Inside out

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Philippines turning into ‘Southeast Asia’s Darfur’–lawyer

Posted by Abi Kwok on August 30, 2008

By Abigail Kwok
First Posted 23:59:00 08/29/2008

MANILA, Philippines—A peace advocate in favor of the Moro homeland deal expressed fears the continuing conflict in Mindanao will turn the country into “Southeast Asia’s Darfur.”

“We have become the Darfur of Southeast Asia,” lawyer Zainudin Malang, peace process analyst from the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy, speaking before a peace forum at the Ateneo Law School in Makati City, said Friday night.

Malang said the fighting has led to a humanitarian disaster with about 220,000 taking shelter in refugee camps.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels attacked villages in Central Mindanao after the Supreme Court on August 4 suspended a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that would have given the secessionist group administrative and economic power over a large semi-autonomous area in Mindanao.

In Darfur region of western Sudan, about 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.2 million fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003.

Malang also said that the issue on Constitutional amendments being pushed in line with the draft agreement was not a big problem.

“We changed our Constitution five times in history. Why can’t we change our Constitution now to achieve peace?” he said at the forum titled, “From the battlefield to the negotiating table”.

Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas said the much-awaited ruling of the high tribunal on the constitutionality of the deal would determine the continuation of government’s abruptly aborted peace negotiations with the MILF.

“The proposed MoA should go through a plebiscite and the SC should make sure of that. Congress should also do that,” said Bernas, dean emeritus at the Ateneo School of Law.

Bernas — a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, which crafted the Constitution — also said that there is nothing wrong with rewriting the Charter to achieve peace.

In the same forum, lawyer Sedfrey Candelaria, a member of the government negotiating panel and chief legal consultant of the government on the MoA, said that the conflict in Mindanao could have been prevented if the draft accord was signed.

“This could have been prevented; things should not have flared up. We were at the stage of having to sign the MoA. People thought that we gave them [MILF] the moon and the stars but people never understood that it was a rollercoaster ride,” he added.

Candelaria also expressed disappointment with the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court.

“We have done their work. We consulted the lumads (indigenous people in Mindanao), we even consulted the Piñols and the Lobregats. Unfortunately, the Piñols have prevailed,” he said.

North Cotabato vice governor Manny Piñol was among those who expressed strong opposition against the MoA and also filed the TRO in the SC.

Candelaria also belied claims there was no public consultation made before the MoA was drafted.

“We consulted them. Unfortunately some of them have denied this. In drafting this MoA, we want to enter the shoes of the other person. It’s not that we abandoned our constituents,” he said.


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