Rep. Satur Ocampo speaks

at the People's Review of the GRP-MILF Peace talks


Marawi City, Lanao


August 29, 2008



Rep. Satur Ocampo Dr. Macaayong Habib, MILF peace panel member

Photos courtesy of  Suara Bangsamoro


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 Mindanao.

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 itself.



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. #

Rep. Ocampo makes a courtesy call on MSU President Macapado Moslem Rep. Ocampo with MSM nuns
Press Conference
Solidarity Night
Solidarity night with LKM, LFS, CEGP - Lanao   Suara's Amirah Ali Lidasan