GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 26 Sept) – Of the four Philippine presidents after Ferdinand E. Marcos and before Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, we consider Fidel V. Ramos as outstandingly good. Hence, we are surprised and disappointed that he has viewed the Zamboanga City “invasion” by the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) rebels as “a mess” of the Aquino government blaming it on Aquino. That amounted to mental dishonesty.
MNLF calls its armed confrontation with the government in Zamboanga City as “Filipino-Moro War” and blames its “sudden eruption” to the “Aquino Government” for having “no respect for the September 2, 1996 GRP-OIC-MNLF Jakarta Peace Agreements” (MNLF Website Editorial, 12 September 2013). This is as mentally dishonest, if not malicious, as Ramos’ view.
The Ramos press statement and the MNLF accusation against Aquino are linked through the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement – a Ramos baby, a “win-win” solution to the Mindanao Problem that turning out to be a “loss-loss” Ramos and MNLF, particularly Chairman Nur Misuari, evidently could not accept.
Ramos said that the Zamboanga City crisis is the making of the Aquino government and President Aquino should first clean up his “own mess”. This was carried by the Manila media on September 16, 17 and 18.
As reported in ABS-CBN News and ANC (September 17, 2003), Ramos, while clarifying that the peace agreement he signed with MNLF was not implemented properly by his successors, he pinned on Aquino alone the blame for the “mess”.
“Why don’t you clean up your own mess first because you did it in the first place after we turned it over to you in a nice silver platter,” said Ramos then telling Aquino. “Put your team in order. After that, maybe you can succeed in cleaning up the mess.”
He denied insinuations in the media that the agreement went wrong under him. “Hindi totoo na may nasasabi ng media, kayo, sa newspaper na nasira yung peace agreement nung Ramos administration nung panahon ni Ramos. Hindi po. Nasa implementation yan eh. Kahit na anong ganda ng kasunduan, peace agreement, eh kung mali mali ang implementation afterwards eh di sira rin yung kapayapaan na iyun.” (That is not true. No matter how good is the peace agreement, if wrongly implemented, peace will be ruined.)
The MNLF Website, in its editorial of September 12, 2013, detailed the causes of the Zamboanga City conflict. This portion of the editorial is quoted in full; we broke it down to significantly notable points and numbered them for easy reference.
(1) The Filipino-Moro war raging now in Zamboanga City between the colonial Philippine occupation soldiers and the Bangsamoro freedom fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could not have occurred if the present Aquino government respected only the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements.
(2) Showing total disrespect to the 1996 Peace Agreement forged during the Ramos administration, President Benigno S. Aquino III disregarded the advise of former President Fidel V. Ramos to engage in peace dialogue Chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) regarding the complete implementation of the peace accord.
(3) He also altogether sidelined the 58-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in conspiring with Malaysia to implement per se the 2013 framework agreement on Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
(4) The Aquino administration want[s] people to believe that the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is a “failed experiment” that has to be replaced by a new concept autonomy embodying the future “Bangsamoro”.
(5) Consciously or unconsciously, President Aquino might have forgotten the fact that the original ARMM was the creation of his mother’s government and that it was completely rejected by both the MNLF and the OIC.
(6) Thus, once the MNLF leadership was informed by the OIC of the tactical move of the Aquino regime to terminate the peace process with the Moro National Liberation Front, the MNLF Chairman in consultation with the various MNLF leaders decided to prepare a revolutionary government constitution towards the establishment of the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik (UFSBR) during last week of July, 2013.
Whose Mess Is It?
Parodying the first two lines, “Whose woods these are I think I know. /His house is in the village though”, of Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods to read, “Whose mess it is I think I know. /He blames it on another though”, – we see Ramos cavalierly disowning the mess he created in 1996. Is 17 years ago too long to remember?
What is the mess? Ramos signed the 1996 FPA that he could not implement for the lack of time. Before he did that on September 2, 1996, he made overtures with MILF to negotiate peace separately over the same Mindanao Problem – involving the same area and people – that was already being hailed as having been finally solved with MNLF in the FPA soon to be signed. On January 7, 1997, they had their initial meeting.
Why did he do that? He knew the GRP-MNLF FPA would not finally solve the Moro Problem. Excluded from the negotiation, MILF had a wait-and-see stance then rejected the FPA. As Nur Misuari and MNLF dominated Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, MILF with Salamat Hashim as its chairman, did the same over Maguindanao, Lanao Sur and the other Cotabato and Lanao provinces. He was mentally honest by that; Misuari was too self-satisfied and consumed in euphoria to object.
Did he not know? He must have known the MNLF-MILF irreconcilability – how Misuari and Salamat mutually disagreed in principle and ideology. He must have known that by negotiating peace with MILF he was land-mining the peace with MNLF. He might have in mind a “win-win” way to bridge the MNLF-MILF chasm and reconcile their deep-seated differences; but, he knew he would not be around to see the negotiation through.
What is the truth? President Ramos’s term ended on June 30, 1998. At that time, the technical committees were still discussing the General Framework of Intent, the first major GRP-MILF agreement which was signed under President Estrada on August 27, 1998. In truth, President Aquino III, who assumed the negotiation from President Arroyo is now finishing what Ramos started 17 years ago.
Should Ramos, instead of rebuking Aquino and his government, not have appreciated the efforts of Aquino and his peace team to salvage a “win-win” from a “loss-loss” – the sure end of the “Ramos mess I know”?
Mess in Silver Platter
When Ramos said in media, unmistakably addressing Aquino, “Why don’t you clean up your own mess first because you did it in the first place after we turned it over to you in a nice silver platter,” he was referring to the GRP-MNLF 1996 FPA as the “it” in “a nice silver platter” which Aquino has allegedly made “a mess” of – hence, now the “mess in a nice silver platter”.
Beautiful rebuke! Yet, it echoes the question: How did Ramos make a mess of the peace he signed with Misuari?
First, as already mentioned, he started negotiating a separate peace with MILF before he could fully implement the peace he had signed with MNLF. This was the “land mine” in the MNLF peace for his successors to defuse – all handed in “a nice silver platter”.
Second, as agreed, the Organic Act R.A. 6734 had to be amended by the Congress and ratified as provided in the FPA. He failed to have this done within the agreed timeframe. This was business for his successors not just to finish but, in fact, to start – to finish the legislative process then start the implementation.
Misuari sealed and signed the GRP-MNLF 1996 FPA with full faith in Ramos – not in Philippine Government. He believed Ramos would fully implement that phase of the agreement falling within his remaining term and bind his successors to do what must be done during their terms. Obviously, Ramos’ departure made Misuari feel insecure.
Third, on serious reflection, Executive Order 371 issued on October 2, 1996, was the proverbial “wrong foot forward” in the implementation of peace with MNLF. Conceived as a “win-win”, it was born a “loss-loss”.
Ramos must reflect on this EO, as part of the agreement, in the light of the past 17 years to see the truth of his recent statement, “No matter how good is the peace agreement, if wrongly implemented, peace will be ruined”. How did it ruin the peace agreement so “good” that it earned for him and Misuari the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in June 1998?
1. The EO created the 14 provinces and nine cities within the area of autonomy originally provided in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement into the SZOPAD (Special Zone of Peace and Development with SPCPD (Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development) as its provisional government and CA (Consultative Council) as its legislative body. As the extension of the Office of the President, the SPCPD and CA derived their mandates and powers from the President and were under his control.
2. The principal mandate of the SPCPD and the CA, as the EO provided, was the optimum economic development of the SZOPAD under the realm of peace. Obviously, the aim was to showcase good government under MNLF in order to prevail upon the non-ARMM provinces (10) and cities (9) to join the ARMM three years later.
3. But as an economic development master plan, EO 371 was over-ambitious. It proved impracticable due to evident lack of funds, the failure of Misuari to get the envisioned cooperation of the provincial governors and city mayors, and, perhaps, Misuari’s inexperience as a political leader. In terms of mandate, the Local Government Code and EO 429 of President Corazon C. Aquino which realigned Regions IX and XII after the establishment of the ARMM were not fully in accord with EO 371.
4. In the August 2001 plebiscite, only Basilan and Marawi City joined the ARMM. With both having a population of more than 90 percent Muslim, it was a wonder that they opted out of the ARMM in the 1989. Was their joining more of mea culpa?
The implementation of EO 371 must have disillusioned Misuari and MNLF – a big blow to peace as shown in events after 2001, especially following the political debacle of MNLF in 2005. Had EO 371 reaped success as envisioned, could the Zamboanga City tragedy have happened?
Can the Zamboanga City “crisis”, now in its 17th day, be rightfully called “Aquino’s mess” when it was Ramos who, in truth, handed “the mess in a silver platter” to his successors by negotiating peace with MILF and mishandling the implementation of transitory Phase I of the FPA through EO 371?
Like Ramos, MNLF fully blames on the Aquino government “the Filipino-Moro war” in Zamboanga City principally for not respecting “the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements” [ See: (1) MNLF Website Editorial, above]. What are the manifestations of the “disrespect”?
First, Aquino “disregarded” Ramos’ advice to dialogue with Misuari for the “complete” implementation of the FPA [(2)], an affirmation of MNLF’s high regard for Ramos.
Second, Aquino “sidelined” the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) when he signed the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) to supplant the 1996 FPA [(3)].
Third, Aquino called the ARMM as “a failed experiment” to justify its replacement with the “Bangsamoro” [(4)].
The editorial states that OIC and MNLF recognize the ARMM under R.A. 9054 based on the 1996 FPA as the Bangsamoro autonomy, not the original ARMM under R.A. 6734 [(5)]; and, that Misuari decided to establish the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republic when informed by OIC that Aquino was terminating the GRP-OIC-MNLF tripartite review of the full implementation of the 1996 FPA [(6)].
The editorial brings out some key questions:
1. The issue of disrespect for the 1996 FPA must be fully understood. Who did? How?
2. The FAB is an end-result of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation that Ramos initiated and left to his successors to finish. Why vilify Aquino for its being in conflict with FPA?
3. The Act amending RA 6734, as agreed in FPA I.2.a., should have been submitted to a plebiscite before October 2, 1998. When finally passed in February, 2001, MNLF virtually rejected it for not fully implementing FPA? How True? Who’s to blame?
4. In response to the MNLF complaints, the GRP-OIC-MNLF tripartite review of the full implementation of FPA started in 2007. Set to be finished within the term of President Arroyo. It is still ongoing. Aquino is being accused of terminating it. How true?
5. The 1996 FPA was touted as a very good agreement. After 17 years, the claimed “gains” are shrouded in “mess”. If it was that good, how could it have gone messy?
Ramos’ “win-win” babies – the GRP-MNLF peace agreement immediately followed by the GRP-MILF peace negotiation – show symptoms of “loss-loss”.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)