GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 April) — More than offering MILF roses with the thorns, Government wants MILF to take the “Reformed ARMM” – that it has long declared a “No-No”. In a special and figurative sense, Government has endeavored to persuade MILF leaders to take what to them is “haram” [Romanized “haraam”] since after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the MOA-AD.
The signing of a comprehensive agreement has been elusive because of misjudgment and the lack of candidness of Government. MILF says bluntly and repeatedly, “This is what will solve the Moro problem”; Government says, “Let’s consider that”. Likened to a dog, because it does not like its MILF collar, it keeps on offering different collars of different colors. But MILF will not change the original collar and color.
1997 to August 2008
In1997, Government under President Fidel V. Ramos and MILF under Chairman Salamat Hashim agreed on “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem” as the core or main talking point of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation. The talks were held at Dawa’h Center in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao or at some other times in Cotabato City and Cagayan de Oro City without any foreign intervention of any kind.
President Joseph E. Estrada carried on the talks until he launched the all-out war in 2000 to knock out the peace process. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, three months after taking over the presidency on January 2001, revived the peace process. MILF readily agreed to her proposal to invite the Malaysian Government as talk facilitator. Malaysia hosted the talks in Kuala Lumpur or in some of its other cities.
GRP and MILF signed the June 22, 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace defining the scope of “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem” and breaking it into the security, economic and ancestral domain aspects. Agreements on the first two aspects were signed in 2001 and 2002.
GRP and MILF continued to negotiate the heart of the peace process, “the Ancestral Domain Aspect” based on one framework –MILF proposing the solutions; Government agreeing, modifying, or counter-proposing. The talks bogged down a number of times but with the patient and skillful facilitation of Malaysia, the Parties initialed on July 27, 2008 the MOA-AD, the framework of the Comprehensive Compact or the final agreement.
The MOA-AD testifies to the fact that when the Parties truly understand the problem and they sincerely want to solve the problem, they can arrive at an agreement. Why has the final agreement eluded the Parties after MOA-AD?
August 2008 to 2012
The Supreme Court restrained Government from signing the MOA-AD on August 5 and in the following October 14 declared it unconstitutional. Obviously, the Agreement was deemed unconstitutional as “worded” but not as to its “essence” and “intention”. The Court ruled it as “necessary to carry out” the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace so it can be “renegotiated or another one [either like it or unlike it] drawn up.” Together with the emphasis on the President’s role in negotiating peace, this is a vital part of the Decision.
The Arroyo Government was so chastised that more than a month before MOA-AD was struck down as unconstitutional, President Arroyo dissolved the GRP peace panel, dismissed the presidential peace officials and declared a new peace policy – to conduct public consultations before negotiating and to sign only an agreement acceptable to all. The Moro problem has become the problem of the non-Moro majority.
On July 29, 2009, GRP and MILF renewed contact. On December 9, they agreed on an outline for drafting their proposed peace agreements —“reframing” the MOA-AD as suggested in the Supreme Court Decision. GRP, however, disregarded the outline and instead opted for the enhancement of ARMM. Yet, on June 3, 2010, it signed with MILF the “Declaration for Continuity of Negotiation between GRP and MILF” obviously to guide the incoming government in continuing the negotiation as agreed on July 29, 2009.
The Aquino Government ignored the June 3 Declaration and spent its first 14 months formulating its peace proposal – much of the time in asking MILF to clarify its revised draft proposal. The Aquino Peace Team, evidently haunted by the ghost of MOA-AD, declared it did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Arroyo Government but adopted Arroyo’s policy of public consultation and having an agreement acceptable to all.
By August 2011, the Aquino III Government had its peace plan – to sign and implement an agreement within its term ending on June 30, 2016 with the negotiation centered on its “3 for 1 Proposal” and the Reformed ARMM as an alternative to MILF’s asymmetrical state-sub-state political settlement option. The focus of the negotiation changed from “How to Solve the Bangsamoro Problems” to the “Welfare of Our People”.
July 29 Replicated
The Aquino III Government has adopted and improved Arroyo’s peace policy and also replicated her government’s flip-flopping on the GRP-MILF Joint Statement of July 29, 2009. As already said, the Parties had agreed to reframe the MOA-AD as the framework of a comprehensive compact. A GRP peace committee official drew up the outline but GRP sidelined it – coming up instead with the Enhanced ARMM.
Evidently to bridge the “heaven and earth” gap between the Draft Peace Agreement of 2011 of MILF and Government’s “3 for 1 Formula”, the Parties formulated the 11-point basic issues and concerns during their 23rd exploratory talks. In her December 6, 2011 report from Kuala Lumpur, MindaNews Editor Carolyn O. Arguillas mentioned “a new peace formula emerging in GPH-MILF talks” with “details … still being worked out”.
Iqbal referred to this in his January 9, 2012 opening statement at the 24th exploratory talks stating that one point was “autonomy as the form of self-governance that we intend to put in place in the future Moro state or substate”. He referred to this again in his February 13, 2012 opening statement at the 25th exploratory talks as “the 11-point formulation” feeling disappointed that “something very important has seemingly been forgotten”. He must have spoken too early; right then the Parties readied the agreement for signing.
In his speech at the PPSA Forum (Philippine Political Science Association) in Cagayan de Oro City last April 13 Iqbal, however, revealed that when the agreement was about to be signed during their 26th meeting last March 19-21, his panel noted in Government’s copy annotations that “destroyed the letter and spirit of the document”. Considering this “as a reversal of position by government in bad faith”, they did not sign the document.
In the Aftermath
How has the signing fiasco affected the peace process? The Parties’ joint statement for the 26th exploratory talks shows their determination to resolve the substantive issues; on April 24-26 they will hold their 27th exploratory talks. However, there are grounds for concerns. owever,
Media reports showed the lack of substantial accomplishments in the 26th exploratory talks. In fact, unlike in the past, national media did not seem to bother.
- In contrast to apparent effusive optimism after the 24th and 25th exploratory talks, OPAPP website (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) only reported the “guarded optimism” of the chief government negotiator.
- Luwaran.com, website of MILF Central Committee on Information, (March 21) reported the grant of observer status to the OIC Secretary General on the second day of the talks as making that day “more productive than the first day”.
- MindaNews (March 22) said “no significant agreement was reached on the substantive issues of power and wealth sharing…”. It appeared from the report that the grant of observer status to the OIC Secretary General was the only significant event of the 26th exploratory talks.
Behind the cover of cordiality in their joint statement, the chief negotiators showed in their opening statements that the gap between their positions is still “heaven and earth”. Leonen warns of an impending stalemate; Iqbal foresees no signing of a comprehensive compact soon and fears none at all during the Aquino III administration.
Peace Advocates Concerned
Surveys show the people’s impatience for Government and MILF to sign an agreement that will solve the Mindanao problem. Will that pressure the Parties to do as the people are bidding them to? For the sake of the people, Government and MILF say they want to end the Problem soon. Good to hear! But frustrating it is that one Party just argues for the other – instead of their joining hands — to lift the first timber to bridge heaven to earth.
Peace advocates and their organizations, during the period between the 26th and 27th exploratory talks – as well as earlier — have invited Government and MILF to forums to exchange ideas on their positions or submitted to them proposals to soften and reconcile their positions; in sum, to bridge heaven to earth. How they have reacted or will react to the peace advocates’ concerns may be seen during their 27th exploratory talks.
Judge Soliman M. Santos, Jr., who has long-time been involved in the Mindanao peace process, has persistently published papers “in aid of negotiation” [his own term] to discuss the possibilities and feasibilities of amending the 1987 Constitution to accommodate the MILF demands. Taking note of Government’s claim that most of the MILF proposals are within its “3 for 1 Formula”, he poses questions on crucial points of the “Formula” for Government and MILF to ponder.
Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, DD, believes that “the paramount concerns of both parties [territorial integrity and national sovereignty for Government and right to self-determination for MILF] are acceptable” to both of them. There are obstacles, which he identifies and discusses, but “these are negotiable”. Meaning: If the Parties as well as all the others concerned unlock their prejudices, the peace process will succeed. [“Why and How the GPH-MILF Peace Process Can Succeed”, MindaNews, April 3, 2012]
The retired Prof. Rudy B. Rodil — Mindanao historian and erstwhile member of the GRP-MNLF and GRP-MILF negotiating panels — at that last PPSA forum where Iqbal spoke, repeated his well-studied thesis that the Moro problem can be solved “only by constitutional change” and by correcting the errors of history [he enumerated them in his talk] then “reframe the foundations of this republic…” He bewails that “Government insists we have to find the solution within the framework of the [present] Constitution”.
MindaNews Editor Arguillas reported:
During a two-day consultation in Davao City, March 28 and 29, 2011 [still most relevant], the MILF peace panel explained to the Mindanao Catholic bishops and businessmen the “MILF Final Working Draft on Comprehensive Compact”. The bishops in questions to clarify constitutional and other issues concerning the Moro Questions want MILF to address the opposition to their quest for the right to self-determination. On the other hand, the businessmen expressed satisfaction with the MILF proposals particularly relative to their business interest.
In Cotabato City, IAG Director Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., OMI, addressing the workshop on “Building Bridge: ARMM to RSD” sponsored by Institute of Autonomy and Government (IAG) last March 29 this year, proposed that Government abandon its “3 for 1 Formula” to solve the Moro problem since it “is not a formula for peace agreement but a formula to reform ARMM”. All three components can be done “even without negotiation”. He used to head ceasefire and conflict-resolution committees during the Estrada administration.
At the Ateneo de Davao University roundtable forum last March 28, Judge Santos said the government panel should be “allowed to think outside the [existing constitutional] box to solve the Bangsamoro problem”; it “should not just think” of what Government can do during within the Aquino administration; and the MILF, “in a dilemma whether to engage or not engage the ARMM reform”, should weigh the reasons to resolve it.
At the same IAG forum on March 29, lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, legal and strategy advisor of the Arroyo GRP panels, believes that “the key guarantee” to a peace agreement is “a device that could assure the MILF that Philippine government cannot unilaterally undo”. The report did not mention any elucidation. However, as Montesa is an advocate of constitutional change, can that device be constitutionally based?
In the End
As Iqbal has emphasized it, all issues are on the table; MILF will not accept the “3 in 1 Formula” and ARMM under any condition as political settlement. As Luwaran.com, its official website, said in its April 16-22 editorial, “MILF cannot slide down anymore” from its asymmetrical Bangsamoro state-substate proposal – its “barest position” after sliding down from secession. Government, however, appears to suggest MILF has limited option under the Aquino administration; the MILF proposal cannot be granted.
The peace advocates can help clarify issues and reconcile positions. The International Contact Group members are there to lend their conflict resolution expertise. Malaysia has the good will and generosity as host and the authority and moral suasion as third-party facilitator.
Yet, the final step belongs to the Philippine Government and MILF. If they join hands pushing the peace cart to one direction, they will arrive; but, if they keep on tugging in opposite directions, never!
As haram is haram; offering haram will not bring agreement on the table for signing. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards 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.)