KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/ 13 August) – Their presence, in the words of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, was to show the “great determination of the Philippine government to move forward” in the Bangsamoro peace process.
It was the first time in the history of the peace process between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that four Cabinet members, the House Speaker and Majority floor leader, and the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), accompanied the government panel here to Saturday’s event dubbed “The Launching of the Implementing Phase of the Mindanao Peace Agreements Between the GPH and the MILF.”
More appropriately, however, the event should have been titled launching of the implementing phase “under the Duterte administration” as implementation of the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) had actually begun after they were signed under the Aquino administration, but was not completed.
The event was graced by Malaysia’s Deputy Defense Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Johari bin Baharium who represented Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.
It was the first time in the 15-year third party facilitation of Malaysia, that the resumption of the peace process under a new Philippine administration — and its facilitation now spans three administrations — was publicly launched instead of the usual exclusive-to-panel members only. At least 200 persons gathered at the Unity 2 Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel, where the launching was held.
Dureza led the delegation that included the five-member panel under Irene Santiago, Secretaries Perfecto Yasay, Jr. of Foreign Affairs, Mike Sueno of Local Governments and Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., the National Security Adviser, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr., Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, House Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, and the Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, Ed Malaya,
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel was also expected to come but did not make it.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim led the MILF delegation.
Armed struggle is no option
Dureza described Saturday’s event as “a big milestone in our work for peace and development in Mindanao and the whole country.”
But the Malaysian Prime Minister, in his message read by the Deputy Defense Minister, referred to it as a “highly important event in our region’s history.”
Najib congratulated President Rodrigo Duterte for “his strong commitment to the Bangsamoro peace process” and expressed “full confidence” that under Duterte’s leadership, “we will see a new era of peace and prosperity in the southern Philippines with the full implementation of the signed agreements.”
He noted that the peace process has so far been “very successful in delivering relative peace and stability” in Mindanao, adding bloodshed “must be avoided at all costs, and reverting to armed struggle is not an option.”
Najib said when the peace process is successfully and finally completed, “it would not only bring peace and stability to Mindanao, but will also insulate Southeast Asia from threats by militant groups that are now gaining influence all over the world.”
Dureza thanked Malaysia “for keeping faith with us, facilitating us and making possible this particular milestone we have today.”
“Stay with us unitl the end”
He stressed the period of negotiations is over but extended his invitation for Malaysia “to stay with us until the end.”
The FAB provides that when the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed and ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over until the election of the first set of Bangsamoro officials. It also provides that at the end of the transition period, “the GPH and MILF Peace Negotiating Panels, together with the Malaysian Facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team, shall convene a meeting to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition” and an ‘Exit Document’ officially terminating the peace negotiation “may be crafted and signed by both Parties if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”
Dureza also cited the need for convergence of the peace process with the MILF and with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with whom government signed an agreement in 1976 and 1996. Then MNLF vice chair Salamat Hashim broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s to form the MILF, after the failed implementation of the 1976 pact.
Dureza had earlier said that the remaining unresolved issues between the GPH and MNLF, which the Tripartite Review with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had identified, will be incorporated into the future Bangsamoro enabling law that a reconstituted Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) will draft.
The MILF-led BTC is composed of eight members nominated by the MILF and seven by the government. Both Dureza and Murad, who were chairs of the government and MILF peace panels from 2001 to 2003, had agreed in principle last month to increase the number of members to accommodate more Moro sectors to make the law-drafting body “more inclusive.”
Dureza narrated that “expectations are very high” among the Bangsamoro “and we have to meet those expectations together, no longer across the table but as partners on how to make things happen for the Bangsamoro.”
He also extended his invitation to “our global partners to please stay with us,” adding, “we can sign a hundred agreements but if we cannot improve the lives of our people o the ground, all this will be for naught.”
Murad said he hopes to see the “final closure to this cycle of conflict in Mindanao… and.. the time to do it is now, not later.”
He said he hopes that with the 17th Congress under the Duterte administration it will be a “brighter future for the enabling law, Insha Allah.” The audience applauded.
Murad thanked Duterte and Dureza and said the MILF has a “new solidified relationship with the new administration.”
The implementation efforts, he said, “must be joint and collaborative” and complete with “constant communication, reliable monitoring and reporting and responsive dispute resolution.”
He siad it is also important to “always be open to the public in terms of what we envisage at the end of the implementation process.”
Dureza and Murad introduced the members of their respective implementing panels.
The government panel is chaired by Irene Santiago, who was a member of Dureza’s panel when he and Murad were peace panel chairs from 2001 to 2003. The other members are from the Office of the Presiential Adviser on the Peace Process: Undersectaries Nabil Tan and Diosita Andot, and Assistant Secretaries Dickson Hermoso and Rolly Asujncion.
The MILF panel is chaired by Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair since 2003 and BTC chair from 2012. His members are Prof. Aboud Syed Lingga, Abdullah Camlian, Said Shiek and Timuay Melanio Ulama. Ulama represents Indigenous Peopels in the Bangsamoro core territory. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)