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G.R. No.

183591 October 14, 2008

Province of North Cotabato vs. GRP


THE PROVINCE OF NORTH COTABATO, duly represented by GOVERNOR JESUS SACDALAN and/or VICE-GOVERNOR EMMANUEL PIOL, for and in his own behalf, petitioners, vs. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES PEACE PANELON ANCESTRAL DOMAIN (GRP), represented by SEC. RODOLFO GARCIA, ATTY. LEAH ARMAMENTO, ATTY. SEDFREY CANDELARIA, MARK RYAN SULLIVAN and/or GEN. HERMOGENES ESPERON, JR., the latter in his capacity as the present and duly-appointed Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) or the so-called Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, respondents

FACTS: The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) brought about by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as an aspect of Tripoli Agreement of Peace in 2001 is scheduled to be signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This Memorandum prepared by the joint efforts of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Peace Panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Panel, was merely a codification of consensus points reached between both parties and the aspirations of the MILF to have a Bangsamoro homeland. This agreement was petitioned by the Province of North Cotabato for Mandamus and Prohibition with Prayer for the Issuance of Writ of Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order. The agreement mentions "Bangsamoro Juridical Entity" (BJE) to which it grants the authority and jurisdiction over the Ancestral Domain and Ancestral Lands of the Bangsamoro; authority and jurisdiction over all natural resources within internal waters. The agreement is composed of two local statutes: The Organic Act for Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao ( R.A. No. 9054) The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (R.A No. 8371)

ISSUE: Whether by signing the MOA, the Philippines would be binding itself: the Government of the Republic of

a)

to create and recognize the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) as a separate state, or a juridical, territorial or political subdivision not recognized by law;

b)

to revise or amend the Constitution and existing laws to conform to the MOA;

MAIN ISSUE: c) to concede to or recognize the claim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for ancestral domain in violation of Republic Act No. 8371 (THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS ACT OF1997)

If in the affirmative, whether the Executive Branch has the authority to so bind the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. HELD:

With respect to the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous people (ICCs/IPs) have, under the IPRA (THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS ACT), the right to participate fully at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies. The MOA-AD, (The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain), an instrument recognizing ancestral domain, failed to justify its noncompliance with the clear-cut mechanisms ordained in said Act which provides the

observance of the free and prior informed consent of the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous people. The IPRA does not grant the Executive Department or any government agency the power to delineate and recognize an ancestral domain claim by mere agreement or compromise. The IPRA, it lays down the prevailing procedure for the delineation and recognition of ancestral domains. The MOA-ADs manner of delineating the ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro people is a clear departure from that procedure. The Memorandum just provides for:
[t]he Bangsamoro homeland and historic territory refer to the land mass as well as the maritime, terrestrial, fluvial and alluvial domains, and the aerial domain, the atmospheric space above it, embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan geographic region.

In proceeding to make a sweeping declaration on ancestral domain, without complying with the IPRA, which is cited as one of the term of reference (TOR) of the MOA-AD, the government of the Republic of the Philippines clearly went out of bounds of its authority.

The Memorandum in question contains many provisions which are consistent with the international legal concept of association, specifically the following:
The BJEs capacity to enter into economic and trade relations with foreign countries, The commitment of the Central Government to ensure the BJEs participation in meetings and events in the ASEAN and the specialized UN agencies, and The continuing responsibility of the Central Government over external defense.

These provisions of the MOA indicate, among other things, that the parties involved in the case at bar aims to vest in the BJE the status of an associated state or, at any rate, a status closely approximating it. No province, city, or municipality, not even the ARMM, is recognized under our laws as having an associative relationship with the national government. Indeed, the concept implies powers that go beyond anything ever granted by the Constitution to any local or regional government. It also implies the recognition of the associated entity as a state. The Constitution, however, does not contemplate any state in this jurisdiction other than the Philippine State, much less does it provide for a transitory status that aims to prepare any part of Philippine territory for independence.

Even the mere concept animating many of the MOA-ADs provisions, already requires for its validity the amendment of constitutional provisions, specifically the following provisions of Article X:

SECTION 1. The territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided. SECTION 15. There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

The MOA-AD cannot be reconciled with the present Constitution and laws. Not only its specific provisions but the very concept underlying them, namely, the associative relationship envisioned between the The Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Basangmoro Juridical Entity are unconstitutional, for the concept assumes that the associated entity is a state and implies that the same is on its way to independence.