GRP-MILF peace agreements and human rights

There is no truth to the hysterics that the unsigned Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is “bereft of respect for civil and human rights” and that its proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) shall possess and exercise “absolute powers without any of the civilized limitations in the Bill of Rights…”    One has just to look mainly at the “Terms of Reference” (TOR) at the start of the MOA-AD.  The seventh paragraph therein states as a TOR:

“ILO Convention No. 169, in correlation to the UN Declaration of Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, and Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, the UN Charter, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and internationally recognized human rights instruments.”

The second, third and fourth paragraphs of the TOR in turn mention three earlier interim but framework agreements in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations:

1.The General Framework of Agreement of Intent Between the GRP and the MILF dated August 27, 1998 [hereinafter referred to as “GFAI”]

2.The Agreement on the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks Between the GRP and the MILF dated March 24, 2001 [hereinafter referred to as “AGFRPT”]

3.The Tripoli Agreement on Peace Between the GRP and the MILF dated June 22, 2001 [herein after referred to as “TAP”]

In the GFAI of August 27, 1998, an important early framework agreement which deserves more attention than it is usually given, there is Article II which states “The Parties affirm their commitment to protect and respect human rights in accordance with the principles set forth in  the Charter of the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”   There is also Article V which states “The parties recognize that there will be lasting peace in Mindanao when there is mutual trust, justice, freedom, and tolerance for the identity, culture, way of life and aspirations of all the peoples of Mindanao.”

In the AGFRPT of March 24, 2001, there is Article VII which states “The Parties commit themselves to negotiate with sincerity and mutual trust, justice and freedom, and respect for the identity, culture and aspirations of all peoples of Mindanao.”  While Article IV states “The parties commit to honor, respect and implement all past agreements and other supplementary agreements signed by them.  Details of implementation shall be discussed by the Panels.”  We quoted Article IV because of the sense it gives about the whole process.  The notion of “non-derogation of prior agreements” is reiterated in the MOA-AD (part on “Governance,” paragraph 7).  Framework agreements are usually detailed through implementing guidelines.

In the TAP of June 22, 2001, there is part A (Security Aspect), opening paragraph which speaks of “the incremental characteristics of the peace process.”  Incremental means gradual and accumulative in terms of agreements.  And more substantively relevant to the topic at hand, there is part B (Rehabilitation Aspect), paragraph 1 which speaks of “The observance of international humanitarian law and respect for internationally recognized human rights instruments…”

That general statement of respect for HR and observance of IHL is detailed in the “Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspects of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001” dated 7 May 2002, particular in Article IV, as follows:

“1. This Agreement will safeguard the observance of international humanitarian laws, respect for internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons within Mindanao. The GRP will secure to all persons within its jurisdiction or territory the highest level of recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The GRP shall grant recognized accredited human rights agencies and organizations full access to monitor the human rights situation in conflict-affected areas.

“5. The Parties shall cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of serious violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights as well as violations of this Agreement.”

The MOA-AD itself contains these substantive provisions on respect for HR and indigenous peoples rights:
“The freedom of choice of the Indigenous peoples shall be respected.”  (part on “Concepts and Principles,” para. 1; and part on “Governance,” para. 2)

“The protection of civil rights and religious liberties of individuals underlie the basis of peace and justice of their totality of relationships.” (part on “Concepts and Principles,” para. 5)
“Vested property rights upon the entrenchment of the BJE shall be recognized and respected subject to paragraph 9 of the strand on Resources.” (part on “Concepts and Principles,” para. 7)

All told, the MOA-AD is not the only GRP-MILF peace agreement to consider on the question of respect for HR.  Following “the incremental characteristics of the peace process” and the notion of “non-derogation of prior agreements,” it is envisioned that the MOA-AD and all prior agreements would be consolidated and synthesized into a Comprehensive Compact, in effect the final peace agreement of this process.

It is clear under the MOA-AD that the powers of the BJE are not “absolute” and that these are with “civilized limitations.”  The so-called “civilized limitations in the Bill of Rights” are found in other legal instruments which are mutually acceptable to the parties like those mentioned in the early above-quoted seventh paragraph of the TOR of the MOA-AD.  That would include what is known as the “International Bill of Rights” – the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  In fine, the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution is not the only, nor even the best, legal instrument on civilized limitations to governmental powers.

The non-mention in the MOA-AD of the Bill of Rights and for that matter the Constitution itself, is understandable because of the MILF’s consistent objection from Day 1 to the Constitution as a TOR or framework for the peace talks.  This negotiating position is only natural for any revolutionary force (just like the NDF, for that matter) which seeks the overthrow of or separation from that constitutional order or entity.  Those who insist on the mention of the Constitution as a TOR or framework in these peace negotiations do not really understand the armed struggles that these negotiations are trying to resolve.  Those who make peace negotiations impossible by imposing the Constitution will make continued armed struggle inevitable.

Atty. Santos is a Bicolano human rights lawyer, peace advocate, legal scholar;  A.B. History cum laude (UP), LL.B. (UNC), LL.M (Melb);  author of The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process (UP Press, 2001), Peace Advocate (DLSU Press, 2002), Dynamics and Directions of the GRP-MILF Peace Negotiations (Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao, 2005), and Peace Zones in the Philippines (Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, 2005); and co-author of Philippine Human Development Report 2005: Peace, Human Security and Human Development in the Philippines (Human Development Network, 2005).

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