Clamor Grows for Wider Consultations on Ancestral Domain Plan

ZAMBOANGA CITY – MEMBERS of civil society in Southern Philippines have called for sobriety amid the confusion and anger raised against the stalled signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In a statement, the Waging Peace Philippines, a national civil society network advocating for comprehensive peace, said that the situation now calls “for the broadest consultations…to put in place in order to give peace through the MOA a chance.”

“Now that the MOA has been revealed, let us fully take the opportunity and time to understand, discuss, and dialogue on its actual content and implications,” the group said, adding that “let us first then, amidst the anger and confusion, affirm our support for the peace process. Let us also insist that utmost effort should be taken to ensure the integrity of that peace process, built on the informed participation of the widest constituency.

At present, there is growing support from affected Mindanao residents on calls to reject a proposed Muslim homeland mainly due to the state’s lack of consultation and transparency on the reportedly signed agreement.

Different rallies were held, particularly in this city, North Cotabato, and Iligan City, opposing the inclusion of their areas in the envisioned Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Local government leaders of these opposing areas have petitioned the Supreme Court to halt the signing of the agreement on August 5 in Malaysia. They have asked the high court to intervene and disclose the content of the memorandum of agreement. The SC has issued a TRO against the signing.

Recently, City Mayor Celso L. Lobregat met with North Cotabato vice-governor Emmuel Pinol and Iligan City mayor Laurence Cruz to draft their legal plan in preparation for the oral argument set by the Supreme Court on August 15.

The group said they will stage a prayer rally in the Supreme Court on the eve of the oral argument to dramatize their opposition, which they said was born out of lack of public consultations.

Waging Peace Philippines suggested that nationwide provincial consultations organized through the National Unification Commission way back in 1993 could serve as a possible model.

“But more care will have to be taken to discuss the MOA soberly, thoroughly, with open minds and the participation of all stakeholders. It is especially important to listen to those who are not often heard in the majority-dominated media: the youth, women, Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples.”

“Hopefully, the MOA will be understood as a product of many years of peace negotiations, embodying the aspirations of the Bangsamoro struggle, and the commitment of the government to some form of reparation for historic inequalities. In a struggle in which many lives have been lost on both sides, the negotiation that honors those lives can never be easy,” the group said.

This was also echoed by the largest civil society group in Mindanao and an interfaith group here in the city, saying that “with the MOA signing taking a backseat, now is the most opportune time for government to have an honest to goodness dialogue with its constituents in order to get their acts together and to finally speak with one voice.”

“Now that the MOA is out in the open, let us take the opportunity to read it carefully and understand it with open minds and hearts. It is the product of more than four years of negotiations by parties who are both giving up much to gain the greater prize of a just peace. It is not yet the final peace agreement, but an important step and commitment that we should all help to implement,” the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a network of major peace groups and coalitions in Mindanao, and the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace said in its statement.

The group has appealed for “sobriety and urge the parties in conflict to desist from any act that will aggravate the situation. And more importantly, for both government and MILF to observe and ensure enforcement of the ceasefire agreement at all times.”

The MPW said MILF “must all the more demonstrate its resolve and commitment to peace by reigning in all its constituents and prove that indeed it is speaking and doing peace not only in the negotiating table but also on the ground.”

“We call on all religious leaders to take the moral high ground and be consistent with the church teachings by serving as bridge builders and provide space for people to discuss the issues at hand more intelligently,” the group said.

To further not to escalate the tension, the MPW also appealed “to local government executives to refrain from statements that instigate violence for fear of the unknown; but instead bring people together, educate and provide accurate information, address the roots of, but not create conflicts, and manage these conflicts in ways not harmful to people but that which respects diversity and dissenting opinion.”

In addition they also reminded business and academic sectors to serve as links in de-escalating the tension in areas affected by the conflict.

“For business groups to use their influence on local politicians and be mindful of how wars and conflicts can be detrimental to business in Mindanao. And for academe to provide the venues/fora for information and education among the Moro, Christians and Lumad youths for greater solidarity and understanding,” the group said.

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