Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This article came out in the Business Mirror on August 13, 2008, page A6.

“It’s just a piece of paper. There’s nothing to worry about,” replied Fr. Joaquin Bernas when asked by the Philippine Inquirer about the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the Arroyo administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Any change in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) or territory has to go through Congress and a plebiscite. There is nothing to implement. They cannot move without Congress,” he explained.

Fr. Bernas would be correct if the MILF were to allow itself to be governed by the Constitution. But it does not and will not.

As far as the MILF is concerned, the MoA, once signed, is a “done deal”, meaning implementation of the accord must start immediately.

Below are excerpts from a report by Luwaran, the website of the MILF of an interview dated January 7, 2007 with Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the MILF Central Committee Secretariat. It states unequivocally what the MILF position is on the constitution and the peace accord.

“The government can undertake all constitutional processes it wants, provided that they do not derogate what the Parties have jointly ‘crafted, agreed and signed’ in the negotiations with third party facilitations,” said Ameen.

“He stressed that what the MILF cannot agree to is that it takes part in those constitutional processes, citing six reasons for it:

“1.      All negotiations to resolve sovereignty-based conflicts all over the world such as those in Kosovo , Ireland , Bougainville, Aceh , Sudan , Western Sahara , and many others are extra-constitutional in character. The one with the MILF is not an exception;

“2.      The MILF is a revolutionary organization, or in plain words, a rebel, which necessarily does not recognize the Philippine Constitution; otherwise, to do so  would be tantamount to agreeing to become and considered ‘criminals;’

“3.      The Philippine Constitution represents the interests of the majority, who are Christians, short-changing or undermining that of the Moros and other indigenous tribes. The Constitution always favors the greatest majority, because they were the framers, interpreters, and implementers;

“4.      To allow itself to be bound by constitutional process, aside from the foregoing reasons, the MILF virtually allows itself at the tyranny of the Philippine Government in matter of interpretation and implementation of any peace deal;

“5.      The MILF will not and will never repeat the blunders committed by the MNLF[Moro National Liberation Front] and Chairman Nur Misuari of negotiating within the framework of the Philippine Constitution. After more than ten years since the signing of the GRP-MNLF Final Agreement in 1996, the MNLF and Nur Misuari are back to square one as far as the genuine resolution of the Moro Problem is concerned. Instead of giving genuine self-governance to the Bangsamoro People, they are being integrated into the national body politic, reminiscent of the government approach in the 50s and 60s; and

“6.      Today, there are enough models of resolving sovereignty-based conflicts which the government and the MILF can study and possibly adopt any of the appropriate model to the satisfaction of the Parties and other stake-holders. The international community must play an active role in this undertaking.”

It’s obvious that the MoA is more than just a piece of paper that provides a “psychological boost” for the secessionist group. There is no turning back once the Arroyo government signs the pact.

If the Arroyo government or any of its successors do not implement the accord “in the guise of following the Constitution,” the MILF will raise hell.

Ameen told Luwaran , “This is plain lokohan (foolishness) and the MILF cannot allow this to happen.”

The MILF will make war if it does not get the MoA it wants. This is obvious from the veiled threat published Aug.6 2008 in the MILF’s Luwaran :

“The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has told the Government of the Republic Philippines (GRP) that its options to solve the Moro Problem are reduced to only two: Choose Vice Governor Emmanuel Pi?ol and his company, who are pushing for war, or to continue the path of peace with the MILF.”

The MILF can count on the support of Malaysia in case hostilities break out over the MoA. Malaysian mediator Othman Andul Razak, talking to the Associated Press last May 2, 2008 said, “If the government wants the talks to progress, it can do it. It can think creatively. But if it wants to stick to the constitution, things will not move.”

Othman characterized the Philippine position on Constitution processes as “harping on technical points.”

Malaysia cannot be blamed for acting in its national interest. The Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity (BJE) controlled by the MILF will serve as a buffer state between the rest of the Philippines and Sabah.

The MILF has denied it promised Sabah to the Malaysians in exchange for support but the May 7, 2008 statement of Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, sounds equivocal.

“Never for a single moment did we talk about [the Sabah claim]. With Malaysia as facilitator, it is only practical for us not to bring that up or include Sabah in our proposed homeland.We are silent on the issue. We never said it belongs to the Bangsamoro people, just as we never said it does not belong to us. It is a non-issue for us at this point,” he said.

The MILF and the Malaysians are acting in their best interests, is the Arroyo government acting in the best interest of the nation?

Renewed fighting in Mindanao seems inevitable at this point. Is the MoA just a piece of paper and there’s nothing to worry about?