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THE KONRAD ADENAUER STIFTUNG (KAS), together with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), held an international roundtable conference on the Right to Self-Determination of Peoples last July 16-18, 2007 at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center in Makati City.
The roundtable conference brought together members from various sectors of society: the academe, the government, the military, the diplomatic corps, the media, and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to discuss various cases of self-determination around the world, giving special emphasis on the Bangsamoro issue prevalent in the Philippines to foster a better understanding of the “Moro Problem”, the Peace Process and the on-going peace negotiations.
International guests for the roundtable conference include Dr. Hurst Hannum, professor of Law at the University of Hongkong, Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council in Sri Lanka, Ms. Ayesah Abubakar from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Dr. Sukree Langputeh, Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the Yala Islamic University in Pattani, Thailand. Other speakers included Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, a consultant for the Sudan Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Lead Convenor for the National Peace Council in the Philippines, Dr. Gabriel Munuera-Viñals, Political Counselor from the Delegation of the European Commission to the Philippines, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Executive Director of the Institute for Bangsamoro Studies in Cotabato City, Mr. Miguel Apostol, Prof. Ponciano Bennagen and Prof. Marvic Leonen from the University of the Philippines.
KAS Country Representative Klaus Preschle pointed out during his inaugural speech that the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in its Mindanao projects, has always aimed to “enable all the stakeholders of the Mindanao issue to play an active and productive role in the peace process by supporting multi-sectoral stakeholder dialogue”. This includes members of civil society, the government, the business sector, religious groups, negotiating parties, the media, and even the military. In previous KAS Mindanao projects, dialogue has always been the key, and along these lines this RTD was organized.
During his welcoming remarks, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, highlighted the changes in the concept of self-determination throughout the ages. From the colonial viewpoint of self-determination as liberation of colonized nations from foreign rule, to self-determination as defined in sub-national terms as communities within a state seeking control over its own communal life. The Speaker gave his support for the roundtable conference, especially the contribution the discussions would have on the Mindanao peace process, stating, “To the restoration of that peace, your deliberations can certainly help.”
Dr. Hurst Hannum, Professor of Public Law at the University of Hongkong, delivered the first session of the conference on the Theory and Practice of the Right to Self-Determination. He states that there is no “one size fits all” solution to self-determination issues / conflicts, and stressed the importance of experimentation with regards to formulating a solution.
The second session of the conference featured presentations by various speakers detailing international experiences on self-determination. Fr. Eliseo Mercado discussed the recently concluded Sudan peace agreement, underlining the importance of dialogue and negotiations in conflict management and resolution, as well as the importance of the cessation of violence in the Peace Process. Dr. Jehan Perera highlighted the Tamil quest for self-determination in Sri Lanka, which he notes, the solution of which is put on indefinite hold given the current administration’s staunchly pro-military action against Tamil LTTE group, despite having earlier reached an adequate agreement with the previous Kumaratunga administration. The struggle for self-determination in the Aceh community in Indonesia was tackled by Ms. Ayesah Abubakar, which was only recently resolved with the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement in August 15, 2005 mediated by the Crisis Management Institute in Helsinki, Finland, with Aceh being granted special autonomy by the Indonesian government. Dr. Sukree Langputeh of the Yala Islamic University in Pattani, Thailand, traced Thailand’s constitutional development and the role it plays in building national infrastructures for right to self-determination of the Thai people.
The second session was closed with a presentation from Dr. Gabriel Munuera-Viñals from the delegation of the European Commission, who outlined the various self-determination issues throughout the European continent, numbering among which include the former Yugoslavian states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovakia), Belgium, Northern Ireland, the Laplands (Northern Finland), and the Basques (Spain), South Tyrol (Italy), Greenland (Denmark) and Scotland (UK). “Formulas” have been devised to accommodate ethnic differences and clamors for self-determination across Europe, however, he remarks, the results have been mixed. Dr. Munuera-Viñals concludes that “Cultural autonomy and local self-rule may be best instrument for addressing perceived discrimination of national minorities, but insufficient when dealing with territory-based self-perceived nations/nationalities… Ethnic or national differences cannot be solved, only managed.”
The final sessions brought the issue back to the prevailing self-determination issues prevalent in Mindanao: the Bangsamoro nation and the self-determination of Indigenous peoples. Prof. Abhoud Lingga, who presented on the Bangsamoro issue, defined the right to self-determination as the right of peoples everywhere to freely determine their political status, as well as having economic, cultural and social aspects. He put forward the idea that the Bangsamoro clamor for self-determination does not necessarily mean separation from the Philippine state; he also stressed the importance of referendum: that the people of Mindanao should not be denied the opportunity to exercise the right to referendum to determine their political status.
Mr. Miguel Apostol, a member of the Subanen (indigenous peoples) of Zamboanga del Sur, ended with a presentation on the right to self-determination of Indigenous Peoples (IP), who are considered part of the “Mindanao issue”; he stressed, that the “determination of the IPs in Mindanao is the recognition of their rights, not only preserved and protected by the government, but made part and be accepted as an integral part of the Filipino Nation.” He called for government recognition of traditional practices of governance, as well as the hotly-contested issue of ancestral domains, and the strengthening of the rights of the minority as well as the provision of equal rights and access to social justice and cultural integrity.
Cases of self-determination varies across the world, however, as the conference presentations have pointed out, solutions are more often than not compromises made between the conflicting groups, and for that to occur, most importantly, there must be the cessation of conflict and violence, and a sincere desire for peaceful dialogue towards a peaceful resolution.