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A feat for UMNO

imagesIt appears that it is not just my former colleague Marvic Leonen, who was rewarded with an appointment to the Supreme Court, who benefitted

from the “rushed” signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro Political Region.

The signing of the same, while a source of hope to all Filipinos that peace would finally be realized in battle infested Mindanao, may have been intended all along to benefit foreigners: Prime Minister Najib Razak and his moribund UMNO political party.

My source in Kuala Lampur related how they were all surprised that the Agreement, which Philippine authorities, including Justice Leonen, expected to be signed only in December of this month, was signed two months earlier last October.

Initially, I thought it was Justice Leonen who wanted it signed in time for his interview with the Judicial Bar Council. But apparently, it was Prime Minister Razak who had more at stake in signing the agreement as early as possible. This is because anytime now, parliament in Malaysia will be dissolved to pave the way for the holding of general elections. In fact, the elections should be called no later than March of next year. The actual elections would take place within two months from when it was called.

How could the signing of the Agreement favor Prime Minister Razak and his UMNO party?

Immediately after the agreement was signed, Razak’s communication group spared no time in extolling the Prime Minister as the acknowledged peacemaker of the region. Apparently, and a Web scan of Malaysian newspapers confirmed this, the signing was banner story in Malaysia. Not only was Najib praised as a peace maker, he is now being promoted as a regional leader. I understand that he is now being considered to mediate a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Southern Thailand, as well. But this appears to be mere icing on the cake. The real value of the agreement for Razak and his party lies in Sabah. In the first place, the premier’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, merely obtained a simple majority in the last general elections in Malaysia. I understand that UMNO lost to Anwar Ibrahim’s party in the Malay Peninsula. Their tenuous grasp to a parliamentary majority was courtesy of UMNO having clinched a majority of the 24 parliamentary
seats in Sabah. The story of how they managed to win in this crucial state of Sabah is stuff that are regular occurrences here in the Philippines: vote buying and patronage.

What made it worse, however, was that UMNO distributed residency cards to illegal Filipinos in exchange for their votes. This is now the subject of a Royal Inquiry. A Wikileaks entry summarized the role of Filipinos in Sabah in the last elections: “Mahathir also facilitated illegal immigration from Indonesia and the Philippines in order to better balance the state’s ethnic and religious equation as a measure to ward off any future
separatist sentiments in Sabah, in addition to attracting UMNO votes needed to control the state. A Royal Commission, operated properly, would likely expose the depth of UMNO x x x political corruption and vote manipulation, further inciting Sabahans.”

Razak will now go beyond vote buying in this upcoming election. My source in Kuala Lumpur told me that he rushed the signing of the
Agreement particularly to appeal to the Filipino voters in Sabah.

Worse, another source has informed me that he has even asked MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim to intervene and campaign for UMNO in Sabah.

With the Filipino vote likely to determine who between Najib and Anwar would be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Agreement was apparently signed in a rush to ensure the premier’s hold on the crucial Filipino vote in Sabah. The betting now is: would Chairman Murad do as Najib has asked him to do?

I have already expressed the view that much as we desire peace in Mindanao. this Framework Agreement, precisely because it was rushed,
may not stand the test of judicial scrutiny. I am joined in this view by noted constitutionalists Raul Pangalangan and Former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza. Even Ateneo College of Law Dean Emeritus Fr Joaquin Bernas has expressed similar, albeit less pessimistic concerns. Even Anwar Ibraham, while hopeful that the agreement would lead to peace, expressed concern that the Agreement was not inclusive since the Mindanao politicians, among others, were excluded from the peace negotiations.

Worse, no less than the current head of Notre Dame University’s’ Institute for Autonomy and Governance fears the many mine fields that lie in Congress and in the Supreme Court: “This arena is a big minefield that scares me to no end. There are many things that can go wrong in this arena.”

But with this confirmation that the Agreement did not just benefit Leonen and was, on the contrary, intended primarily to be Razak’s electoral fete in Sabah, it would appear that the Framework Agreement, contrary to our best hopes and expectations, is indeed doomed.

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IHL Month

August 12, 1949 was when the Philippines signed the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the only universally ratified treaty in the world . This Convention codifies the corpus of international humanitarian law. This is the branch of public international law that applies only to situations of armed conflicts. It seeks to limit the adverse consequences of war for individuals who are not actively taking part in the hostilities. It seeks to achieve this avowed objective by: one, according protections to civilians, the wounded and the sick, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war, and religious leaders; and two, by limiting the means and methods of warfare.

The principle of protection mandates all fighters not to intentionally target protected persons. On the other hand, by highlighting to combatants and fighters that they do not have unfettered discretion on the means and methods of warfare, the law provides for a non-derogable code of conduct applicable to all fighters. For instance, there is the rule that all must fighters must distinguish between individuals with protection and combatants. Under this principle known as that of “distinction,” fighters must at all times desist from targeting protected individuals such as civilians. This is why humanitarian law advocates cry “war crimes” whenever members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Moro International Liberation Front or the New People’s Army target innocent civilians.

Furthermore, the law prescribes that the use of force must always be justified by military necessity. This means that all military strikes must always be for the reason that it will contribute to the military objective: that is, the complete subjugation of the enemy with the least incidental damage possible. This is why the giving of the order to “leave no quarters” or that no survivors should be left is also a war crime. This is because the military objective is only to defeat the enemy and not to kill all adversaries.

There too is the principle of proportionality which tempers the application of the principle of protection. Under this principle, the taking of life and damage to property is not always illegal if it can be shown that its perceived military advantage will outweigh its disadvantages. This, I reckon, is why all countries have agreed to be bound by IHL. For while IHL humanizes warfare, it still recognizes that states have the right to use as much force as is necessary to obtain its military objectives. Because of this rule, not all killings of civilians can be prosecuted as war crimes. Only those that expressly target civilians knowing them as such are punished.

Through an executive order, the month of August has been declared in the Philippines as IHL month to commemorate not just our signature to the Geneva Conventions, but more importantly, to remind all fighters in the country of their legal obligations under the law. Unlike human rights law which originally took the form of binding treaty obligations and therefore are duties of a state, IHL applies to all fighters without distinction. It applies to all officers and men of the AFP, the NPA. The Moro National Liberation Front, the MILF, and now, even to the Bangsamoro Islamic Federation Fighters of Umbra Kato.

This years’ celebration is unique because for the first time, we are celebrating IHL month with a three-in-one: we have passed a new domestic enabling legislation criminalizing breaches and violations of IHL, Republic Act 9851; we have become the 117th member state of the International Criminal Court, a permanent court that tries individuals for war crimes, among others; and we have become the latest state party to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention. This latest protocol expands the protection of the law to all kinds of civilians. With these developments, we have become the most dedicated country in Asia to the implementation of IHL.

Furthermore, while we have not done away with all armed conflicts in the country, we appear to be making strides in arriving at a peace accord with all insurgents in the country, including the MILF and the NPA. This augers well too for IHL because while compliance with IHL certainly is indispensible in times of armed conflict, there is still no substitute for peace.

While the recent spate of violence waged by Umbra Kato’s BIFF in Maguindanao seems to indicate that long-term peace in Mindanao may take longer than expected, it helps that meanwhile, all Filipinos remain under the protection of IHL.

Happy IHL month to one and all!

MOA-AD Part 2?

Let me be very clear. There is no substitute to peace. Mindanao has been the theater of war since the Spaniards came to our shores. It is time for the people of Mindanao to finally live in an area rid of conflict and in peace. So what is the latest proposal engineered to bring peace […] More →