GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 June) — Even before his proclamation as president-elect, Benigno C. Aquino III said he would continue the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and intimated the appointment of Teresita Quintos-Deles to her former position as presidential adviser on the peace process. Under this presumption, Deles stated to the press some of what would be immediately done.
Before and after his proclamation, Aquino told foreign diplomats who visited him that among his priorities is to pursue the GRP-MILF peace talks. In reality, he has no other choice. The peace negotiation has been internationalized with Malaysia as the facilitator and the host; several Asian and European governments and international groups are involved as members of the International Contact Group and the International Monitoring Team and in the rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas together with UN agencies.
In short, continuing the GRP-MILF peace negotiation is both national and international obligation of the incoming Aquino government. The Arroyo government and the MILF knew this; and they must have known of Aquino’s declaration of his intention to the Asian and European diplomats. Why did they still come up with their interim agreement – the Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation?
On the question of continuity, the interim agreement is unnecessary; on the question of what and how to continue the negotiation, the interim agreement is not proper. We stated this in our last Comment.
The proper way, we believe, is for the Arroyo government to leave it to the Aquino government and the MILF to negotiate how to continue the peace negotiation. The reason is simple: It is the Aquino government that will negotiate, no longer the Arroyo government.
Arroyo, her GRP peace panel and peace adviser should realize and have the delicadeza to admit that for nine years they had the opportunity to cook their menu but they failed to finish their job satisfactorily for lack of political will to do so. They should now stay clear of the kitchen leaving Aquino and his peace team to cook their own menu. Why sign that interim agreement prescribing their own menu — what and how Aquino would cook?
It’s true the interim agreement only sets six fundamental ways “of moving forward the Comprehensive Compact to bring a negotiated political settlement”. What’s wrong with that? On the part of the MILF, it looks all right – just looks, not is; while the same MILF that signed the agreement will negotiate, it will do so with a non-signatory government. On the part of the Arroyo government, it’s all wrong; it knows it can no longer live up to its commitments.
By time-honored principle, the Aquino government is obliged to continue the GRP-MILF peace negotiation undertaken in succession by three preceding governments. However, in principle and practice, parties in any negotiation negotiate based on the agenda they have agreed. To resume the peace talks, the Aquino government and the MILF should first review the past framework, talking points, and accomplishments then agree on their own agenda.
Will the Aquino negotiating team disregard the Interim Agreement? Not necessarily but surely the team will not let the agreement limit its options.
Is the Interim Agreement necessary to prevent the Aquino government from starting from zero? Aquino is not that stupid to scrap all the accomplishments in the last thirteen years and start from scratch. But if he wants to be stupid, no interim agreement can stop him.
That the agreement is unnecessary is intriguing. Ironically, viewed against the past, it unmasks a suspiciously clever design to make Arroyo look good at the expense of Aquino.
The first three points in the Declaration compress the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The message must be this: We want to confine the peace talks to the reframed MOA-AD. While we could no longer continue negotiating, we have set the way for the Aquino government to negotiate.
The catch: Should Aquino succeed, Arroyo can claim the credit of having designed the talks “basic architecture”. Should he fail, Arroyo would say, “Sayang (what a waste). Don’t blame us. Aquino bungled it. Had we the time to continue the talks, we would surely have succeeded.
Arroyo apologists will surely deny that there is such a design. But their slips are showing, casting suspicion against their honesty about their real intention. Seguis’ profuse apology is spilling the beans.
Has the Arroyo government been keen in reframing the MOA-AD and negotiating within its scope? Events after the July 29, 2009 Joint Statement for the resumption of the peace talks proved the contrary.
The Statement stated the “commitments by both parties to reframe the consensus points [of the MOA-AD] with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement. [Item 2]” The Supreme Court suggested this in its Decision; tacitly the MILF recognized that Decision.
On December 9, 2009, Camilo Montesa of the GRP Technical Working Group broke down Item 2 into a 7-point guideline for the Parties in drafting their respective peace agreement proposals to be exchanged in their next exploratory meeting. The guideline essentially reframed the MOA-AD.
The MILF Draft Peace Agreement followed the guideline. That of the GRP ignored it and instead offered an enhanced Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. That was a clear evasion of the reframed MOA-AD.
The same motive in Item 2 of the Joint Statement is the rationale in forging the Interim Agreement – “with a view of moving toward the Comprehensive Compact to bring a negotiated political settlement”. Basically, the first three points of the Interim Agreement are contained in the December 9, 2009 7-point guideline.
In his opening statement at the June 2 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, GRP Peace Panel Chair Rafael E. Seguis explained key terms in the first three points – ,  and :
In , “framework”, in the phrase “to exercise self-governance on the basis of consent in accordance to an agreed framework”, refers to the “Constitution”, meaning: “We cannot negotiate and adopt an agreement that is outside the boundaries of the Constitution.”
In , “new formulas” and in  “new modalities to end the armed hostilities” should respect the Constitution, clarifying: “New formulas may include enhanced autonomy while “new modalities” may include innovations such as “all party talks”. [Note well: The clarification is Seguis’ personal interpretation contrary to the MILF position so evident in the rejection by the MILF of the enhanced autonomy offered in the GRP Draft Agreement.]
In , “building on prior consensus points achieved” refers to the overall gains in the process since 1997. While Seguis did not mention so, the “overall gains” must include the MOA-AD. In fact, the Parties on July 29, 2009 and after agreed to build on the reframed MOA-AD.
By his explanation of the key terms, Seguis emphasizes reference to the Constitution in  and . Since the Supreme Court has declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional, Seguis is playing down the MOA-AD. But in  the MOA-AD, as implied, is the block to build on as suggested by the Supreme Court. This may explain the omission of  from the June 6 GRP paid-ad publication of the Interim Agreement in two leading Manila papers, notwithstanding that the explanation has been “accepted” by the MILF.
Seguis, while refusing to recognize the MOA-AD in his June 2 statement, said the GRP Panel always had the “intention to respect the fundamental law … while opening the possibility for a negotiated solution that may require Constitutional change … guided by the Supreme Court’s pronouncement on the MOA-AD case”.
The pronouncement in gist: The MOA-AD is (1) unconstitutional but (2) “necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace”; hence (3) “can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original”. Furthermore, proposed amendments to the Constitution are not unconstitutional.
In other words, the Supreme Court upheld the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace and did not annul the MOA-AD but recognized its necessity in carrying out the Agreement. If properly done, the Constitution may be amended to cure the unconstitutionality of the MOA-AD.
In their July 29, 2009 Joint Statement, the GRP and MILF heeded the pronouncement of the Court but interpreted it differently. In its Draft Peace Agreement, the GRP proposed enhanced autonomy to be negotiated in the Comprehensive Compact; the MILF reframed the MOA-AD recognizing the Constitution as an instrument to establish “a new order of political of political life in the Bangsamoro homeland” (See: Art. II, Sec. 3 of the MILF Draft Agreement).
Up to Aquino
In his interpretation of the key terms of the first three items of the Interim Agreement, Seguis reiterated the GRP position to negotiate only within the present provisions of the Constitution. Regardless of the MILF position to the contrary, that is how the Interim Agreement is to be interpreted as the “basic architecture” to ensure the continuity of the talks” under the Aquino government.
Is this limiting Aquino’s options? Seguis said: “While we have advanced these formulations in our discussions, it is up to the next administration to make the final decisions on what should be in a political settlement.”
Arroyo is not limiting Aquino’s option. She is only asking him to confine the peace talks within “the boundaries of the Constitution”. Like saying, “You don’t have to follow me. Just obey.” (Next: Aquino’s Best Option).