COMMENT: Muddled: Situwasyon sa Mindanao (2). By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/4 Aug) — As discussed in the first part, “Situwasyon sa Mindanao” as the core of President Aquino’s peace policy in Mindanao is vague. This could be seen from his pronouncements in his SONA. A review of the peace negotiation from Ramos to Arroyo shows the Aquino policy appears to muddle the clear stage, state and direction of the negotiation to solve the Bangsamoro problem. We trust he and his peace team will clarify his policy, continue the peace process and bring lasting peace to Mindanao.

Burden of Aquino

The state and stage of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation and the Mindanao peace process were clear when Aquino assumed the Presidency on June 30, 2010. The continuation of the peace talks, also an international obligation of the Philippine government, is now President Aquino’s burden.

What is to be done is also clear: Conduct the negotiation of the Comprehensive Compact, the last stage of the process on Ancestral Domain, the last aspect of Tripoli Agreement of June 22, 2001, to finalize the political settlement. The SC Decision of October 14, 2008 has prescribed the guidelines. The GRP-MILF Joint Declaration of July 29, 2009 and the Peace Proposal Agreements they subsequently drafted recognized the guidelines; these were reiterated in the GRP-MILF Interim Agreement of June 3, 2010.

Three critical issues in the agenda should be: (1) the fine-tuning of the Concepts and Principles of Ancestral Domain; (2) the defining of the relationship of the Bangsamoro associative state with the Philippine Government and its implementing mechanism and modalities; and (3) addressing the objections of the thousands of villages against their inclusion in the Bangsamoro associative state – BJE in the MOA-AD. The concerns of the Indigenous Peoples must also be in the agenda.

Extensive consultations on the Comprehensive Compact should be conducted after is has been negotiated and initialed. But it will be signed only after the concerns raised during the consultations are properly addressed.

Situwasyon sa Mindanao

What we mean by our suggestions immediately above is that if President Aquino orders his peace team to continue the peace negotiation under the Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo governments, his government will be able to conclude an agreement with the MILF in two years time, more or less. Within the next four years of his presidency, he should be able to reconcile the agreements with the MNLF and the MILF and unite all Moro leaders in the government that satisfies their rights to self-determination.

But the unveiling of “Situwasyon sa Mindanao” in his July 26 SONA as the apparent core of his peace policy in Mindanao has muddled the clear stage, state and direction of the peace process to solve the Bangsamoro Problem. It has raised serious questions.

Two such questions are on (1) the downgrading of the Bangsamoro Problem, and (2) the implications of lumping this problem together with many other problems in Mindanao in the vague situwasyon sa Mindanao. Of these Camilo Montesa reminded the President in a note he addressed to him, posted in the website of Kusogmindanaw on-line discussion group on July 27, 2010, 4:25 a.m.

Montesa in his Note, “Noy, there is no such insurgency called ‘Situwasyon sa Mindanao’,” said:

“Noy, there is no insurgency problem called ‘situwasyon sa Mindanao’. There is a Bangsamoro Problem or perhaps an MILF insurgency and it has been with us for over 30 years, costing billions of pesos, lots of lives and properties. It is a problem that is at present something we can solve, only if we put our hearts and minds into it together.”

x x x x x x x x

“Noy, it [situwasyon sa Mindanao] is clearly an attempt to downgrade the struggle of the MILF and the whole Bangsamoro Question to that of a generalized peace and order problem. It does not show any respect or seriousness on the part of the Government. However, if you wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of your speechwriters that the problem is peace and order or corruption or even poverty then I think we will have bigger problems in the future.

“While there are many conflicts in Mindanao, i.e., political warlordism, private armies, drug running, exploitation of natural resources, corruption, displacement of people, etc., to lump the Bangsamoro problem into this basket of “situwasyon sa Mindanao” is simplistic, dangerous, borne out of ignorance and a step in the wrong direction.”

[Note: Montesa was Secretary General of the Liberal Party; he and the President know well each other personally and professionally, so the intimacy in addressing the President, “Noy”. He was with the PAPP for seven years and a top man in the GRP Technical Working Group; hence his authoritative knowledge of the Bangsamoro Problem.]

Other Questions:

The main approach of the peace process under the “Situwasyon sa Mindanao” policy is “honest dialogue” among all “stakeholders”. There have been so many dialogues in the past – presumed to be all “honest” – with muted success, if any. How different will the dialogues under Aquino be from those under Marcos, Cory Aquino, Ramos and Arroyo?

The stakeholders to dialogue are the Moro, Lumad and Christian. Dean Marvic Leonen, as head of the GRP Peace Panel, will conduct talks with the MILF. Will the dialogues of the stakeholders be different or conducted together with the talks with the MILF?

The GRP-MILF peace negotiation and Mindanao peace process have been extensively internationalized. Will the Aquino government de-internationalize it — disengaging with Malaysia as third party facilitator and host, the ICG and the IMT?

The GRP-MILF peace negotiation and Mindanao peace process have been conducted within the frameworks agreed under the Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo governments culminating in the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of June 2001 which the Supreme Court recognized in its October 14 Decision. Will the Aquino government disregard all these framework agreements?

Muddled

The GRP-MILF peace negotiation since 1997 has been contentious but with a clear goal and direction. To reiterate what Montesa told the President, “It is a problem that is at present something we can solve, only if we put our hearts and minds in solving it.” And more: If President Aquino provides the political will that President Arroyo sorely did not.

“Situwasyon sa Mindanao” reflects the clamor of the rabid opposition that had wanted the Supreme Court not only to declare the MOA-AD unconstitutional but to annul it. As seen in the four paragraphs of the SONA quoted above, there is a reference to the mistakes of the Arroyo government [3] and another to the inability of the MILF to control its commanders [4]. Are these going to muddle the peace negotiation?

What were the mistakes of Arroyo to be avoided? Specifically mentioned was the lack of consultations. The Aquino government should spell out all. Clearly alluded to in [3] was the suspicion that Arroyo had wanted to ride on the MOA-AD to amend the Constitution to perpetuate herself in power. That this suspicion of Arroyo’s political enemies was never proven was the mistake. Whose mistake was it?

Was it a mistake for Arroyo to have continued the negotiation from Ramos and Estrada? If it was and Aquino will avoid it, then there will be no more negotiation. Is that it?

There was one big mistake of Arroyo. She acclaimed in her SONA 2008 the initialing of the MOA-AD as a breakthrough. Yet, she had no political will to defend it. For instance, the Supreme Court clarified the President’s powers under the Constitution to negotiate to bring peace to Mindanao. Why did she not have her defense built on these instead of invoking executive privilege?

If President Aquino has the political will that President Arroyo did not have, he should avoid the anti-Moro bias and prejudice of the rabid opponents of the MOA-AD, among them top honchos of the Liberal Party – either out of ignorance or out of the tendency of the majority to ignore the voice of the minority.

The allusion to the inability of the MILF to control their so-called rogue commanders – subtle as it is — is disturbing. Why not let the IMT investigate the circumstances that led to the rampage of those “rogue” commanders and put a closure to this? Is this a veiled warning of a military solution to the Bangsamoro problem?

Muddled as it looks now, “Situwasyon sa Mindanao” should clear up by the end of 2010. That let’s hope in good faith, trusting that President Aquino has the political will to seize – to quote from Montesa’s Note – the “opportunity to solve this problem and to begin the healing and build[ing] peace in Mindanao”.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])

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