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Who gets to represent Filipino Muslims in the OIC?

This blog entry was originally posted in theobservers.net on 22 February 2014.

Now that the talks on the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity have finally gained traction, it seems interesting to once again revisit the Philippine bid to be an observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The OIC, formerly called the Organization of Islamic Conference, is one of the most influential regional groups in the world and is the second largest international organization after the United Nations. Composed of 57 member states from various parts of the world, it aims to be “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony.”

The Philippines formally applied for “observer” status in 2008. However, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) vehemently opposes this, since it believes that giving Manila a seat in the OIC would be irrelevant because the MNLF, representing the Bangsamoro people, is already an observer organization (committee) since 1977.

The MNLF is blocking Manila’s application through Pakistan’s veto power. According to a 2010 report by the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office for Asia and Pacific Affairs (Aspac), under the stewardship of then Assistant Secretary Cristina Ortega, who is now Philippine ambassador to France and Monaco, Islamabad is invoking Articles 3, section 2; and Article 7 of the OIC Charter against Manila’s bid for observer status.

Article 3, Section 2 of the Charter states that, “Any State, member of the United Nations, having Muslim majority and abiding by the Charter, which submits an application for membership may join the Organization if approved by consensus only by the Council of Foreign Ministers on the basis of the agreed criteria adopted by the Council of Foreign Ministers.”

Article 7, on the other hand, provides that, “The Islamic Summit shall deliberate, take policy decisions and provide guidance on all issues pertaining to the realization of the objectives as provided for in the Charter and consider other issues of concern to the Member States and the Ummah.” One of the most important issues in the OIC is the resolution of the Muslim conflict in Mindanao which was not handled very well by the government of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This provision was also used to justify the opposition against Manila’s application being done by Pakistan on behalf of the MNLF. Reportedly, the MNLF and the Pakistani Government had a mutual agreement regarding this matter, in which both parties will benefit from it.

In 2009, however, the Philippine candidacy gained full support from such members as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, in a resolution adopted after its 40th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers from December 9 to 13, 2013 in Guinea, the OIC stated that the MNLF Peace Deal Integration should be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law. Furthermore, the said resolution called on both the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to do the following:

First, narrow the gap between the positions of the leaderships of the MNLF and the MILF to continue their joint coordination and work to achieve peace and development for the people of Bangsamoro in the framework of Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) established between the two fronts at the Islamic Conference in Djibouti and calls for holding another meeting to prepare guiding principles for its work.

Second, find common grounds between the Parties to the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the 1996 Agreement on the implementation of the 1976 Peace Agreement.

And, third, develop a mechanism to ensure that the gains of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement on the implementation of the 1976 Peace Agreement are preserved and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its Annexes are fully implemented with the end goal of integrating the gains achieved in these peace agreements in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The question is: Will the MNLF seek to maintain its position as the sole representative of Filipino Muslims in the OIC, or will it wield its position as an observer organization to the new Bangsamoro political entity?

Will the Bangsamoro government itself bid for membership in the OIC? If so, what would be the implications on Philippine sovereignty?  Or, conversely, will the Bangsamoro allow itself to be represented in the OIC by the central government of the Philippines? After all, based on the current development of the Bangsamoro talks, it appears that, while the proposed Bangsamoro political entity will be granted far-reaching autonomy, foreign policy will still be under the domain of the central government in Manila.

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