DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 January) — I’m glad to know that the so-called MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) Tripartite Review is going to be resumed and a meeting is set sometime next month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The review is actually an effort to revisit the 1996 peace agreement that was signed between the Philippine government, then under President Ramos and the MNLF, represented by Chairman Nur “Maas” Misuari. (“Maas” is a name or title of one who is respected or exalted.) It is “tripartite” because the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), composed of Islamic countries all over the world is a participant –mediator.
Why the “review”? Because the MNLF until now still has some misgivings about the actual implementation of the final peace agreement (FPA). They complain that what was agreed upon, signed and sealed was not all implemented by the government over the years. Government, on the other hand, believed that yes, the agreement had been substantially implemented and what was still work in progress were some items on the socio economic provisions. Meaning, there was consensus that more had yet to be done to improve the lives of our Muslim brothers and sisters – which by the way is the bottom line objective of the FPA.
There are contentious views on this matter. MNLF says government has not given enough on helping their people. Government says, more than enough was given but it did not filter down below to the people because the funds were spent somewhere else. MNLF says real autonomy as provided by the FPA has not taken place. Government says they were given the chance to do governance but they squandered that chance and “blew it”.
That was the standoff situation when I became presidential adviser for the peace process in 2005. At that time, Chairman Nur was also in jail at the Sta Rosa, Laguna detention center facing charges for allegedly leading another failed uprising in Sulu earlier. (I recall I was tasked in 2002 to secretly fly, in the middle of the night to Malaysia on board a noisy but huge C130, to take and bring back home Chairman Nur from the Malaysian authorities. That handover episode is another story altogether and I’ll relate it at another time.)
Anyway, I initiated the start of a tripartite review despite some reservations in government that to do so will be “re-opening negotiations” with the MNLF. I did so believing that indeed there were some provisions that had to be worked on. And that clearly, lives of Muslims especially in Mindanao had not improved as envisioned by the FPA. President Arroyo fully backed the plan.
Another factor in the equation was the negotiation that was also ongoing between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at that time. I had always asked: “How can we credibly negotiate and enter into ANOTHER agreement with another rebel group if the 1996 agreement is still found wanting?” Indeed!
Thus, after some efforts, the plan went full steam ahead. The OIC sent Ambassador Al Masry from Egypt to assist in the efforts. My undersecretary at OPAPP, Lawyer Nabil Tan who was in the government panel early on and an active player and insider when the MNLF negotiations were held competently headed our team. That set the ball rolling.
But there was another complication. The MNLF leadership was split. Due to some differences with Chairman Nur and the fact that he was physically constrained for being under detention, the 15-man executive council, headed by MNLF Secretary General Mus Sema was organized. It was composed of top MNLF leaders who felt that with Nur immobilized (and with some misgivings about Nur’s leadership style) the MNLF had to move on. Nur of course resented this.
This brings me now to my point: the tripartite review to be able to move forward must also became an opportunity – or a venue — for the MNLF to patch things up internally. Regretfully, we are still at this stage at this point in time.
That’s the reason why I am glad to know that a meeting is set next month as a continuation of efforts to resolve things.
But if you will please allow me, here are some unsolicited advices to all concerned: One: The MNLF representatives to the Jeddah meeting must include all the so-called factions. Two: the meeting in Jeddah should not only be about the “review” of the FPA. Most importantly, a session must be held with the OIC presiding to help “patch up” things to resolve with FINALITY the MNLF leadership issue. Three: Nur must now soften up and embrace his comrades whom he viewed with disdain because of what happened in the past; Four: Nur must agree to some changes or improvements in the leadership arrangements; Five: If all of the above take place, then all the key MNLF leaders will have to re-affirm Nur’s lead role as “chair”.
Final word: If the scenario above does not happen, then we are all wasting our time and money! (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW. You may email him at email@example.com)