PEACETALK: Why and How the GPH-MILF Peace Process Can Succeed

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by Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/02 April) — The peace process between the GPH-MILF can succeed because:

1. the paramount concerns of both parties are politically acceptable;
2. the other issues are negotiable; in fact many have already been negotiated.

What are the paramount concerns? On the part of the GPH (Government of the Republic of the Philippines), territorial integrity and national sovereignty, i.e., that a peace agreement must preserve national sovereignty over the entire existing territory that is called the Philippines. On the part of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), the Right to Self-Determination (RSD) within a well defined territory while respecting territorial integrity and national sovereignty, i.e., RSD without separating or seceding from the Philippines. These are the over-arching givens in the peace process.

What are some of the major obstacles to these? On the part of the MILF, its claim to have RSD over some “disputed territories” that are beyond the confines of the present ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) territory as well as the public misunderstanding of the terms “sub-state” and “asymmetrical relationships.” On the part of the GPH, its reluctance to accept the term RSD and its insistence on the term “autonomy” and on a reformed ARMM (“3 for 1” concept) as the preferred option as well as its reluctance to amend the Constitution to accommodate the implications of RSD.

Other obstacles have to be mentioned: the general misunderstanding of the public, even of media, that the MILF is demanding secession or independence as the political solution; the lack of a common consensus agenda for peace among the MILF, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and ARMM authorities past and present; the lumping together of armed outlaw groups such as the Abu Sayyaf group and some “private armies” with the MILF; and the lack of action to initiate corrective measures
on these obstacles.

With all the above obstacles, how can the peace talks proceed and succeed? The following are my unsolicited advisories to all parties:

Let me first present my understanding of the Right to Self-Determination. It is an understanding that I have long advocated and it happens to be likewise a philosophical, ethical and legal understanding that is internationally accepted. Let me cite just one reference, namely, the international NGO, “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations” (UNPO) with headquarters at the Hague, the
Netherlands. This organization promotes “human rights, non-violence and self-determination.” UNPO understand self-determination as “the right of a people to determine its own destiny, in particular, the
principle allows a people to choose its own political status and to determine its own form of economic, cultural and social development.”

1. Contrary to those leaders, pundits, and the public that think and say otherwise, RSD does not necessarily mean Secession, Separation, or Independence. At various times I have explained RSD as covering a multitude of levels, from independence to full integration, the basic principle being the right of a people to choose what they wish for themselves. Again I cite UNPO. It states that “the exercise of this right can result in a variety of different outcomes ranging from political independence through to full integration within a state.”

Therefore, I respectfully request the GPH to adopt this fundamental RSD as its own in the peace negotiations, fully aware that the MILF has unequivocally rejected independence as its understanding of RSD.

2. In the light of the above understanding of RSD, may I also respectfully advise the MILF that the term “sub-state” be momentarily dropped as a basic reference. It is a loaded term that is being misunderstood and misinterpreted. What comes to the ear of the public is the word “state” and the qualifying “sub” is ignored, especially when technical terms, such as “asymmetrical relationships,” are used to describe the nature of the “sub-state.”

3. Instead may I suggest to both panels that they agree on the nature of the “baby” that they are midwives of. Only when they have agreed on its nature will they choose a name for the baby. Perhaps the name “sub-state” will continue to be threatening and loaded and perhaps they can agree on an equivalent name. Perhaps “Self-Administered Philippine Bangsa Moro Region or SPBMR”? Such a name is self-explanatory. It clearly specifies how RSD is related to Philippine sovereignty.

4. I also suggest that the MILF revisit its insistence on including the disputed territories that were the major cause of vehement local opposition to the ill-fated MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain). Suffice it to say that predominantly Moro barangays and sitios contiguous to the boundaries of the present ARMM would not require a substantive redrawing of the Mindanao map. But to include non-contiguous territories as well as entire towns or provinces would certainly result to an impasse and breakdown of the peace process.

With due respect to my MILF friends, it seems to me that the present geographical and/or demographic situation of such territories does not place them in the top tier of Bangsamoro aspirations for RSD.

5. May I also respectfully suggest that the situation of the Lumads within the territory under political negotiation be a major consideration. I acknowledge the common original history of the Bangsamoro and the Lumads. But they are, I believe, separate peoples that are distinct and different in cultures, social structures, and traditional religious beliefs. With due respect to their own IP rights recognized by law, the situation of the Lumads should be separately considered in the peace package between and the MILF and the Philippine government.

6. I also respectfully suggest that the two major Bangsamoro revolutionary groups, the MILF and MNLF, agree on a common position that would not contradict each other’s efforts for a negotiated peace.

For the question naturally arises: How does the MNLF effort towards the full implementation of the 1996 agreement correspond to the MILF effort towards RSD in the very same territory? Additionally, the question also arises: Would it necessarily follow that ARMM clans and families, ARMM government officials past and present will not challenge the new power structure resulting from MILF-GPH peace process?

7. Finally, I have suggested that the nature of the “baby” to be born should be agreed upon first before naming it. In view of this, I believe that both panels should seriously consider whether or not the baby’s birth and continuing life are possible, with the necessary guarantees, within existing basic laws or the present Constitution. If yes, there is no problem. If no, a pro-active stance is necessary. The time was “yesterday” for the GPH panel to inform, educate, and persuade the three branches of government to prepare the necessary surgical amendments so that RSD for the Bangsa Moro with its political, economic, and cultural implications would be realized and guaranteed.

With these unsolicited advisories respectfully submitted to all parties, I believe that the peace talks can proceed and succeed.

Lasting peace can be achieved without sacrificing either RSD or national sovereignty and territorial integrity. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo of Cotabato was President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines during the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000 and the Arroyo administration’s Buliok war in 2003)

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