“Lessons Learned” book on the GRP-MNLF peace nego: a journey back to 1993-1996

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JAKARTA (MindaNews / 25 September) – Twenty-three years after the Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front was signed, negotiators and facilitators gathered at the ASEAN Hall here on Monday to remember and reflect on the period 1993 to 1996, and returned home with copies of the findings of a research put together in a book launched on the same day.

The launch was held at the seminar on the outcome of a research project of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) on “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993–1996).”

The seminar’s very long title is also the book’s, with “Lessons Learned” as the main.

Author Jamil Maidan Flores (L) is joined by dignitaries at the launch of his book “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of The Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993-1996)” on September 23, 2019 at the ASEAN Hall in Jakarta. Among the dignitaries are Ambassador Noel Servigon, the Philippines’ Permanent Representative to ASEAN (3rd from left) and Indonesia’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir (5th from left). MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Authored by Jamil Maidan Flores, “Lessons Learned” was carried out by a team of researchers from Indonesia and the Philippines led by Flores and started in October 2018 with the support of the Japan ASEAN Integration Fund.

The book takes the reader to a journey back to the 1990s, including what went on behind the scenes – within the GRP,  the MNLF, the Indonesian facilitators and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now Cooperation) – that could not be revealed then.

Its scope, however, does not include the implementation period beyond the signing of the peace agreement but is limited only to the three-year period – 1993 to 1996 — where Indonesia mediated the four rounds of formal peace talks – and 70 meetings at the technical level, seven informal consultations, nine Mixed Committee meetings — that eventually led to the signing of the Final Peace Agreement on September 2, 1996 in Malacanang in the presence of President Fidel Ramos and Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.

Retired General and former Ambassador Manuel Yan signed the agreement for the Philippine government while Prof. Nur Misuari signed for the MNLF.

Monday’s launch reunited some key personalities who sat across the negotiating table and those who facilitated the talks a quarter of a century ago, this time, seated beside each other as panelists.

Misuari was not present but Professor Mashur Jundam was, along with Muslimin Sema, who was MNLF Secretary General then, and lawyer Jose Lorena, who was a member of the MNLF’s legal panel then.

Lawyer Nabil Tan, then Vice Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and a member of the government peace panel then, also shared his insights.

Author Jamil Maidan flores (front row, L) with Indonesian dignitaries and Moro guests (back, L to R) Muslimin Sema, Nabil Tan, jose Lorena and Mashour Jundam. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Lorena and Tan are now members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the body that is governing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao during the three-year transition period until June 30, 2022.

From the Indonesian side, Rezlan Ishar Jenie, former chair of the Peace Committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Southern Philippines (now Executive Director of the ASEAN-IPR); Hassan Wirajuda, facilitator and chair of the Mixed Committee of the Peace Talks who later became Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Yuli Mumpuni Widarso, Supervisor of the Coordinating Secretariat for the Mixed Committee, were among the panelists, but several other former Ambassadors to the Philippines and team members during that period, were also around.

Lessons from the region

In his address, Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir, Indonesia’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, described the GRP-MNLF peace process as “one of the prominent success stories of peaceful conflict resolution” that provides “lessons from the region on how countries can settle a conflict through peaceful means with the involvement of a third party as a mediator and facilitator.”

Fachir said the research also aims to “instill the habit of dialogue and peaceful settlements of dispute in ASEAN.”

READ: Lessons from ASEAN on how countries can settle a conflict through peaceful resolution 

Jenie, Executive Director of the ASEAN-IPR, said Monday’s event was a milestone for the Institute and expressed hope the lessons learned “would add to the existing body of knowledge and understanding, of how conflict resolution, reconciliation and peace are attained and sustained.”

Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir, Indonesia’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs (second from right) accepts a copy of the book, “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993-1996)” from Artauli Tobing, Indonesian Representative to the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation’s Governing Council on 23 September 2019 at the ASEAN Hall in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of ASEAN-IPR

He called for more best practices and lessons learned to share, as the ASEAN-IPR hopes to be “the hub in sharing these lessons, for the benefit of the region, and the world.”

READ: More best practices and lessons learned to share… for the benefit of ASEAN and the world 

Ambassador Noel Servigon, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN hailed the “importance of mediators as champions of peace and how diplomacy became instrumental in bringing out peace between the government and MNLF.”

Lessons Learned

The book’s Chapter 6, titled “Some Lessons Learned,” lists only eight although Flores says “the great bulk” would emerge at a much later time, during the Tripartite Review on the implementation of the FPA but that process started only in 2006 which is “very much beyond the purview of this project.”

The eight lessons, according to the book:

  • Nurture the human factor
  • Organize for collaboration
  • To hear the voice of reason, silence the guns
  • Resistance is everywhere; do not underestimate it
  • The Message is the thing. Keep communication flowing
  • When you need help, get a mediator
  • Engage in Diplomacy or Perish
  • It’s the people, stupid!

Nurture the human factor

When negotiators see their counterparts as mere representatives of goals and objectives that compete with their own, there can only be an adversarial relationship “but once negotiators see their counterparts as flesh-and-blood human beings like themselves… the atmosphere changes. Negotiators become more informal, more relaxed, more open to a collaborative working relationship.”

Organize for collaboration

Much of the progress of the Peace Talks is credited to the way the negotiations were organized: in a hierarchy. “Issues were first discussed and solutions explored at the technical level in the Support Committees, and their recommendations were submitted to the Mixed Committee for further refinement, and then finally submitted to the Formal Peace Talks.”

To hear the voice of reason, silence the guns

Alatas proposed the signing of a formal ceasefire agreement between the GRP and the MNLF because “the voice of reason can be heard only when the guns are silent.”

Resistance is everywhere. Do not underestimate it.

“When an established state and a rebel movement are negotiating toward a peaceful resolution, they have a formidable common enemy: the deep-seated and widespread prejudice held not by the negotiating parties but by their respective constituencies. In this case the prejudice is centuries old, born of the Moro wars waged between the colonial government in Manila and the Sultanates of Southern Philippines.”

The Message is the thing. Keep communication flowing.

At the end of each negotiation, the panels and the facilitator issued a press statement “to prevent the media to write stories about the Talks on the basis of speculation.”

“In an ideal situation the media should have been a close ally of the Ramos Government and of the MNLF in the social education of the people not only in Mindanao but also all over the country. There should have been a social education campaign that enlightened the people on the historical background of the conflict and tore at the wall of prejudice between Muslim and Christian Filipinos.”

When you need help, get a mediator.

The book quotes President Fidel Ramos as saying that third party facilitation is “indispensable if the parties are poles apart on fundamental political issues.”

The MNLF had refused to negotiate peace in the 1970s and the 1990s without mediation by the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (then Conference), to which Indonesia belongs and where the MNLF sits as an observer.

The research found that unmediated peace talks such as the Cory Aquino administration’s with the MNLF and the Estrada administration’s with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, failed.

Engage in Diplomacy or Perish

The book describes how diplomacy played a key role in the peace negotiations and how diplomatic moves behind-the-scenes helped resolve contentious issues.

It’s the people, stupid!

In his speech, Flores said that if the reader can remember only one of these lessons, he hopes it is Lesson Number 8 because “it’s the people who make peace, not the leaders who sign peace treaties.”

Jamil Maidan Flores, author and project manager of the research project titled “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993-1996” speaks at the launch of the book bearing the same title at the ASEAN Hall of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on 23 September 2019. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“To be precise, peace is the handiwork of the sum of individuals who decide to stop fighting and to live in the mainstream of a harmonious community. In the final analysis, peace is made at the level of the individual,” he said.

READ: It’s the people who make peace, not the leaders who sign peace treaties 

The research found that ownership of the peace process in 1993 to 1996 appeared to be limited only to the negotiating parties and a few civil society organizations, that consultations with the people that the Ramos Government committed to undertake regularly “did not go down far enough into the grassroots. If it did, the Ramos Government would have saved itself a lot of trouble. That is one more lesson.”

The research acknowledged that there are likely more lessons to be learned “from another close look at the Peace Talks of 1993-1996” and there “certainly are more lessons to be learned from looking at what happened in the Southern Philippines peace process in the years that followed. But that is another story.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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