Moro groups race with time, grope for ‘convergence’ on peace agenda

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 March) – The peace and development agenda of the Duterte administration aims for, among others, “meaningful implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro towards healing in the Bangsamoro,” and “completion of implementation of remaining commitments under the GPH-MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) Peace Agreement for a just closure.”

To achieve this, it is reaching out to both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the MNLF, and hopes for the two groups to come up with a unified legislative proposal for lasting peace in Mindanao. And this is where the bone of contention lies, according to members of Internal Mediators (IM), a discussion group that aims to foster unity among various sectors of the Bangsamoro on the peace process.

In a meeting over the weekend in Davao City, the participants said that an agreement on convergence is still being worked out between the MNLF and MILF panels. They admitted it would be difficult [to achieve convergence] as the government is following two different tracks. One is the GPH-MNLF track which may lead to amendments in Republic Act 9054, the law creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The other is the GPH-MILF track which seeks to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the bill sidelined by the previous Congress after the Mamasapano Tragedy in January 2015.

In its peace and development agenda, the government aims to converge the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and the CAB in an enabling law that will include the 42 consensus points agreed upon by the MNLF, MILF, government and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

But a participant said there is no way for the two tracks to converge, as the first will retain the ARMM while the second will replace the autonomous region with a new political entity covering a wider territory and enjoying more powers as contained in FAB and CAB.

As Patricio Diaz, a MindaNews columnist and an expert on the Mindanao peace process, implied in his piece on January 1, 2017, the government can only accommodate one of two options. “If the amended R.A. 9054 is ratified, will Duterte accommodate Misuari and implement the autonomy law to install the BAG ignoring the BTC bill waiting in the Congress? That will not remove the formidable roadblock to peace in Mindanao.

“What can be converged are the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) bill and the amended R.A. 9054. The latter is wrapped in uncertainty since the amendment will take time and the Act will have to be ratified. Can the plebiscite be held with the 2019 election? If ratified, convergence can take place during the 18th Congress,” he said.

On Nov. 3 last year, President Duterte met with MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari in Malacanang in a bid to make the peace process more “inclusive”. The president allowed the latter to deal with a separate government implementing panel. Misuari, a fugitive, was granted a six-month reprieve from arrest.

Diaz said Duterte should not have accommodated Misuari but should have convinced him instead “join the one-track implementing process according to the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap (BPDR).”

“The 1976 Tripoli Agreement has been fleshed out more comprehensively in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Annexes. Significant provisions of R.A. No. 9054 have been adopted into Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). By joining the new Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), Misuari could help draft a more inclusive and convergent Bangsamoro Enabling Law (BEL), the new BBL,” he noted.

IM member Guiamel Alim warned that with the absence of a convergence between the two tracks Congress could just say it would not act unless the two fronts agree to either amend the existing autonomy law or create a new one.

Convergence is a key but the government can use it against us if we fail to unite on certain positions, or if incidents like Mamasapano erupt again, he further cautioned.

Aside from the difficulty of finding a point of convergence, the IM members expressed apprehensions on the timeframe for the enabling law.

Alim noted that it took the current government eight months to reconstitute the BTC, and it has yet to act on the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission. In contrast, he said, the federalism agenda is moving fast.

“If the president can stop the peace process with the National Democratic Front, there is a possibility that he will stop the Bangsamoro peace process given the tendency of fascism at the moment,” he said. (See related story)

As per the government timeframe for the BBL, the president will submit the bill to Congress in July 2017, Congress is expected to pass it in December, and a plebiscite for its ratification will take place in May 2018. Once ratified, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be organized.

Lawyer Jose Lorena, a member of the government panel in the BTC, acknowledged the short timeline, but added that amendments have been made to RA 9054 and provisions in the BBL have been reviewed to make them “acceptable” not only to the Moro fronts but also to the “broader stakeholders and national constituency”. He said the MNLF knows there can only be one law on the Bangsamoro.

Lawyer Aying Asis, a former BTC member, said it is not clear what “acceptable” means.

She said the BTC whose task is to draft the enabling law is limited by the question of “acceptability” and the “parking of constitutional issues” as contained in government’s peace and development agenda.

She added that efforts to make the peace process more “inclusive” puts the BBL at the risk of becoming another Basic Law on Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

After Mamasapano, then senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. filed BLBAR in lieu of the BBL version submitted by Malacanang to Congress.

In August 2015, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said Marcos Jr.’s bill “clearly violated the peace agreement” because it will reduce the Bangsamoro into the level of a province.

Murad described the bill and its version in the House of Representatives as “less than the ARMM”.

Asis said convergence should not only refer to the crafting of the enabling law. “It should also be how to relate it to federalism and Charter Change track to which we should also input.” (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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