It’s Monday morning here in the Philippines. In another 36 hours or so, will I still be living in the Philippines?
Well, I’m not planning to move, but there is a legitimate question as to whether or not I’ll still be in a part of the Philippines. How can that be? Well, the Government of the Philippines has been in negotiations for years with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and tomorrow a partial Peace Agreement will be signed between the two parties. This is not the full deal, but a step down the road to peace. The agreement that is scheduled for signing is the Ancestral Domain issue that is the most contentious of all issues being negotiated.
But, how does this tie in with not being in the Philippines any longer? Well, according to rumors (the agreement is not being made public), a number of areas of Mindanao will be given Autonomy and will be governed by the MILF under this agreement. The good news on that (for me) is that according to rumors about the agreement, Davao is not included in the MILF Automomous Area that has been negotiated.
Over the past weeks, Vice Governor (former Governor) of North Cotabato, Manny Piñol has been quite vocal on this issue, because it is rumored that parts of his Province are to be included in the MILF area. He wants to ensure that the people of the Province have the opportunity determine their own destiny. Do they want to be part of the new region, under MILF control, or do they wish to remain as part of the Province of North Cotabato, Philippines? Well, it would seem that the vast majority of peopel there wish to remain part of the current Province.
In addition to the outcries from North Cotabato, demonstrations are slated to take place later today in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, and also in Zamboanga City. Government officials in each of these Cities fear that they will also be included in the Ancestral Domain to be given to the MILF.
What would change once this agreement takes effect? Well, the area would be governed by the MILF. It would operate under Shariah Law with it’s own Police Force. It seems like the area would come as close as it possibly could to being a totally different country, without actually being so. According to reports, the entity could send it’s own representatives to the United Nations – now that, to me, is already a new country!
All reports so far are that the new area would comprise only a portion of Mindanao, maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the island. Could Mindanao survive being split like that? Or will it only lead to additional fighting to put the whole island under one type of control or the other? For me, I would prefer to see Mindanao remain whole, and remain under 100% Philippine control.
One good thing about all of this – it is my understanding that the way the agreement is worded, it will require a Constitutional Amendment of the Philippine Constitution. With that, it would make me less concerned, because usually changing the Constitution, in any country, involves a lot of reflection, and serious thinking.
Of course, as a lover of Mindanao, and a resident of Mindanao, I hope that long term Peace can come to the Island. I just am not sure that this is the right path leading to a lasting Peace.
UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, August 4, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines has issued a Temporary Restraining Order stopping the signing of the agreement in Malaysia tomorrow. There will be a hearing on August 15 for the court to consider arguments from North Cotabato Province and Zamboanga City against the agreement. So, for now, there will be no signing until at least after August 15.