SC asked to stop signing of MOA on ancestral domain

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PEACE efforts between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may again be derailed after the province of North Cotabato yesterday asked the Supreme Court to stop the signing of a memorandum of agreement on the highly controversial issue of public domain.

Saying that the province does not want to be included in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan and Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol also asked the High Court to compel the GRP peace panel led by Secretary Rodolfo Garcia, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon and other respondents, lawyers Leah Armamento, Sedfrey Candelaria and Mark Ryan Sullivan, members of the panel, to disclose the contents of the MoA and to furnish them with the draft or final copy of the agreement.

The terms of the MoA, according to the petitioners, are considered matters of public concern and are thus covered by Section 7 of the Bill of Rights which guarantees the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. The MoA, they argued, cannot be covered by the executive privilege considering that it does not involve any treaty-negotiating functions of the President with other independent states.

In particular, the petitioners are seeking information on the composition of the new territory that will comprise and be treated as the ancestral homeland of the three million Muslims in Mindanao and will extend the coverage of the ARMM.

The petitioners added that the GRP panel has failed to conduct public hearings and consultations in connection with its plan to include the province in the expanded ARMM, which is set to be ratified and confirmed through a plebiscite to be held six months after the MoA signing.

“The report saying that North Cotabato will be included in the expanded ARMM came as a shock or surprise to the people of North Cotabato. It has caused alarm and concern in view of the vast and broad powers and authority, per media reports, granted to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, which is almost tantamount to becoming an independent state,” the petitioners noted.

The signing of the MoA on August 5 is seen as a major step in reaching a final peace agreement with the MILF. Likewise, the provincial government also noted that the GRP failed to consider previous plebiscites where the people of North Cotabato chose not to be part of ARMM.

Malacanang said it will leave the matter to the Supreme Court and will abide by the tribunal’s ruling.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon said they do not consider the petition a setback to the peace process unless the High Tribunal rules in favor of the petitioners.