Remarks at the launching of the AFRIM book: In Defense of and Thinking Beyond the GRP-MILF MOA-AD

REMARKS AT THE LAUNCHING OF THE NEW AFRIM BOOK

IN DEFENSE OF AND THINKING BEYOND THE GRP-MILF MOA-AD

BY SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR.

 

15 July 2011, Davao City

 

Daghang salamat to Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao, Inc. (AFRIM) and Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) for organizing this book launch cum discussion forum.  Daghang salamat to all of you who have come notwithstanding another possible raining hard with its new threat of previously unseen flooding in this most livable of Philippine cities.  I should be saying a bit more about this also in a while.  If Pareng Bert Alejo were here, I must confess to him,  “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.  It has been more than one year since my last”… visit to Mindanao.  That is largely due to my paradigm shift from a Manila-based civil society peace advocate and human rights lawyer to the very establishment and conservative job as a municipal judge in several rural towns in Bicol.  Let me say that I have benefitted in my new job from my peace advocacy experience, like its framework of peace and justice, as well as its mode of mediation of disputes.  But my new job has also given me new perspectives for the big peace processes like those of Mindanao.

The title given to my part of the program now is understandably the same as that of my new AFRIM book being launched today.  I would rather not say too much about the book, just a few things.  Then, following the theme of the title, I hope to also think beyond the book, and take this rare opportunity, in my new job and geographical circumstances, to say at this Mindanao forum what has not yet been said in the book.

As indicated in my Introduction in the book, which is a compilation rather than one whole written piece, the dates of each article — the first date being 5 August 2008 (the scheduled but aborted signing date of the MOA-AD) and the last date being 2 November 2010 (at about four months into the new Aquino administration) —   are important for the reader to note for the time context in which they were written.  One might see in the original chronological progression of the articles something like the five stages that dying patients experience when informed of their terminal prognosis: [and these are] denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

These are not to be confused with the four stages of intoxication: [namely] jocose, bellicose, morose, and comatose.  Actually, one often sees all these four stages of intoxication in the peace negotiations.  But going back to the five stages of grief over death or dying, after the fifth stage which is acceptance, there could or should still be other stages like moving on or beyond a death.  Thus, after the abortion or still-born death of the MOA-AD, I articulated in one of my post-MOA-AD thought papers published in the book a proposal to leap-frog over the MOA-AD and proceed straight to negotiations for a Comprehensive Compact.  That wasn’t really my original idea, I first heard it from either then OPAPP head Gen. Hermogenes Esperon or then GRP panel chair Gen. Rodolfo Garcia.  You see, there is such a thing as military intelligence, after all.   My tribute to the sacked Garcia panel is published as the last epilogue piece in the book.

The Garcia panel and the MOA-AD itself showed that at least some Filipino and Moro patriots on both sides can compromise or find a middle ground between the existing constitutionally-mandated Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and an independent Islamic state.  And that is a continuing source of hope.  I wrote then that I think it will be hard to find another good panel like this.  Well, we now have the Leonen panel which is perhaps the best ever GRP panel in terms of academic and practical credentials and grounding in the legal, political, economic, social, cultural, and religious aspects of the negotiations.  This, aside from being able to learn from and build on particularly the work of the predecessor Afable, Garcia and Seguis panels, as well as the best and latest international experiences and developments.  Of course, the proof (or, given the leading Professors in that panel, I should perhaps say the “Prof”) of the pudding is in the eating.  The awaited initial serving of that pudding is the expected but deferred GPH counter-proposal to the MILF Draft Comprehensive Compact.

Let us be patient about this, as former GRP panel vice-chair and Mindanao historian Prof. Rudy Rodil counsels colleagues among civil society organizations (CSOs) and peace advocates, based on his experience in two protracted negotiations, first with the MNLF and then with the MILF.  The initial serving of the GPH pudding is still being cooked and is promised to be ready by the next round of exploratory talks in the first week of August.  The MILF may have been frustrated by the deferment of the GPH counter-proposal but understands and accepts why.  The only discernable major happening shortly before that week is the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).  Presumably, the SONA and the GPH counter-proposal will be aligned with each other.   This can have its merits as well as demerits.  Preferring to think positively, we hope that a good SONA policy statement on the Mindanao peace process is matched by a good GPH counter-proposal.  This better be good, to make the wait worth it.  I hope this is not unduly pressuring the GPH panel through its vice-chair Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer (Iye, who is a long-time friend and colleague in civil society peace advocacy and the anti-landmines campaign), after having just possibly raised some expectations about the Leonen panel.

Because much is at stake, and it has been a long and winding road to peace, the “big disappointment” of the CSOs and peace advocates with the GPH deferment is natural and understandable, even if some considered it an “over-reaction,” of being “holier” even than the MILF which understood and accepted the GPH deferment.  But that is part of the necessary role of the CSOs and peace advocates as watchdogs over the state as well as non-state armed groups, to keep them honest and on their toes. The watchdog work is not just bantay ceasefire but also bantay peace talks.  The overall experience in the peace process militates in favor of rather than against such a watchdog role, where it is often better to over-act rather than under-act, on the premise also that civil society is as much a stakeholder in this as the parties in armed conflict.

It is on this stakeholder premise that civil society, which includes the academe, has a further role, more pro-active than reactive watchdog work, that of being advocates and even shapers of alternative policies. One good, bold new example of this thrust is the MPC-initiated Change for Peace Movement (i.e. Charter Amendments for New Governance and Change).  This is premised on the real need for charter change for the peace process, particularly that with the MILF.  The fundamental national policies are those found in the Constitution, including its provisions on autonomous regions.  If there is a need to change the autonomous regions framework to a better and higher level of self-governance, then there is a need for charter change.  The problem is that, though this is a real need that both the GPH and the MILF sides  realize, they are both hesitant to say it, for their own respective reasons.  And so, someone else — like the “usual suspects” of CSOs — has to say it.

However, the movement and voices for charter change for peace are not as strong or as heard as the movement and voices for reforms in the ARMM.  One clear reason for this is that the latter is already government policy in a new law R.A. 10153, while the former is not.  GPH panel chair Prof. Marvic Leonen has urged the MILF “not to become an obstacle to these reforms”  in the ARMM.  Perhaps, the MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal  should in turn urge the GPH not to become an obstacle to charter change for a better and higher level of self-governance than the existing ARMM.   But since the MILF or Iqbal cannot seem to say that, then someone else, logically the Change for Peace Movement, should.  Actually, the latter and the reform the ARMM movement (another “RAM”) are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and can learn from each other.  Then one can segue into the other and thus eventually converge, just like the parallel peace tracks with the MNLF and the MILF, if not the two fronts themselves, should.  But it should be clear, to the GPH especially, which of these two peace tracks should be treated as primarily and secondarily important for finally achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Bangsamoro problem.

The book, following from other writings of mine since 1999, has grappled much with the particular Moro Islamic challenge of doing constitutional rethinking for the Mindanao peace process. More and more have not only seen the need for this but have also done constitutional rethinking.  But rethinking is one thing, perhaps the easy part; the harder part is the process of getting a critical mass of public or political acceptance for the necessary charter change so as to make it happen. Much more work, including strategizing, on this harder part has to be done.    I now take this opportunity to address the Mindanao CSOs represented here and also the GPH panel represented here with some “thinking out of the book” – thus less on the constitutional and legal aspects and more on the political and cultural aspects of what has to be done.

 

Speaking again of “major, major” policy statements, especially by the President, whether at the SONA or some other timely important occasion, at some point he must decisively and boldly address the Mindanao peace process and the Bangsamoro problem.  This kind of breakthrough message would address mainly the Filipino Christian majority especially in the North: for their understanding of the Bangsamoro problem; what it is all about, including some necessary correction of the national narrative, no less than a new look at Philippine history;  some acknowledgment, if not apology for the central government’s past wrongs and injustices against the Moros; explaining why the bother in negotiating with Moro rebels; and why the need for constitutional structural reform as an indispensable part of a comprehensive negotiated solution to the problem.

This breakthrough presidential message can in turn be the signal for a GPH “all-out peace” effort on the Mindanao front, to be followed through with massive information-education campaigns, including on a corrected national narrative.   This powerful symbolic and substantive message could be just as important or crucial as the Comprehensive Compact or constitutional amendment itself.  And the academe, among the civil society sectors, has a definite contribution to make in terms of the necessary historical research, teaching and over-all consciousness-raising.  This is crucial for a national political consensus in support of a negotiated political-constitutional settlement.

I cannot avoid mentioning here that in a year 2000 MILF position paper for the  peace talks during the height of President Estrada’s “all-out war” against them, they then recommended a political solution that included this last of six items:   “Pronouncement of a public apology by the GRP to the Bangsamoro people for the crimes and harm caused by their subjugation, oppression, and exploitation.”  Something like this, it has been noted, would be an extremely important symbolic gesture towards the Moro minority, showing that the government cares, aside from its being an important message for the rest of the country. I don’t know if the latest MILF Draft Comprehensive Compact contains something along this line.  But, given that this is the Philippines, let us hope that this does not end up in the reverse as a public apology by the Bangsamoro people to the Philippine republic for causing a Bangsamoro problem to the latter.

 

When the GPH finally submits in a few weeks time its counter-proposal to the MILF Draft Comprehensive Compact, it is said that the issues will have been joined and that the real hard work of negotiation then begins.  In my view, the Mindanao CSOs and peace advocates should not feel bound by the issues thus joined.   They should broaden and improve on the peace agenda as they see fit.  Of course, we are not starting from scratch in this.  There is among already many peace agenda-building exercises – which should be not in futility – the Mindanao Peaceweavers’ Towards A Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Agenda and AFRIM’s own People’s Agenda for Peace and Development in Mindanao.  All these good efforts  should be put to good use by possibly culling, refining and consolidating the most appropriate inputs for the comprehensive compact.

I understand that the various consultations so far, including several forums with the MILF peace panel conducted in Imperial Manila, notably with no less than the Makati Business Club, have been very salutary and good getting-to-know-you as well as learning experiences for all concerned, but have barely scratched the surface on substantive agenda issues.  With the joinder of issues, there should be no more excuse for any lack of more substantive agenda discussion which, I repeat, need not be limited to the official agenda.

Just to illustrate a few agenda issues “less travelled by,” first, the recent developments of unprecedented flooding in Cotabato and then Davao, on top of the Northeastern Japan three-in-one earthquake-tsunami-nuclear plant disaster, underscores that climate change and other environmental concerns should already be included in the peace agenda.  It is good that some earlier GPH draft peace agreements are said to contain provisions on sustainable development and environmental conservation, and not just on wealth sharing, economic cooperation, and taxation.  I confess that I initially questioned that attention given to  sustainable development and environmental conservation, but the recent events have validated their validity as agenda issues.

 

Second,  another confession or self-criticism I must make, this about my book at hand, is its defeaning silence on the role of women in the peace process.  I make this self-criticism in front of Iye, Mary Ann of MPC, and my wife Doods who happens to be now doing research on gender and sexuality in the GPH-MILF peace process and particularly in non-state armed groups like the MILF.  It is serendipity that these very days here now, Mindanaoan and particularly Moro women have been meeting to discuss their role in this.

 

Third and last for now, for a broader peace agenda, has to do with the peace of the heart and soul, its moral and ethical dimensions.  Of particular concern here are non-state armed groups that may come to power through a negotiated political settlement.  What are the assurances, to paraphrase Rizal, that the slaves of today do not become the tyrants of tomorrow?  What are the assurances that the leadership that comes to power in a new Bangsamoro self-governing entity will not be corrupt or corrupted like some Moro leaders before them in the ARMM?  Are there relevant lessons for moral and ethical renewal and leadership from the recent Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East?  How about from the referendum-triggered newly independent Republic of South Sudan under the leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)?  And how about from the now apparently renewed reformasi movement in neighboring Malaysia, the third-party facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace talks?

As I said, we have only scratched the surface of some important possible substantive agenda issues.  The Mindanao CSOs and peace advocates should take the lead in surfacing and deepening these issues.  For this, they should reach out to more people beyond their usual circles, including to members of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court – which is the juridical entity that actually commonly worries both the GPH and MILF peace panels.  The more people engaged, the merrier.  With more than enough issues on hand to deal with and to divide the work on those issues among the various civil society stakeholders, there should hopefully also be more than enough basis for reunifying the civil society peace advocates who were divided on the MOA-AD issue.  While the MOA-AD can still be defended, it is definitely better now to think and move beyond it.  The Comprehensive Compact, if it is to be true to that name, must be comprehensive in at least two senses:  in terms of subject matter and in terms of stakeholders.   Ultimately, it is these two aspects that will determine what suitable charter change for peace in needed and whether this change will be acceptable to both the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino people.

 

In ending, perhaps there should also be a pudding test for the Mindanao CSOs and peace advocates.  One proof of the CSO pudding is being able to come up with its own draft comprehensive compact. One international experience model for this is what was known as the “Geneva accord” drafted by the “Geneva Initiative” composed of Israeli opposition politicians and prominent Palestinians, with detailed proposals to resolve the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An alternative draft can be useful, among others, in case of a stalemate between the GPH and the MILF on their respective drafts.  Oh my God, I’m sorry, I should catch myself.  I had remarked earlier about preferring to think positively, but now it seems that I am already anticipating a stalemate.  What I really mean is the familiar expression “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

Daghang salamatPadayonKalinaw.

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SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer;  legislative consultant and legal scholar with degrees in history and law;  peace advocate, researcher and writer esp. for and on the Mindanao peace process, with several books on this, inc. The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process (UP Press, 2001; 2nd printing, 2009);  Referendum on Political Options for the Bangsamoro: Study Papers on the Legal and Historical Basis (Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement, 2010); and In Defense of and Thinking Beyond the GRP-MILF MOA-AD (Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao, Inc., 2011). He is now Presiding  Judge of the 9th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Nabua-Bato, Camarines Sur, and Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Balatan, Camarines Sur.

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