HIROSHIMA (MindaNews/24 June ) — Nearly three months after the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim are back in Japan where they first had a one-on-one talk to fast-track the peace process nearly three years ago, to address a three-day seminar-workshop discussing “obstacles and opportunities” in implementing the peace pact.
Arrangements are being made for another meeting between the leaders on Tuesday afternoon, June 24, at the Sheraton Hotel Hiroshima, venue of The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP6), organized by the Research and Education for Peace of the University of Sains Malaysia (USM) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with the theme “Post Agreement Implementation: Building Capacities for Peace of the Bangsamoro Stakeholders.”
The seminar comes at a crucial time in the post-signing scenario particularly amid fears that a “watered down” version of the 97-page draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would be submitted to Congress when it reopens on July 28, the day President Aquino delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
In last year’s SONA, he urged Congress to pass the BBL before yearend 2014 to allow for more time for the transition period from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the regular Bangsamoro Government whose first set of officials will be elected, according to the parties’ roadmap, in the synchronized elections on May 9, 2016. The roadmap sees June 30, 2016, the day the President bows out of office, as the day the Bangsamoro Government would be installed.
The 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) set up last year and composed of eight members from the MILF and seven from the Philippine government (GPH) submitted the draft BBL to the Office of the President on April 22, expecting it would be submitted by May 5, when Congress resumed sessions after the Holy Week break.
But until Congress adjourned sine die on June 11, the Office of the President was still reviewing the draft.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles explained the delayed submission at the opening of the International Conference of Cotabato on June 6 at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City. She said “all parties concerned are striving to meet the standards set by the President at the historic signing of the CAB for the BBL to be a law that is “equitable, practical, and empowering and which serves the interests of the entire nation.”
She said the draft that would be submitted would be a “more refined and strengthened” draft while Senate President Franklin Drilon referred to it in his written message read for him by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, as a “unifying and integrating” Basic Law.
The MILF officials in their speeches on Monday kept mum if they have received a copy of Malacanang’s “more refined and strengthened” and “unifying and integrating” draft Basic Law but the speeches of Murad and peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on Monday hinted on their stand vis-à-vis the draft.
Japan in Philippine peace history
Aquino had sought a meeting with Murad on August 4, 2011, with Japan as host. Japan has been a member of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) since 2004 and the International Contact Group (ICG) since 2009 – two multi-state mechanisms accompanying the Bangsamoro peace process.
In that nearly two-hour meeting in a hotel near Narita in Tokyo, Aquino and Murad agreed to fast-track the peace process to ensure that whatever agreement is forged can be implemented within the second half of the six-year Aquino administration whose term ends on June 30, 2016.
Murad delivered “Keynote Speech I” and Deles delivered “Keynote Speech 2” at the Hiroshima International Convention Center during the formal opening rites on Monday morning while President Aquino III will deliver his “Keynote Address” late Tuesday afternoon, at the Sheraton Hotel Hiroshima, after his meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
Deles recalled in her speech that when the peace talks with the MILF under the Aquino administration formally re-started in February 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the process encountered “difficult re-birthing pains which caused the President to embark on a short trip that, however, gained gold mileage for the peace process and firmly lodged Japan in the annals of Philippine peace history.”
She said the Japan meeting, the first between Aquino and Murad, “startled the world and reenergized the struggling and straggling peace negotiations.”
Building trust, breaking trust
The seminar here focuses on socio-economic development, institutionalization of the Bangsamoro Government and developments in the process of normalization.
Murad said peace agreements “by themselves produce no long-term impacts on conflicts. In fact, the experience is the world is that failure to implement an agreement almost always results in a relapse to violence. It is only the persistent and honest implementation of parties to an agreement that peace, development, and the practical benefits to the people are ensured,” he said.
He recalled having said during the March 27 signing that the Bangsamoro struggle did not end with the signing of the peace pact but will continue by ensuring that both parties comply with the terms of the agreement.
“While trust is build at the outset of the bargaining process, we cannot discount the possibility of that trust being broken after all has been said and done, despite the shaking of the hands and the exchange of pulpy promises. In all honesty, it is when those promises are actually kept that the parties anticipate that the real and meaningful consequences will follow,” Murad said.
He also recalled the President’s speech at the signing on the CAB’s impact on the entire nation. “As such, the post-agreement implementation phase must endeavor to reflect and support an enduring relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government, based on mutual respect and recognition and a profound commitment to honor the signed agreements of the parties.”
Swallow or reject
Iqbal during Session 1 on the “Challenges for the Bangsamoro Future: Post-CAB” acknowledged that the challenges ahead are “complex and stunning” but parties must ensure that the agreement is implemented in letter and spirit.
“Many a good agreement fails to address a particular problem and halt the conflict, because in the end, there is that tendency especially of the powerful partner to dilute the content of the political document like the CAB when the legislated form takes place,” Iqbal said, adding that he consequence would be “that the other party, usually the insurgent side, will be forced to swallow the hook, line and sinker offered to it or reject it outright.”
“In both scenarios, the conflict will continue to exist, oftentimes with much fury, because in the first case, other armed groups, usually the more radical ones which do not believe in peace negotiation will condemn the perceived sell-out and will carry on the struggle. In the second scenario, rejection of the watered down legislation would be the handiest recourse of the other party, say the MILF,” said Iqbal, the longest serving chair of the MILF peace panel for 11 years out of the 17-year old negotiations.
Iqbal quickly added: “Right now, I still have that faith (in) President Benigno Aquino III that he would not allow the impending full success story of the GPH-MILF peace process to just be waylaid by circumstances” because “real peace in Mindanao is truly befitting his legacy to the nation at large and the generations yet to come.”
“The possibility of a watered down BBL is perhaps more in the mind of people rather than what he intends to do, in partner with Congress. After all, it was he who said time and again that he will not sign an agreement that he cannot implement. The MILF is holding on to this commitment of the President,” Iqbal said.
GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer cited five challenges in the post-signing phase: the element of time, the parties to the agreement themselves, sustaining public trust and support, inclusivity, and how to ensure that the goodwill coming from international community is used judiciously and effectively and that the support empowers a broad base of men and women and engenders self-reliance, not dependence.
On the challenge of time, Ferrer said there are “so many things to do, but too little time to put everything in place” but added the challenge remains that they finish the task they had agreed upon by 2016. “We cannot panic. We must do things systematically and decisively.”
Ferrer also stressed that the entire government machinery is behind the peace process. “The coming of the President tomorrow (to Hiroshima on Tuesday, June 24), is the best evidence,” she said.
On the challenge to the GPH and MILF, there is a need to “address fears that cause paranoia, rumor mongering, emotional outbursts” as well as organizational challenges that the MILF needs to address, she said.
The need to sustain public trust and support is also a challenge because while there are many who support the peace process, there are those who continue to use violence as well as those who want to support the agreement conditionally. “We tell them, only God can give the guarantees but God will help those who help themselves,” she said.
On inclusivity, Ferrer stressed that Mindanao, the Bangsamoro are not monolithic entities but “multiple narratives multiple identities, multiple claimants, stakeholders” and should have “just share of benefits for everyone” as well as “just recognition of rights and legitimacy of the different stakeholders.”
“Peace dividends are not spoils of war. There must be equitable distribution of the dividends of peace,” she said.
Hopefuls, Doubtfuls, Pessimists
Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said the CAB is yielding various reactions and thought from the “hopefuls” whom he referred to as “the re-affirmists;” the “doubtfuls” or “the uncertains;” and the “pessimists” or “the rejectionists.”
“The curious minds and the doubtfuls have to ask questions including the constitutionality of the BBL,” he said, before proceeding to ask the questions raised by the “doubtfuls”: What happens if the MILF finds the Basic Law passed by Congress not responsive to their right to self-governance? What will happen if in the plebiscite other territories in the present ARMM will opt not to join the Bangsamoro? Will ministerial form of government be a good alternative to what we have today? What happens if in the post-agreement elections the MILF is politically excluded? Will they still pursue the agreement on normalization, particularly the decommissioning component? Can there be two claimants of ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro? (see full text of Alim’s presentation under MindaViews)
Regional, Global significance
In his opening remarks, Dr. Akihiko Tanaka, JICA President pointed out that the signing of the CAB is an “important milestone” that will help promote further development in the Philippines, that peace in Mindanao has regional significance as well. Given the ASEAN integration by 2015, he said the CAB “can help improve conditions in Southeast Asia as a whole,” and would “help advance maritime connectivity in the region.”
But more than its regional significance, Tanaka lauded its global significance in that many conflicts are still going on in various parts of the world and the Bangsamoro peace process as a “good model of conflict resolution” and offers “invaluable lessons for other countries.”
Japan has been accompanying the peace Bangsamoro peace process for several years, as member of the IMT, ICG and recently, the International Commission on Policing.
Obstacles and Opportunities
Professor Dr. Kamarulzaman Askandar, head of the Research and Education for Peace of the University of Sains Malaysia and the main organizer along with JICA of the five Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminars in Penang and the ongoing Hiroshima seminar, said COP6 “can provide the venue, environment, community spirit, and needed dynamism and constructive dialogue among the stakeholders in assessing and generating, not only ideas, but cooperation in overcoming the challenges ahead.”
“It is deemed that this year 2014 will be a year of obstacles and opportunities alike for the GPH-MILF peace process,” he said, adding that while the parties continue to address their respective concerns, the seminar “will be an important opportunity for more GPH and MILF leaders to further discuss some of these challenges.
The seminar gathered about a hundred participants, more than half of them from Mindanao and Manila. The participants include representatives from government, MILF, civil society and the Moro National Liberation Front.
The Mayor of Hiroshima City, Kahumi Matsui, welcomed the participants to the site of the first ever atomic bombing on August 6, 1945 that killed thousands of residents.
“Even for those who barely managed to survive, their lives had changed forever,” he said, adding that the reminder of their lives had been “hard, desperate and miserable,” the mayor said in Japanese.
Despite the hatred, indescribable pain and sufferings, Hiroshima residents chose to “build as quickly as possible.”
He then urged the Bangsamoro to “be future oriented.”
“Do not look at the past. Look at the future,” was how his message was translated in English, as he explained how Hiroshima has been campaigning to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020 so that no one else will suffer what the Hiroshima residents went through nearly 69 years ago. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)