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Philippines high court rejects autonomy accord with Muslim rebel group

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] on Tuesday rejected [decision text] as unconstitutional a proposed peace agreement between the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) [group website; BBC backgrounder]. The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) [text] between the MILF and the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website] would have given the minority Muslim faction expanded autonomy by creating the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) in the Mindanao region of the Philippine islands. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that Arroyo had exceeded her powers in negotiating the agreement. According to the court's decision,

[t]he 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 [Philippines government] and the BJE, are unconstitutional, for the concept presupposes that the associated entity is a state and implies that the same is on its way to independence.
The government has said it will not appeal [Manila Times report] the decision. On Wednesday, the chairman of the Philippine Senate's National Defense and Security Committee called on Arroyo to resume peace talks [Daily Inquirer report] with the MILF. AP has more.

The government of the Philippines [JURIST news archive] has been engaged in a long-standing conflict with Muslim rebels in the country's southern provinces. The high court enjoined the signing of the proposed agreement in August after Christian politicians in Mindanao claimed it violated the constitution [JURIST reports]. The government first suggested [JURIST report] that it might agree to increased autonomy for the region in 2005. In August, the Philippine House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] to create a new national commission meant to guarantee the rights of Muslim citizens. The bill creates a National Commission on Muslim Filipinos [press release] to address complaints of rights violations brought by Muslim citizens, oversee the development and distribution of lands traditionally held by Muslim Filipinos and advise the president on issues concerning the country's Muslim population.

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