1. The Memo of Agreement on Ancestral Domain initialled by the peace panels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is a sign of contradiction.
For probably most Christians, it is a document that is unpatriotic, a betrayal of the nation, a surrender of national sovereignty over huge swaths of Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago and Palawan, a selling of Christians “down the river”, a document to be rejected. For some Muslims, the document is not enough. It is a betrayal of their hopes and aspirations for self-determination and freedom, a surrender of territories that once belonged to them by right of ancestral domain and native title.
2. But the MOA-AD, no matter how one looks at it, is a remarkable document. It is a very serious attempt to balance national sovereignty and Bangsamoro aspirations for self-determination and freedom. For this reason, I believe that the MOA-AD can bring lasting peace. Let me elaborate.
3. The document should be read in the light of Bangsamoro history. This history is not one that our Spanish and Filipino Christian historians have developed. Our history is a history written by one party to the complex human encounter that we call Philippine history, written perhaps by “victors.” Bangsamoro history has largely been one of oral tradition and only in the last 400 years do we see that history written, but not from their point of view.
4. But it is from the largely unfamiliar side of Philippine history that is also true and indisputable that the concepts of ancestral domain and a Bangsamoro homeland should be understood. The MOA-AD document returns to that concept as a basis for lasting peace.
5. On the other hand, the document is also remarkable from the angle of what Mindanao is today. Through successive waves of migration and public laws, the face of the population as well as of territories has changed. In less than 50 years beginning with the 1930s Christians now outnumber Muslims in the land once under the sway and influence of Muslim Sultans. The document recognizes this fact. And it is to the credit of the MILF that its vision today carries on the vision of its late Chairman, Hashim Salamat. He had said that his vision for the Bangsamoro people is framed in consideration of present realities. For this reason, the document speaks about the ARMM territory as the core of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. Altogether, the territory is much less than the original Bangsamoro homeland. The MOA-Ad makes use of present realities as a basis for lasting peace.
6. The balancing act between Bangsamoro aspirations for self-determination and national sovereignty may be seen in the concepts on governance, concretized in such terms as “associative relationships,” “shared authority,” the idea of “central government,” and its responsibility for external defence, etc. For the GRP the balancing continues with two fundamental democratic safety valves – acts of Congress and referendum.
7. Perhaps, concepts need to be clearer. They can be made so in future steps of the peace process as both parties move towards a Comprehensive Pact. But the MOA-AD need not be the document that should contain all the details that would resolve all questions and doubts. The peace process will continue even after it is signed. With good will, patience and wisdom --- and consultation ---such further steps will surely resolve substantive questions.
8. Therefore, if seen from the perspective of history as we usually know it from our own Christian writers (Spanish, American, Filipino), with no consideration to the enduring aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination in their homeland, the MOA-AD will not lead to peace.
9. But if the document is seen from two perspectives, that of the Bangsamoro historical past and of Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan present day realities, and these two perspectives are somehow respected, then the MOA-AD can lead to lasting peace.