President Joseph Estrada

It is a fundamental principle in international law that states must mutually not intervene in each others’ internal or domestic affairs.  Today, former President Joseph Estrada decried the role of Malaysia in the Philippine government’s negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The negotiations led to the signing of a Framework Agreement last October 15, 2012; the agreement is hoped to lead to lasting peace in Mindanao. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak witnessed the signing in Malakanyang Palace.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

Estrada criticized the Philippine government obliquely for allowing a foreign government to intervene in the country’s “internal problems.”   Malaysia hosted the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur and provided troops for the International Monitoring Team established to enforce the ceasefire between the belligerents.  The Malaysian-led IMT is composed of contingents from the governments of Malaysia, Brunei, Japan, Norway, and the European Union who since 2004 has been tasked to monitor the implementation of the security, civilian protection, humanitarian, rehabilitation, socio-economic, and development aspects of the GPH-MILF peace process.

Now that we have laid down the facts, let us deconstruct foreign intervention.  While sovereignty is a key concept in international law, there is much debate among international relations theorists and international law experts.  It is a key property of states in the international system.  Without sovereignty, an entity is not a state and will not be recognized as such by all other full-fledged states.

What Estrada has in mind is a hermetically-sealed state (ala North Korea?) that has full control over its domestic affairs.  This is a narrow-minded idea.  In truth, states are not fully sovereign since they are inter-dependent.  States will find it necessary to enter into agreements or sign treaties with other states for mutual benefit.  Then Senator Joseph Estrada voted not to renew the Military Bases Agreement with the United States in 1991; together with his Senate colleagues’ votes, the US military had to close down its bases in Subic and Clark.  Then President Joseph Estrada approved the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), an executive agreement that governed the presence of American troops in the Philippines while in military exercises (called Balikatan) with Filipino soldiers.  VFA was not a treaty and did not require Senate ratification.

American and Filipino soldiers in a military exercise

Surely, the presence of foreign soldiers on one’s soil may be construed as foreign intervention; or worse, a foreign invasion?  It is not for the obvious reason that this presence, this ‘intervention’ is allowed, or is invited by the host country.

Malaysia did not simply barge in and insinuated itself in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF.  Its participation was sought after by the negotiating parties.  The history of internal conflict resolution shows the important role third parties like Malaysia play as honest brokers.  Peace in Mindanao is also to its national interest since conflict always has negative externalities on neighboring areas.  Earlier, Indonesia under President Suharto played the same role in the negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).   Then Vice President Joseph Estrada did not raise a peep about Indonesia’s participation.

President Suharto of Indonesia

On another front, the negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) was always done in European locations (Brussels, The Hague, and Oslo) but Estrada never raised the bogey of foreign intervention before.

So the question is why would Estrada train his guns on Malaysia’s role in the MILF-Philippine government talks?  I do not have a full answer but I may have the pieces of the puzzle.  There is no love lost between Estrada and the MILF.  When Estrada’s political star was fading due to corruption, he tried to divert attention by launching full-scale attacks on MILF camps and capturing them.  Salt was rubbed on open wounds when he allowed himself to be photographed while dining on roasted pork with Philippine army soldiers within the bombed ruins of a mosque.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

However, there may be more to this story.  It is known that Estrada is a very good friend of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  While he was president, he irritated Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad for filing trumped-up charges and jailing Anwar.  Strictly speaking, the Anwar affair can be considered an internal Malaysian question.  Estrada justified his support for Anwar as a question of international human rights protection.  He could be however accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Malaysia by giving Anwar a platform to criticize the Malaysian government. In August 2011, Anwar came to the Philippines to speak in a forum organized by Estrada.  In that forum, Anwar warned Kuala Lumpur against tampering with elections and said the “Arab Spring” proved that popular clamor for democracy could not be suppressed.

At the end of the day, sovereignty and non-interference cannot be invoked at one’s convenience.

  1. bongmendoza says:

    Reblogged this on bong mendoza's blog.

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