We speak in behalf of all marginalized sectors of Mindanao that include the Bangsamoro people, the indigenous peoples and migrant settlers particularly the women, children, and the displaced civilian communities who stand to benefit from the successful conclusion of the GRP-MILF peace talks. For many decades now, our lives depict the curse of the so-called "collateral damage" due to a long internecine armed conflict. The conflict and war in Mindanao must end now. We cannot allow this cycle of violence to further victimize our children and the next generation. We beg all the branches of government, the media and civil society groups to help end the Mindanaoans' long years of suffering.
The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court effectively stalled the signing of the MOA on Ancestral Domain. While we consider this a major setback in our quest for peace, we are confident that the Supreme Court cannot allow itself to become a stumbling block in resolving a political conflict that requires a political solution. We have a complete trust in the collective wisdom of the Supreme Court and by God's will, Insha Allah, the Government Peace Panel will eventually be allowed to proceed with the signing of the MOA.
As we open the avenues for debate on the Ancestral Domain agenda, we beg everyone, especially politicians, military, the media and other vested interest groups, to let it proceed without fueling the centuries-old biases and prejudices among the people of Mindanao . There is a strong need for everyone to correct the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples in Mindanao and in other regions in the country. Definitely, there is a very urgent need to reverse the situation of fear, violence, hatred, anger and trauma among the people in the conflict-affected areas.
From August 7, 2004 to August 2, 2008, a total of 110 consultations, related to the peace process, were conducted all over Mindanao , according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and members of the Government Peace Panel. Those consulted were academicians, business chambers, civilians, community leaders, indigenous communities, local government units, military personnel, organizations, and religious leaders. On the side the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), it also spearheaded consultations among Muslim communities since the peace talks resumed; the largest assembly gathered almost a million people in Camp Darapanan in 2006.
Definitely, there is a need for continuing consultations, dialogues and information dissemination so that people can come up with well-informed positions on the MOA on AD. This we commit to help undertake as we proceed in educating our people on the contents of the MOA. Let the debate however proceed in the spirit of dialogue and utmost respect. The Bangsamoro people and indigenous peoples have the fundamental right to self-determination recognized under international laws.We strongly support them and demand that this right be respected and fulfilled.
There is a need to clarify misconception that Christians will be evicted out of Mindanao once the BJE is established. Under the MOA-AD, "vested property rights upon the entrenchment of the BJE shall be recognized and respected". This means that an ordinary Mindanaoan's landholding will be respected and protected contrary to what is being spread now that Christians will lose ownership of their land titles. Ancestral Domain as defined under the MOA "refer to those held under claim of ownership, occupied or possessed, by themselves or through the ancestors of the Bangsamoro people, communally or individually since time immemorial". This provision refers to a political territory rather than individual land titles which are already vested and respected under the MOA.
We likewise support the struggle of the Indigenous Peoples in their ancestral domain claims. Under the MOA "The freedom of choice of the Indigenous people shall be respected". It will be incumbent upon the indigenous peoples if they would like to join the BJE or not.
Thus, the sovereign will of the people to be part or not of the BJE is given utmost importance by the MOA on AD through a plebiscite. Residents of the 735 barangays covered under Category A which constitute the proposed expansion of the Bangsamoro homeland shall have the freedom to vote for inclusion or exclusion in the BJE.
There is also a need to take into consideration some concerns of kindred organizations in Manila that the GRP-MILF peace talks could be used to initiate Charter Change. Indeed, there is a need for a comprehensive legislative action given the need to change institutional arrangements between the BJE and the national government. Be that as it may, whether there will be Cha-cha or not, let it be clear that based on the timeframe of the MOA, this will only proceed not earlier than 2010. It will take the parties twelve (12) months after the signing to proceed with the plebiscite and a total of fifteen (15) months to complete the negotiations and resolve all outstanding issues on the Comprehensive Compact. Given this timeframe there will be no material time to undertake Cha-cha via the GRP-MILF talks.
What is clear at this point is that the interests of the peace process and those who are against charter change, are not diametrically opposed. We ourselves will not allow any partisan political interest to tarnish the legitimacy and primacy of the peace process.
This is an appeal that we pose to everyone especially our politicians who in the past few days became willing mouthpiece in fueling chaos, fear, hatred and communal violence. Let us all be responsible enough to tackle this issue in an intelligent and dispassionate manner, bearing in mind that we are all brothers and sisters, and that everyone in this country has the right and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.