MANILA, AUGUST 6, 2008 (STAR) Malacañang is leaving it up to the Supreme Court (SC) to determine the legal issues surrounding the proposed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was supposed to have been signed by the government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia yesterday.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said all concerned parties in the MOA-AD should wait for the SC to come up with a ruling.

The high court on Monday stopped the government from signing the MOA-AD that would have given the MILF administrative and economic power over a large semi-autonomous area in southern Mindanao.

The SC granted the petition of local officials for a temporary restraining order (TRO) until after the issues surrounding the agreement have been clarified and consultations have been made.

Though a TRO has been issued, the MILF said the agreement had been “initialed” last July 27, pointing out that yesterday’s scheduled signing of the MOA-AD was merely ceremonial.

Dureza said this would have to be determined by the SC as the final arbiter of the issue.

“All of these issues will be threshed out where it is now, the Supreme Court. So the constitutionality, validity, whether that is binding or not, we will leave this up to the SC,” he said.

Dureza said the government panel, for their part, would submit a copy of the MOA-AD to the Supreme Court ahead of the oral arguments of the case on Aug. 15.

Dureza said the TRO should be taken as an opportunity for the agreement to “go through a constitutional test.”

Damage control

Officials quickly sought to avert a possible resurgence of hostilities after the agreement was not signed as planned.

While expressing optimism on the prospects for progress of the peace talks between the government and the MILF, disappointment, fear and even anger were palpable in the statements issued by various groups, including the Malaysian government and foreign officials involved in the negotiations.

Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Malaysian Foreign Minister Dr. Rais Yatim as well as Mindanao civil society groups in separate interviews in Malaysia called for sobriety and urged the SC to immediately resolve the issue.

They said the high tribunal must immediately resolve the legality of the agreement, as there are already signs of restiveness and arming of groups in Mindanao.

The groups held unscheduled meetings with foreign diplomats including representatives of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) who were supposed to witness the signing of the agreement in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Esperon, who extended his stay for a day, said the government, the MILF, and non-government organizations are now making efforts to make the best out of the situation “after all, we are all here now, we might as well all discuss.”

Esperon met with OIC Ambassador Sayed Al-Masry, who expressed concern over the possible resurgence of violence in Mindanao.

“We should not hope for violence,” Rais, for his part, told a news conference. “What we should begin to simmer in our minds is for peace and tranquillity to exist.”

“But if we put forward the expectation of misunderstanding, I think we are starting on the wrong foot. There ought not to be violence in any instance or any area,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo took the opportunity to meet with Rais.

Romulo insisted the MOA-AD is within the bounds of the Constitution.

“This temporary delay has disappointed all of us and at the Supreme Court we will present our case why we should continue with the signing of the memorandum agreement for ancestral domain, which is within the law,” Romulo told a news conference in Malaysia.

“We are confident eventually we should be able to return and have this memorandum on ancestral domain signed,” he added.

Political estafa

Lawmakers blamed Malacañang for bungling the deal with the MILF that prompted the SC to grant the petition of local officials and issue the TRO.

Sen. Manuel Roxas Jr. said Malacañang placed national security in jeopardy.

“This enormous fiasco has deranged our political institutions by placing the executive, the judiciary and Congress in an unneeded controversy, caused diplomatic embarrassment, stoked the insecurity of outlying communities in Mindanao and raised the signals of renewed hostilities,” Roxas said.

Roxas said the government should have been transparent with the agreement, instead of leaving many people in the concerned regions speculating.

“What did we get, what did we give up, and how will this affect the lives of those in Mindanao?” he asked.

Roxas called on the government to refrain from forcing through an agreement that is not clearly defined.

He said this would only compound socioeconomic pressures with political tensions that feed on more conflict rather than engender stability.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Malacañang committed “political estafa” for making the promises hard to fulfill.

“In other words, (Malacañang is) raising expectations on false premises. Because they cannot cede away any part of the national territory with transparency and in accordance with the Constitution, it’s out of bounds, to say the least,” he said.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, for his part, said the MOA-AD should have been subjected to rigid screening through the Supreme Court, Congress, and a plebiscite.

He said it was fortunate that the SC stepped in “because they can very well determine the legal boundaries and legality of this agreement.”

Angara said Congress and the public would also have to scrutinize each and every word of the MOA-AD.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Malacañang should have done its homework, researching on the legal implications and possible constitutional questions of the agreement. – Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved