Peace Pact With MILF Will Deny Belligerency Status to Rebels: Soliman Santos

A PEACE advocate has allayed fears that the Moro homeland accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would grant the rebel group a status of “belligerency” or international recognition as a separate state.

Lawyer Soliman Santos, an expert on peace negotiations, said the concept of “status of belligerency” is already “obsolete” and is no longer an obstacle in peace talks in other countries.

“It is about time, even long overdue, to lay this obsolete concept to rest in the Philippines,” Soliman told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in an e-mail.

“It is best for the sanity of the emerging national debate on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), where more light rather than heat is needed,” he added.

Belligerency explained

Santos said the term “belligerency” is often feared since it “connotes hostilities” within the territory of a State.

“The recognized belligerent force acquires international personality, directly possessed of rights and obligations in international law,” he explained.

However, he pointed out that this recognition is “only provisional in nature and limited to the duration of the hostilities from which it results.”
“It does not apply to a post-conflict situation as would arise from the peace settlement which the MOA-AD is working towards,” Santos said. “On this score alone, the MOA-AD cannot be the basis for any belligerency status.”

Santos said recognition of belligerency is only granted “primarily for the purpose of bringing the laws of war…into operation.”
“For example, captured belligerents should be treated as enemy combatants with the rights of prisoners of war,” he said.

However, Santos said the “practice of recognizing insurgents as regular belligerents” has already “declined to the point of virtual obsolescence.”

Replaced by intn’l humanitarian law

After World War 2, he said the “regime of international humanitarian law” replaced the old concept of belligerency.

“This regime expressly provides that its application ‘shall not affect the legal status of Parties to the conflict’,” Santos said.

He said the MILF has already committed itself to international humanitarian law, which supercedes the notion of “belligerency status.”

“It is about time that the phantom menace of ‘belligerency status’ be laid to rest in Philippine discourse,” Santos said.

Former Justice Secretary President Franklin Drilon, Senator Mar Roxas, North Cotabato Vice-Governor Emmanuel Pinol have all said that the MOA-AD would grant the MILF a status of belligerency, which would violate the 1987 Constitution.

In a recent statement, Drilon said the MOA-AD would “grant the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity a status of belligerency, or an international recognition as a separate and independent state.”

Muslims explain homeland

Meanwhile, various Muslim groups formed Thursday a new group that seeks to strengthen the voice of Muslims in the cause of peace building, starting with a public information campaign on the proposed Moro homeland accord.

The Bangsamoro People Solidarity for Peace in Mindanao, composed of Muslim youth, party-list members, religious groups lamented that the signing of the MOA-AD did not push through last Tuesday, saying it would have advanced the peace process in Mindanao.

The group also said they will try to better inform the public on the MOA-AD, such as pointing out “falsehoods” that critics of the MOA-AD have allegedly spread, including the claim that it will lead to the separation of the Moro homeland from the Philippine republic.

Although 90 to 95% of the residents of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) will be Muslims, the group said the new Moro homeland will still be part of the Philippines.

The only difference, the group said, is that more economic revenues from the expanded Moro territory will go to the BJE.

For instance, 75% of the revenues from the power supply generated by Lake Lanao will go to the BJE, while 25% will go to the national government.

The group also belied rumors that Christians will have to follow Shariah Law in the ancestral domain areas.

Being emotional about the proposed Moro homeland, the group added, will not help promote peace.

It also advised Pinol and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat not to incite religious tensions.

The group said the MOA-AD still has to go through Congress, and that the residents in the more than 700 villages proposed to be included in the BJE will be asked whether they want to join through a plebiscite.

Give peace a chance

Meanwhile, House Speaker Prospero Nograles issued an appeal to “give peace a chance”, pointing out that the MOA-AD is not yet a “done deal.”

“The MOA on Ancestral Domain is a major breakthrough in the peace process that will finally bring permanent peace, stability and development in Mindanao. But we have to achieve peace within the framework of our Constitution by respecting the judicial process,” he said.

“Any peace agreement between the government and the MILF should fall within the framework of the Philippine Constitution,” the Speaker said.

He said the MOA-AD still has to go through Congress and constitutional processes such as a plebiscite.

Nograles urged Pinol and Lobregat to “give the peace deal a chance before condemning it to oblivion.”

“Foremost, Congress has to set in motion the proposed BJE by enacting an enabling law. Then, an amendment of the Constitution may be necessary to accommodate, among others, a new territorial area proposed under the BJE. Finally, a plebiscite must be held in the identified areas to ascertain the actual boundaries of the BJE similar to the ARMM exercise in the nineties,” he said.

Nograles said voters can choose not to be part of the BJE just by saying no in the plebiscite.

“Palawan, Lanao del Norte, South Cotabato, Cotabato City, North Cotabato and other cities and provinces including Zamboanga City rejected the proposal to become part of the original ARMM in a referendum. That same process will be observed in the case of the BJE,” he said.

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