To move forward the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the formation of a committee that would recommend amendments to a law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The newly created National Preparatory Committee would study giving ARMM full autonomy and recommend a possible government-MILF wealth-sharing agreement without revising the 1987 Constitution.
“The amendments to R.A. 9054 shall be determined with the participation of all stakeholders through authentic dialogs and consultation to ensure that the output is truly reflective of the aspirations of Filipino Muslims,” the President said in Executive Order 777.
Arroyo has allocated P20 million from her own contingency fund to cover the operational expenses of the committee, which has been given six months to come up with a package of amendments to Republic Act 9054.
The committee shall be composed of a chairperson and 14 members—two from the academe, two from civil society organizations and one representative each from the ARMM regional government, from Lanao del Sur, from Maguindanao, from Sulu, from Tawi-Tawi, from the regional legislative assembly, from the presidential legislative liaison office, from the Lumads and from the Christians.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said amending the ARMM Organic Act is a “more viable alternative” to the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain [MOA-AD], which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.
The pact would have created an MILF homeland, officially known as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that would cover 735 villages in Mindanao.
“I think it will be wiser to take a look at the provisions in RA 9054 pertaining to territory. This is one way of [accommodating the MILF demands] rather than calling it the Bangsamoro Juridical Authority. The amendments can very well be the answer to the problem on territory in the negotiations,” Ermita said.
He added that the amendments would be “more feasible” than insisting on the original homeland agreement that was already struck down by the Supreme Court since the revisions would cover the expansion of the ARMM and the control of natural resources.
“There are subject matters pertaining to management, control and allocation of natural resources, including strategic minerals. At the very least, we will no longer be negotiating in a vacuum because there is a reference material by law existing in RA 9054. That is very important,” he said.
However, outgoing Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said there are no guarantees that the preparatory committee would recommend the inclusion of all the towns that the MILF wants to form part of the Bangsamoro homeland.
“It is up to the committee to come up with their recommendations. The committee has been mandated to conduct dialogues and consultations with various stakeholders for this end,” Esperon said.
The original homeland agreement also proposed a wealth-sharing agreement using a 75 to 25 percentage ratio in favor of the Bangsamoro people.
For his part, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal raised doubts on how the President’s new directive can move the peace process forward.
“In relation to the peace process, Constitutional changes can come later. But there is no assurance that Congress will implement all the Constitutional accommodations once a comprehensive compact is signed,” Iqbal said. — Angelo S. Samonte, Reporter, Manila Times