It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the Philippines, it’s not only paved, it’s furnished, lighted, and gilded with it. A good example is the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace. It’s unbelievable how such an agreement could have been entered into by the government, considering its provisions’ sheer disregard for the interests of the Republic. This article will not dwell on the Constitutional process aspects of the MOA and instead focus on the international law issues. Peace is, of course, always something to be desired but if there is one thing that we Filipinos should know by now is that peace at any price always ends up costing way too high.
The MOA essentially begins with acknowledgments from the government of the Bangsamoro rights. Then it goes on to identify the Bangsamoro as the natives, Muslim or not, of Mindanao, including Palawan and Sulu at the time of colonization, their descendants, whether mixed or of full blood, and their spouses. The MOA then designates the territory of the Bangsamoro as the land – as well as waters, airspace, and atmospheric space – embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan geographic region. The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is mandated to have jurisdiction over those areas, including “territorial waters”, as well as the use of resources. Finally, the BJE is free to enter into any economic cooperation and trade relations with foreign countries, establish trade missions in other countries, and enter into environmental treaties.
With that, our government almost got away with allowing a group of people to dismember our Republic and to have another State carved out away from us. For as the Supreme Court rightly caught on, the government incredibly gave the MILF all the requisites of a State as provided under the 1933 Montevideo Convention: people, territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other States. How anybody could miss this point, specially those negotiating on behalf of the interests of our Republic, is beyond me.
That this is not accidental is shown by the fact that our government also conceded to the BJE the application of the status of “associative State”, which the Supreme Court again (thank God) rightly caught as being wholly inappropriate because such concept indicates the existence of an entity that is on its way of being a separate State. A State, it must be emphasized, that will get portions of OUR territory, OUR resources, and OUR people.
That this was deliberate is shown from the fact that our own government insisted in applying the concept of self-determination to the Moros, contrary to the clear and overwhelming declaration by international law that ethnic, religious, or cultural groups have no rights of self-determination. Again, the Supreme Court was quick to point out this quite obvious fact of which only our government seems oblivious to.
Granted, there is the UN General Assembly Resolution 61/295 which allowed indigenous people the right to “internal” self-determination, which is more limited in scope, allowing merely for their economic, social, and cultural development (along with a certain degree of autonomy) but a far cry from allowing them independent status or statehood. It must be emphasized that this Resolution was signed September of last year, with 143 countries voting in favor (the Philippines included), and Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US against. This is a brazen act of incredible negligence to protect the interests of our Republic. There were ongoing negotiations at that time with the Moros and our government thought nothing about signing a Resolution that essentially agreed to a point demanded by them? Eh ano ngayon kung 142 countries pumirma doon? We had the option of not signing it, considering the ongoing negotiations with the MILF. Porque may international agreement pirma agad tayo para makisama lang sa ibang bansa? Ano ba talaga trabaho nila, magpasikat sa cocktail parties sa diplomatic circuit at magpakitang gilas sa Ingles, o ilaban ang kapakanan ng bayan?
The problem is that international law works in a manner quite different from that of a local or “municipal law”. If our government interprets international law in a certain way, that interpretation is binding to a certain degree on it. For the government to interpret international law in a manner conceding statehood to the Moros is an ignominy. To conduct the negotiations substantially from the perspective of international law and not Philippine law (the Constitution wasn’t even mentioned in the MOA) is unbelievable. Even though the Supreme Court did render the MOA unconstitutional, nevertheless, this government just made it tremendously more difficult to negotiate in the future with the MILF in a manner that will protect our Republic’s interests.
Our officials have one duty, particularly in matters of international law and relations: uphold Philippine interests. If they can’t grasp that, they don’t deserve – they are a shame to – their office.