The MILF-GRP Memorandum of
Agreement on Ancestral Domain:
A People’s Review
By Rep. Satur C. Ocampo, Bayan Muna
29 August 2008
Outline paper for a presentation to the Lanao Peace Stakeholders' Forum:
A People's Review of the GRP-MILF Peace Talks
Mindanao State University , Marawi City
A lot of questions, conflicting statements, strong opinions, denunciations
and confusing explanations by government officials have inundated the mass
media since the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the
scheduled formal signing in Malaysia on August 5, 2008 of the GRP-MILF
Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
The escalation of the armed conflict between the AFP and MILF forces led
by Commanders Kato and Bravo have further complicated the situation, with
increasing displacements of the civilian population and damages to lives
and property in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte , Sarangani and parts of
Maguindanao. There are questions on which side provoked the outbreak of
hostilities, with the MILF claiming that hostilities in North Cotabato
were provoked by AFP troops moving into or near the MILF areas even before
the scheduled signing of the MOA, while the AFP claims the MILF forces
encroached into areas beyond their territory. Only an independent,
impartial investigation can establish the truth in this regard.
But one thing has become clear by now: prime responsibility for the
escalating armed conflict should be laid on the Arroyo government. At the
very least, for having mishandled the peace process, or for having
negotiated in bad faith. It raised the expectations of the MILF and the
Moro people by agreeing to sign the MOA-AD, knowing fully well it would be
challenged legally before the Supreme Court. In turn, the Arroyo
government would use such legal impediment as an excuse to renege on its
commitments in the MOA-AD, if and when it negotiates the final terms of
peace settlement billed as the Comprehensive Compact.
Yet there is the strong possibility that the Arroyo government, with the
backing of the US, has maneuvered the peace talks into the current
impasse, so as to provoke the outbreak and escalation of the armed
conflict. It has done so to lay the ground for changing the modalities of
the peace process by imposing “disarmament, demobilization and
rehabilitation” or DDR as the “overall framework governing our engagements
with armed groups in peace talks.” This framework is delineated in a one
–page memo dated August 19 issued by Mrs. Arroyo to Gen. Hermogenes
Esperon Jr. as presidential adviser on the peace process (PDI, “GMA :
accord must include disarming rebs, “ Aug. 27, 2008).
The concept of the DDR – the precondition of laying down of arms before
formal talks can be resumed -- is what has stalled the peace talks between
the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, along with
the US-instigated inclusion of the CPP-NPA into its list of “foreign
terrorist organizations”. It is not far-fetched that should the MILF
refuse to place DDR ahead on the agenda of the GRP-MILF peace talks once
these resume, the US would threaten to include the organization in its
terrorist list along with the Abu Sayyaf Group.
By saying in her memo to Esperon that the DDR “will be the overall
framework governing our engagements with armed groups in peace talks,”
Arroyo realigns trajectory of the GRP-MILF peace talks with how much it
has handled the GRP-NDFP peace process.
I think the MILF – like the NDFP – will not buckle down to the GRP
precondition of laying down arms ahead of negotiations.
But let’s go back to the MOA-AD. In reviewing the MOA-AD and the process
it underwent, from the people’s standpoint, let us consider the two major
players and their interests.
On one hand, the MILF, as a revolutionary organization, seeks to achieve
maximum satisfaction of its demands regarding ancestral domain and
governance that could be conceded by the GRP. It looks like the MILF is
satisfied with the provisions of the MOA-AD, that it treats it as a “done
deal” after it was initialed by both the negotiating panels.
On the other hand, the GRP seeks to accommodate the demands of the MILF
with the least possible changes in existing powers of the national
government and in its control over the natural resources of the proposed
Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).
The question foremost in the minds of legal experts is that the GRP panel
has conceded to the MILF much more than it can possibly do under the
Constitution. Why did the GRP do that? Was it because, as earlier pointed
out, the government wasn’t really serious in keeping its words when the
negotiations for the final compact gets going, no matter that such move
would induce deadlock in negotiations?
From the account of Atty. Musib M. Buat, member of the MILF negotiating
panel, the GRP took 100 days to conduct a “due diligence review” of the
draft MOA-AD from February 2008 by “a panel of legal experts to study and
ascertain whether or not the draft agreement would meet a constitutional
test if challenged before the High Court.” Was that really done, given the
obvious unpreparedness of the government to defend the MOA-AD after it was
challenged in the Supreme Court?
An intriguing information was passed on to me by a foreign newspaper
correspondent who interviewed Gen. Esperon. The informant said that Gen.
Esperon told her that he had given North Cotabato Vice-Gov. Emmanuel Piñol
an advance copy of the MOA-AD before Piñol filed his petition challenging
it before the Supreme Court. If that is true, and I have no reason to
doubt my source, then Esperon is complicit in the filing of the petition
questioning the MOA-AD he is duty-bound to defend.
Aside from the fact that it has kept the contents of the MOA-AD secret
from the people, the Arroyo government has been thoroughly thrashed fro
letting out its critics persistent agenda: to ride on the need to change
the Constitution to accommodate the MOA-AD to press for a shift to
federalism as means of prolonging Gloria Arroyo’s stay in power.
Over and above this apparent duplicity, what must concern the MILF, the
Moro people and the Filipino people is the active involvement and
maneuvering of the US in the crafting of the MOA-AD, which can only be
dictated by its over-arching interest to establish a firm foothold in
Mindanao both for its permanent military presence as much as for its
economic interests in the foreseen “economic development” (read: plunder
of strategic mineral resources, like oil, natural gas, metal ores) of
Although the MILF, through its departed first Chairman Salamat Hashim, had
sought US assistance to resolve GRP-MILF conflict, and acceded to the US
requisite to “renounce terrorism publicly as means of attaining its
political ends”, it may not have been alert to US machinations to advance
its vested interests, through the inclusion in the MOA-AD of a provision
to establish a five-member BJE economic expert mission to handle the
planning and management, with the Bangsamoro Development Agency, of
financial and other resources of the BJE. The mission would include two
representatives of international funding institutions , one of whom will
be chairperson, who would most likely be an American from the World Bank.
From such vantage point, the Us would practically direct the flow of
foreign funding and investments into areas that could maximize profits for
Making this situation worse,
were it to be finally provided in a compact agreement, will be the
prospect of the US inducing the BJE to allow US permanent military basing
in its territory. This seems to be the final goal of the questionable
series of joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement to
establish US military presence in Mindanao since 2002.
MILF Spokesperson Eid Kabalu in an interview with the Asia Times in August
2006 said: “We are facing reality. We know that Washington has its own
agenda in Mindanao, and that this has mostly to do with terrorism.” He
added, “However, if the American interest is really in pushing this peace
process, then we can talk about US military bases.”
In a Working Paper No. 99,
dated May 2008, Astrid Tuminez, who had a key role in the US Institute of
Peace Philippine Facilitation Project of the ancestral domain discussions
in the GRP-MILF peace talks, wrote:
“In 2002-2008, thousands of US soldiers have engaged in combat training
with, and given intelligence and logistical support to, Philippine troops
in pursuit of terrorists on the islands and seas of Sulu, Basilan, Taw-Tawi,
and in central and western Mindanao. Along with military exercises, US
troops have conducted numerous humanitarian missions, including dental and
medical assistance, road repair and construction, and renovation and
building of schools, clinics, bridges, and other civic infrastructure.
These projects have targeted tens of thousands of people and aimed to
soften the attitudes of local Muslim populations towards American and
Filipino soldiers, while hardening their attitude towards Islamist
terrorists. Besides Balikatan, approximately five to seven hundred US
troops are stationed in Zamboanga City on the southern tip of Mindanao.
They are part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P),
an initiative in the US “global war on terror.”
Neither the Gloria Arroyo charter change agenda nor the US agenda must not
be allowed to prosper, whether the GRP-MILF peace process proceeds apace,
falters, or fails. #