot.

A part of me says this has happened (up to the Zamboanga Crisis) because the people especially the people of Mindanao fail to bother themselves with how their present and future are being shaped. They have been curiously silent. And the price of that silence is, as we have repeatedly seen, deaths, the ravaging of their cities and hinterlands, disorder, high levels of poverty (amidst plentiful resources), crisis after crisis. I have to say that there is no one greater to blame. If the struggle as their leaders say is their independence – the Moro people – then where are these Moro people? Many in the region – ordinary natives living in the 21st century – said that the continuing Mindanao crisis is only between politicians and politically-motivated persons and the truth is that the Moro people don’t give a fuck about independence and autonomy at least not in the way that their representatives have packaged it (I can relate because it is similar to the autonomy being pushed by persons at the top in the Cordillera region – the overwhelming majority on the ground don’t give a fuck too, not in the way that autonomy is being pushed given that Baguio City is a melting pot, a university town, and that globalization has entrenched itself among the youth who are a force to reckon with). These ordinary folks just want to have jobs, do business which they excel in, produce from their farms, aspire to live in cities and know what city life is like, to go beyond provincialism. Many have already fled their native communities because they don’t find these there and don’t have a hope in hell that they could. To be left in peace — to watch and listen to MTV like normal modern folks and not be continually exposed to and harassed by the sight and ratatatat of rifles or be constantly fearful for their safety and security. But the nation – and the world – only sees and hears the few who say they are their representatives. These so called representatives fight each other trying to eliminate the other who isn’t the legitimate representative. This can take forever. Meantime, the Moro people, caught in the crossfire, still do not confirm or deny who they see as their legitimate representatives. But if we’ve been listening, their silence means they are not being represented; that their desires are not in the agenda being pushed into the limelight. But they still have to speak up. They have to find their voice. Others can’t do that for them. This is something they have to do on their own. Peace which they want and how they want it will come when they muster that courage. And if we, the rest of the nation, listen not only with our minds but with our hearts as well. It is with the heart that one can discern the truth through all the mud.

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