GPH, MILF peace panels meet in KL for “ways forward”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 February) – The peace panels of the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are back in Kuala Lumpur for a two-day meeting that started February 10, to discuss “ways forward” in the peace process after the Aquino administration’s failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In his opening speech titled “As is, where is,” a copy of which was e-mailed to MindaNews from Kuala Lumpur, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel said that in the next administration (which will start noon of June 30, 2016), “the most immediate step is either the BBL will be refiled in Congress or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) will be crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which will most likely have new faces as members. This is the only way forward.”

Iqbal is concurrent BTC chair.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, however, told MindaNews on January 26 that there will be no re-drafting of the BBL because “it’s already an agreed version. Napagkasunduan na.”

He said the “agreed version” of the draft BBL will be re-filed in the next Congress.

The “agreed version” is the version submitted by the BTC to the Office of the President (OP), vetted by the agencies concerned and finalized with the OP and the principals – President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chair Murad – before it was submitted to Congress in ceremonial rites held in Malacañang on September 10, 2014.

Murad said if the next Congress changes parts of the draft BBL, they are open to the changes or improvements “as long as it will not contradict the CAB…. as long as it will comply with the CAB.”

Know history

MindaNews asked GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer for a copy of her speech but as of 5 p.m. no copy has been sent or posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

But in her statement on February 3, when Congress adjourned without passing the BBL, Ferrer urged politicians and fellow citizens “to take the time to study the history of the conflict and the peace process so as to get a better understanding of the road map and our unflinching efforts to see it through.”

She said members of her panel “will do everything in the remaining time we have to ensure that the infrastructure for implementing the peace accord are fully functional so that the next administration will be in a good position to carry forward the full implementation of the agreement.”

Ferrer said the roadmap laid out in the CAB “remains viable even as we shall now be crafting adjustments in the timeline.”

Iqbal blamed the non-passage of the BBL on the “structural and systemic” problem and on how the “elite vested interests opposed to the Bangsamoro” used the Moro people’s “disunity and political fragmentation as an effective weapon for the continuing oppression of our people.”

“Do not despair”

He urged Bangsamoro leaders to unite. “When will we wake up to see that they are using divide and conquer tactics against us? When will we wake up to see that until we transcend ourselves and offer it in the service of the larger and more important task of liberation, we shall never succeed to prevent the political, economic and socio-cultural extinction of the Bangsamoro people?”

He commended President Aquino and the GPH peace panel for “negotiating with us in good faith and for pushing the negotiations closer to what is required to bring justice and reconciliation.”

“We have learned our lessons. The problem is structural and systemic,” he said.

He said that even if the BBL was not passed under the Aquino administration, “there should be no doubt about this — the Bangsamoro will be established, insha Allah. Truth, justice, and goodness will always prevail. It is only a matter of time.”

He said their resolve, patience and determination to build the Bangsamoro is “stronger and more passionate than ever” and the non-passage of the BBL “does not weaken us” but “strengthens us.”

Addressing the Bangsamoro people, he said: “Do not despair. Do not be disheartened. Be patient. We shall overcome. Console yourselves. The struggle for liberation is a long path. We need to prepare for a long and arduous journey. But it will be worth it. There is an end to our sacrifices and sufferings. Your MILF has struggled and negotiated for you. This is for you, for your children and your children’s children.”

To the Filipino people, Iqbal said: “Let us work together overcome the barriers to peace, justice and reconciliation.”

“Dangerous situation”

He thanked the diplomatic corps and international community for their “continued solidarity and support to the cause of peace and reconciliation” and third party- facilitator Malaysia for its facilitation and mediation and for “the esteem that you have bestowed on us.”

He said Malaysia is “a big brother to us!”

He acknowledged the “widespread frustration on the ground by our people and members of the MILF” because of the failure to pass the BBL, and how the communities “have accused the government of resorting again to delaying tactic and just managing the conflict in Mindanao.”

Iqbal said the GPH and the MILF will jointly find ways “to address this dangerous situation and avoid actions that may increase the frustrations.”

Next president

“We must provide them hope that there is chance for passage of CAB- compliant BBL whoever will be the next president. This must be in the form of firm and unequivocal commitment from government that it shall continue to comply with its obligations under the CAB, particularly on the passage of CAB-compliant BBL, which is a unilateral obligation of government.”

On the part of the MILF, Iqbal assured they will “adhere to the CAB and comply with its obligations.”

He said what is needed to preserve the gains of the peace process is for both sides to “journey together in faithfully implementing the CAB, guided by the principle of ‘as is, where is.’”

“In other words, the most immediate step is either the BBL will be refiled in Congress or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB, will be crafted by the BTC, which will most likely have new faces as members. This is the only way forward,” Iqbal said.

Unacceptable status quo

Re-filing the draft BBL as Murad indicated means saving on time since the next administration is expected to pass the BBL before 2018, to give at least a year’s transition period until the May 13, 2019 election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro.

The GPH and MILF peace panels under the Aquino administration agreed that the “status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The CAB provides that as soon as the BBL is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished to give way to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that will govern the area under a parliamentary system until the first Bangsamoro officials elected supposedly on May 9, 2016, assume their post on June 30, 2016.

The ARMM, which is holding its election on May 9, 2016, will continue to operate and will have another election on May 13, 2019 if the BBL is not passed by early 2018.

The non-passage of the BBL under the Aquino administration is also affecting the decommissioning of MILF weapons and forces as the percentages of decommissioning are tied up with political milestones, such as the passage of the BBL.