Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile described the Tripoli Agreement that resulted from a "secret" meeting between First Lady Imelda Marcos and Libyan President Moammer Gadhafi in November 1976 as an "unmitigated and unpardonable sellout" of Philippine sovereignty to the rebel Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
In his new memoir, Enrile, who served as defense minister during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos, said he had been shut out of the Imelda-Gadhafi negotiations. When he learned about it later, he voiced his protest over the agreement's "unconstitutionality" in a phone conversation with Marcos.
But Marcos, he said, had instructed him not to talk to reporters about it.
Enrile said he was not informed of Imelda's "quiet trip" to Tripoli although she had brought along his undersecretary, Carmelo Barbero, a former congressman.
"Unknown to the Department of National Defense, that trip of the First Lady led to a secret negotiation in Tripoli between... the Philippines and the MNLF," Enrile said.
Barbero, as chief negotiator for the Philippines, signed the agreement along with the MNLF's leader, Nur Misuari. A host of witnesses included representatives from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Somalia.
At that time, Mindanao was crippled by hostilities between the MNLF and the military.
The agreement called for "the establishment of autonomy in Southern Philippines," a "legislative assembly (that) shall be constituted through direct election" and an "executive council formed through appointments by the legislative assembly."
Such autonomy would give Muslims the right to have their own administrative system and set up their own courts that implement Sharia laws.
The Tripoli Agreement also gave Muslims the following:
The right to be represented in all courts including the Supreme Court;
The right to set up schools, colleges and universities;
Their own economic and financial system;
Representation and participation in the central government and in all organs of the state; and
The right to organize their own special regional security forces in the South.
Enrile said the Tripoli Agreement only left "competence in foreign policy," "concern over national defense affairs" and "competence over mines and mineral resources" to the central government.
Still, competence over mines and mineral resources had to be mutually agreed upon between the autonomous Muslim government and the central government.
The agreement also provided other "points left for discussion," including the integration of MNLF forces in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). It also called for a ceasefire to be declared upon the signing of the Tripoli Agreement "but not later" than Jan. 20, 1977.
Enrile said he only learned of Imelda and Barbero's efforts when Marcos stopped all military operations in the troubled areas of Mindanao from Dec. 24, 1976 to Jan. 20, 1977.
It was Barbero's executive assistant, then Col. Eduardo Ermita, who had to tell Enrile that his boss went to Libya and negotiated an agreement with the MNLF to effect a peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict.
Barbero eventually gave Enrile a copy of the Tripoli Agreement.
"After I went over (it), I was full of anger and frustration. To me, the Tripoli Agreement was not only an illegal and unconstitutional act, but also a shameless and abject surrender to the (MNLF)," Enrile said.
Act of perfidy
"It was an unmitigated and unpardonable sellout. It offered a very high price for peace in Mindanao. It was, to me, an act of perfidy and betrayal against the fallen and injured soldiers of the country who had bravely shed their blood and sacrificed their lives to defend, protect and preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country," he added.
Enrile told Marcos of his "objections and reservations," prompting the President to ask him not to talk to the press.
Marcos also vowed to convene the National Security Council (NSC) where Enrile could voice his concerns.
But before the NSC would meet, Marcos called Christian local leaders in Mindanao to the Palace "ostensibly... to discuss the ceasefire in the conflict-ridden areas of Mindanao," Enrile said.
"But actually, as I was told later, the President went out of his way and lengthily explained in detail the provisions of the Tripoli Agreement to the sullen and somber governors and mayors who met with him in Malaca?ang," he added.
Marcos eventually convened the NSC, whose members included all members of the Cabinet, officers of the AFP and some private individuals named to the council on Jan. 4, 1977.
Enrile explained during the meeting that the Tripoli Agreement violated the 1973 Constitution, specifically a provision that said: "The territorial and political subdivisions of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities and barrios."
Regions of the country could not be considered "political subdivisions" and therefore could not have individual and separate governments of their own with specific powers over the people, he said.
"They were merely organized for administrative purposes to attain efficiency in the administration of public affairs," the defense secretary added.
Enrile added that the "autonomy" contemplated in the Tripoli Agreement "was not simply a region of the country. It was actually conceived as a 'territorial and political subdivision'-something not authorized by the Constitution-with a separate and distinct government of its own."
The defense secretary said the agreement's "autonomy" would enclose the Philippines' border with Borneo in the south and would cover from the east, Davao del Sur down to Tawi-Tawi, including the Sulu Sea "plus a big chunk of southwestern Mindanao all the way to Palawan."
The region, under the agreement, would have its own territory; its own population of Muslims, Christians and tribes from either denomination, and its own separate government.
Enrile warned that once established, the region "could at any time sever (its) link and separate itself as an independent republic or kingdom from the Republic of the Philippines, or join the federated Kingdom of Malaysia."
This would bring "catastrophic violence in Mindanao and possibly the entire country" instead of peace and prosperity as envisioned, he added.
Enrile noted that while he talked, Imelda was "silent and visibly chagrined" and sometimes moved her head from side to side "with obvious disdain for what I was saying."
It was only Solicitor Estelito Mendoza and Local Government Secretary Jose Ro?o who supported Enrile's position among those present. Marcos then turned to an aide and called Gadhafi. He called for another meeting in Libya, this time with Enrile present.
Enrile recalled that he, Imelda and Mendoza later went to Gadhafi's compound in Libya for the second round of talks.
After Enrile clarified his position on the Tripoli Agreement, Gadhafi answered: "Mr. Secretary, we are not concerned about constitutions here! We are talking about war! Constitutions do not matter and operate during a state of war! The Muslim problem in your country requires a political solution!"
Enrile kept his mouth shut. Imelda continued to chat with Gadhafi until they left the compound.
Enrile said Imelda later approached him to point out that Gadhafi "was not pleased with me and that I had to get out of Libya the following morning."
Enrile and a group that included Maj. Gen. Fidel Ramos of the Philippine Constabulary flew to Rome early the next morning and waited there for several days for Imelda before the entire posse flew back to Manila.
Upon their return, according to Enrile, they learned that relations between the government and the MNLF grew worse.
The MNLF called for outright separation from the rest of the country and its leaders demanded the creation of a separate independent state for Muslims through a presidential decree.
This angered Marcos and caused him to order the arrest of persons spreading the idea of a separate Muslim state.
Enrile said that eventually, Marcos convinced Gadhafi to agree to submit the Tripoli Agreement to a plebiscite where voters from the 13 provinces supposedly included in the autonomy participated.
Only five provinces, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Sulu, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao agreed to join the "autonomy."
7 provinces refused
Seven others refused: Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and Palawan.
Marcos created two "autonomous regions": One in Region 9 including Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan with Zamboanga City as capital, and another in Region 12 for Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur with Cotabato City as capital.
The MNLF denounced the creation of the autonomous regions as a violation of the Tripoli Agreement.
Its leaders filed a protest with the Organization of Islamic Conference, which included "the MNLF problem" in the agenda of its meeting in Tripoli on May 12-16, 1977.
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