GPH, MILF: awaiting “mutual acceptance” three years after the “rejections”  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 August) – August 23, 2011, Day 2 of the supposed three-day peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur abruptly ended at noon, with the MILF announcing “we reject” the government’s “3 for 1” counter-proposal, and the government replying, “we reject your rejection.”

Neither side expected the sudden adjournment. The International Contact Group and the Malaysian facilitator got the panels to meet again in the afternoon but no joint statement was issued.

“Heaven and earth” was how MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described the gap between the GPH proposal handed over to them on August 22, in response to the MILF proposal that it handed over to the GPH in February that year.

GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said the gap was “not too far apart.”

The “rejections” came barely three weeks after that historic August 4, 2011 meeting between President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan. There, both leaders agreed to fast-track the peace process, sign an agreement within the first half of the Aquino administration (2010 to 2013) so that implementation can be done in the latter half (2013 to 2016).

Three years and a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) later, residents in the proposed Bangsamoro and the rest of the country await the end of exchanges between Malacanang (Office of the President) and the MILF, on the final text of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBC) that would govern the future Bangsamoro — that version incorporating the “mutually acceptable” provisions from the 97-page draft BBL that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted to Malacanang on April 22, the Malacanang-reviewed provisions, the outputs of the 21-day “workshops” by the GPH and MILF peace panels in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Davao, the August 13 to 15 meetings between Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and MILF/BTC chair Iqbal in Davao City and their meetings in Manila since Tuesday, August 19.

Ochoa, who had effectively taken over the negotiations with the MILF since noon of August 10, was accompanied by the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, to the meetings with Iqbal on August 13 to 15 in Davao City and the meetings in Manila since August 19.

The MILF’s website, luwaran.com announced on August 21 that the revised draft for the President’s review was submitted to Ochoa, in the presence of Caguioa and Assistant Executive Secretary Mike Musngi, at 8 p.m. on August 20. Iqbal signed the document as BTC chair.

Although the target date of August 20 was not mentioned in the Joint Statement issued by Ochoa and Iqbal on August 15 in Davao City, both parties then agreed on August 20 as the date for the submission of a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL to President Aquino. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresitta Quintos-Deles told MindaNews on Augsut 15 that the final draft of the BBL would be submitted to the President “before end of next week” (by August 22) and to Congress before the end of August.

As early as July last year, the President had called on Congress to pass the BBL before yearend 2014 to give the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) enough time to govern the area using a ministerial form in preparation for the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro in 2016. Aquino wants the Bangsamoro government installed by June 30, 2016, the day he steps down as President.

Final text

“We are ready to adhere to our understanding to work on the final text of the proposed BBL after its review by the President,” Iqbal’s cover letter to Ochoa on the draft BBL said.

MindaNews learned that as of Sunday, August 24, notes were still being exchanged, although already based on the comments of the President.

The President was initially expected to have transmitted to Congress and certified as “urgent” the draft BBL on May 5 when it resumed sessions after the Holy Week Break but until Congress adjourned sine die on June 11, the draft was still with Malacanang. It finally handed over a copy of the reviewed draft to the MILF on June 21.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal had raised their “concerns” over the Malacanang-proposed revisions to the BTC draft in a meeting with the President in Hiroshima before the President delivered his keynote address at the Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar on June 24.

No details of the meeting were released except to say “concerns” were raised but Iqbal in Istanbul, Turkey two days later, revealed that Malacanang-proposed revisions had “heavily diluted” the BTC draft and if followed, would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace.

The President was again expected to submit the draft BBL on July 28, during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress but the GPH and MILF peace panels, to whom the reviewed draft was elevated by the BTC in a resolution on July 3, had not succeeded in coming up with a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL despite their “workshops.”

“The two parties are also (on) the same level of understanding that an ‘agreed version’ of the BBL is the only way that would strengthen their partnership in jointly pushing for the early passage of the bill in Congress,” the luwaran.com report added.

Deles, according to a press release of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) also on August 21, said “the latest draft (of the BBL) has been submitted to the President for his review” and “further discussions may be held based on the guidance of the President.”

‎She added she is “confident that a mutually acceptable bill will be filed in Congress as a true demonstration of the parties’ firm partnership for peace.‎”

“3 for 1” formula

The MILF in February 2011 proposed what it referred to as an “asymmetrical state-substate relationship,” where, among others, “powers of the central government and state government are clearly stated, aside from those powers they jointly exercise.”

Government’s counter-proposal in August 2011 did not respond to the “asymmetrical relationship” proposal of the MILF but offered a “three for one” solution which it described as “pragmatic, workable, viable” — massive economic development;  political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.

The ARMM which the President had repeatedly referred to as “failed experiment,” was to play a crucial role in the undertaking.

It wasn’t the first time that the prospect of an “improved” ARMM was dangled before the MILF although the Aquino administration, unlike previous administrations, never reached the stage of offering it formally.

The Estrada administration, which waged an “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000 offered the MILF an “enhanced” ARMM which it rejected. The Arroyo administration made a similar move and again met the same rejection.

The Arroyo administration initially worked for but later abandoned the idea of postponing the August 11, 2008 ARMM election, days before the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) would have been signed.

The MOA-AD was initialed but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur was aborted following the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) by the Supreme Court a day earlier.

“Reforming” ARMM

The Ramos administration offered the ARMM to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), even getting MNLF chair Nur Misuari to run for ARMM Governor, unopposed, under the administration party, after the President ordered the rival candidates to withdraw.

Misuari as governor was supposed to have governed from September 30, 1996 to September 30, 1999 but stayed on on holdover capacity because Congress failed to pass the law that would amend RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the ARMM, and incorporate the provisions of the “Final Peace Agreement” signed on September 2, 1996.

In the end, the MNLF complained that the amendatory law, RA 9054, rendered the ARMM less autonomous than it already was.

Misuari stayed on as Governor until late November 2001 when he was arrested for alleged illegal entry in an island off Sabah after allegedly leading a rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga days before the ARMM election.

Although the Aquino administration did not formally offer the ARMM to the MILF, its proposal revolved around a “reformed” ARMM.

ARMM by then has had six elections with Zaldy Ampatuan as the lone reelected governor (2005-2008 and 2008 -2011). His second term was short-lived as he was arrested on December 5, 2009, having been implicated in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons including Genalyn, wife of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

Genalyn led the convoy that was bound for the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak town to deliver the certificate of candidacy for governor of her husband. Their vehicles were flagged down along the highway and at gunpoint they were herded off to Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman where they were massacred and more than half buried mass graves.

The armed men were reported led by the ARMM governor’s brother, then Datu Unsay town mayor Andal “Datu Unsay” Amptuan, Jr. who wanted to run for Maguindanao governor, unopposed, like his father in the previous election .

After the Ampatuans were jailed a special audit done by the Commission on Audit covering the period January 2008 to September 2009 alone showed over a billion pesos worth of transactions by Ampatuan’s office had “inadequate, spurious or entirely non-existent support documents.”

ARMM beyond 2011

The GPH proposal in August 2011 noted that while the ARMM “may have been a failed experiment in the past, the current proposal is based on a more balanced understanding of whether its past failure was due to its structure and the systems that it spawned or the quality of the past national or regional leadership. This proposal presents the possibility of a more empowered, more workable, and thus, more genuine autonomy of a Bangsamoro region.”

For the MILF, it was not a question of national or regional leadership but the structure. ARMM was not an option.

The stage for a “reformed ARMM” had actually been set in the early months of 2011, when the ruling party pushed for the postponement of the August 8, 2011 ARMM elections, to synchronize it with the May 13, 2013 national mid-term elections.

On June 30, 2011, President Aquino signed Republic 10153, the law that synchronized the ARMM polls with the national and authorized the President to name officers-in-charge (OICs) who would serve from September 30, 2011 (the end of the term of the officials elected in 2008). The OICs were to serve until June 30, 2013, when the next set of officials shall have been elected or earlier, if developments in the peace process could lead to a new political entity before that date.

The 14-month window within which the President could appoint OICs to serve the ARMM, could have been the transition from the ARMM to the new political entity with the MILF already on board, similar to what the Ramos administration did to Misuari and the MNLF.

No formal offer

The Aquino administration apparently dropped the political overtures following the rejection of the “3 for 1 proposal” in August 2011.

MILF chair Murad had earlier told MindaNews that no formal offer was made but it was “implied.”

Iqbal told MindaNews Sunday( (Aug. 24), that no formal offer of the ARMM was made to them in August 2011. Datu Michael Mastura who was active in the MILF peace panel while Leonen was the GPH panel chair told MindaNews he and Leonen would often engage in repartees as lawyers often do and that Leonen “did once hint but our panel never succumbed to it.”

The Supreme Court initially issued a temporary restraining order preventing Aquino from appointing OICs in the ARMM but after the TRO was lifted, he named former Anak Mindanaw party-list Representative Mujiv Hataman, one of his buddies in Congress when he was Tarlac Representative, as OIC ARMM Governor.

Hataman took over the post from Acting Governor Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong, the Vice Governor who assumed the post of Governor when Ampatuan was detained. Adiong did not show up during the turnover on December 22, 2011.

Finally, a framework

It took months – specifically until December 2011 — before the peace panels could return to the negotiating table after the August debacle.

By April 24, 2012, the peace panels finally signed the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012” and by October 15, 2012 the Framework Agreement on the Bagnsamoro (FAB).

The government peace panel was then chaired by UP College of Law Dean Leonen. He left the panel in November 2012 to move over to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice.

UP Political Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a member of Leonen’s panel since July 2010, became chair by December 2012 and steered the panel through four annexes to the FAB and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which was signed on March 27, 2014 in the gardens of Malacanang. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2014/08/25/gph-milf-awaiting-mutual-acceptance-three-years-after-the-rejections/

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