GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 26 January) – Yesterday, Friday, was the end of the 35th exploratory talk of the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. At 7 o’clock that evening, while I was about to start the continuation of my last COMMENT, I was curious of what could have happened in the negotiation of the annexes to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, I checked three websites – Luwaran, MindaNews, and OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process). There was no report on the annexes.
There was, however, on the OPAPP website a report under “Latest News”: Majority of Filipinos hopeful that GPH-MILF peace pact will be signed within P-Noy’s term – SWS. About two hours later – after taking a timeout for supper and to watch the tense Roger Federer – Andy Murray tennis semifinals at the Australian Open – I checked again. The same item was still the “Latest News”!!!
Two New Items
However, in the list of reports in the right column, two items were already on top of “Majority Filipinos hopeful…” – Joint Statement of GPH-MILF on the 35th Formal Exploratory Talks, posted at 20:17 or 8:17 p.m. and The Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) and its Terms of Reference, posted at 20:41or 8:41 p.m. “Majority Filipinos hopeful …” was posted at 15:10 or 3:10 p.m.
The “8:41 p.m.” report was not about the “Annexes”, the principal agenda of the 35th ET. Yet, it was the “saving grace” of the talks. The signing of the TPMT Terms of Reference was considered “a milestone” for the “successfully ended” 35th ET. Without that there would have been no “milestone” achievement for the Parties to show.
This was the lead element of the 8:17 p.m. report followed by the extension of the tour of duty for another year of the International Monitoring Team. This item, “The Joint Statement”, had only this to report about the negotiations on the annexes: “Both Parties expressed satisfaction on the continuing progress of the discussions on the Annexes to the FAB. They agreed to meet again in February and are confident that the Annexes will be completed and signed at the soonest possible time.”
There was no Joint Statement to close the 34th ET because of the “technical impasse”. Seriously speaking, the 35th Joint Statement only hinted the impasse had been resolved but did not clearly indicate how and neither was it clear as to when the negotiations will end. It’s like an Ilonggo guide who when asked, “Malayo pa kita?” (How far are we from our destination?), replies: “Malapit na. Dira lang sa unahan.” (We are near. It’s just ahead.) And when asked again hours later, he would give the same answer.
In her Opening Statement, GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer says peace with the MILF will materialize soon but she foresees the difficulties ahead:
“In this round of talks we aim to settle the few remaining issues across the four annexes that together with the Framework Agreement will comprise the Comprehensive Agreement.
“These issues pertain to jurisdiction over natural resources; transportation and communication; the extent of territorial waters; taxing powers; timetables for decommissioning and demilitarization; policing structures; the transition authority, among others.
“Expect that we will get worked up in the minutest details. Expect that we will once again tangle with words and ruffle emotions.”
The negotiations having overshot the December 2012 timeline, Ferrer could only promise Government’s best efforts with an open time frame while seeing hope ahead. That the Joint Statement reflects.
In his Opening Statement MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal sees the negotiation on the annexes as being mired in the inability of the Parties and their Technical Working Groups to tackle the issues on the “first things first” basis and in the mandates, negotiation strategies, options and priorities of the Parties – natural features and tendencies in any negotiation.
Of the consequences, he reminds:
First, the viability of Bangsamoro: “…our task … is to address the Moro Question which is mainly to entrench Moro governance through power-sharing and wealth-sharing within the larger Philippine state. If in the end …, the two parties fail to put in place a viable Bangsamoro political entity, because the government … (has) succeeded to prevail upon the MILF (that) either by acquiescence or incapacitation failed to argue the case of the Bangsamoro people effectively, the consequence is fatal: the conflict would continue and the MILF would not only become irrelevant but also a hated organization.”
His concern: “Do we want this bad situation to happen? I don’t think this is good for the peace-making efforts in Mindanao.”
Second: Maximum offer: “It is on this premise that I ask my counterpart in government to maximize their offer to the Bangsamoro people through this peace process. Any diluted offer is only slowing down the process. It is not helping us in any way. I also ask the TWGs of the two parties to engage in real problem-solving exercise: identify the still unresolved issues and find solutions, one by one, without losing sight of one basic principle in negotiation that one gains some and loses some.”
Third: The least that should be done: “Today, time is of great essence. Time is ticking away very fast. Before we realize it, 2013 will say ‘good bye’ and 2014 comes rushing in. Therefore, the challenge before us now is to come up with results. If we cannot finish all the Annexes, at least we can settle at least two of the Annexes. I am looking at Power-sharing and Modalities and Arrangement Annexes as possible areas of breakthrough.”
Fourth: The warning: “Any failure is not good for all of us especially to the party that appears unreasonable or recalcitrant. The eyes of the public and the international community are staring at us intently. Surely, they do not want us to fail in this endeavour.”
MILF must have been frustrated to see its hope for a “breakthrough” with at least two of the four annexes completed. Despite this and Iqbal’s concerns, the Joint Statement says: “Both Parties expressed satisfaction on the continuing progress of the discussions on the Annexes to the FAB.”
Back to “Latest News”
Even if “Majority of Filipinos hopeful …” is not “yellow journalism”, it exhibits to a high degree unprofessional and unethical reporting. The survey was done in August 2012 and it had already been published. How could it be “latest news”? Two really late news reports were posted five hours after it.
Its lead paragraph says SWS reported the survey “on Thursday” (January 24). But its second paragraph says the SWS President discussed the survey results “in June 2011 during a forum held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City”.
It said that the August 2012 survey had a 64 percent positive responses, lower than the 83 percent in the June 2011 survey on the same subject “when the President met (MILF chair) Murad in Japan” – an outright inconsistency as the meeting took place in August. The OPAPP website editors must be taking their readers for being naïve and uninformed.
The immediate impression is that the report was intended to project the image of the President – not only as a “peace maker” but as a model leader. The second part of the report which has nothing to do with its title cited another SWS survey showing the “very good” net satisfactory rating of the President in local governance and high government officials praising the President as a leader by example.
Obviously, this shows how OPAPP is manipulating its news.
But, curiously, why was a five-month old report rehashed and posted as “Latest News” on the day that the latest news about the negotiation on the annexes was expected from Kuala Lumpur? The posting could not just be by accident, inadvertence or oversight.
As it turned out, the real latest news reports from Kuala Lumpur, despite the “eternal hope” expressed, were disappointing – ego-busting, not ego-boosting for the President and his government. In anticipation, “Majority of Filipinos hopeful …” was to project that despite the setback, a final or comprehensive peace agreement will be signed within the term of President Aquino because “majority of Filipinos are hopeful”.
We hope more reports on the 35th ET could be published so we would know more about the prospects of Bangsamoro. As it is now, the Parties will meet again in February with the same “eternal” resolve: “To establish a Bangsamoro government that will enjoy the blessings of meaningful political and fiscal autonomy.” Even if they will be able to finish the negotiation, the roadmap will be two months behind. This may just be the first of the more delays that could be expected.
What Kind of Bangsamoro?
From Iqbal’s statements, it could be discerned that while MILF is intent in addressing the Moro Question, the entrenchment of a viable Bangsamoro political entity, the real concern of Government is just to have a Bangsamoro installed as a legacy of President Aquino III. To achieve this, Government is trying “to prevail upon the MILF, either by acquiescence or incapacitation”, to make it fail “to argue the case of the Bangsamoro effectively” so as a consequence MILF will just accept what Government offers.
Evidently, this is what is happening in the negotiation of the annexes. Expect the same to happen in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the enactment of the draft into a law in the Congress and during the transition period under the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. Will there be a viable Bangsamoro political entity when President Aquino steps down on June 30, 2016?
If Iqbal’s discernment comes out true, any kind of Bangsamoro political entity will suit President Aquino III as his legacy. Let the MILF and the Moro people try their luck for viability with the next president. (Patricio P. Diaz / MindaNews)