Second of a series
(II. From Opening Statements)
GENERALSANTOSCITY,March30,2012 – Just like their joint statement, the opening statements of the peace panel chairs of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH nee GRP) and of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during their just concluded 26thformal exploratory talks show no sign of signing an agreement soon.
GPH Panel Chair Marvic Leonen states, in his opening statement, “The Welfare of our People is at the Core of these Negotiations”, the Government’s position. Obviously, he means by “our people” all the Filipinos including the Bangsamoros. Being negotiated is the “Filipino problem” that the “Bangsamoro or Mindanao problem” is or has become since the near-signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain on August 5, 2008.
He clarified at the outset: “All of us know that the heart of what we are discussing in this negotiating table is not what government can assert or what the MILF can gain. It is, first and foremost, what we can really get for our people, their communities and their future.” [Emphasis supplied]
Leonen’s clarification should be closely noted: first, “The frame of these discussions … should always take into consideration our ideas of democracy, viability and mandates for the representation of those who will temporarily lead the forms of governance that we agree upon;” second, while “temporary”, that “representation” is “real and genuine for the Bangsamoro”. This avows the preferential option for Bangsamoro leadership.
He further clarified, third, “Ours is a democratic and republican state where there are openings to improve on the unitary system with constitutional provisions that allow for flexible autonomies to happen.” In this he envisions a Bangsamoro autonomy within the “unitary system” as an alternative to MILF’s asymmetrical state-sub-state proposal.
ARMM as Alternative
He must be referring to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan in this assertion: “Autonomy, even as enshrined in present laws, should however never be a reason to entrench any form of authoritarianism. Neither should it be used to justify lack of good and effective governance.” Yet, can he also be referring to the ARMM before Ampatuan as well as to some fear of what can happen under the MILF?
He vouches for the ARMM as basically sufficient despite its history of misgovernment. “Indeed, if we are truly to abide by its spirit: autonomy already acknowledges [first] historical and cultural differences while at the same time [and foremost] a faith that the peoples that claim it can also be truly heard and hold their leaders accountable.” [Bold in brackets, by the author]
Basically sufficient as it already is, for ARMM to be truly autonomous, “The government that is installed must work. It must be accountable. It must be effective. It must have the mandate of the governed. It must be tolerant and accountable.” This is exactly what President Aquino wants to happen in reforming the ARMM and in inviting the MILF to join in partnership under the “3 for 1 Proposal”.
The Aquino government wants the ARMM reform to succeed: “Otherwise,  we repeat the sins of our history:  even that part of our history where we sought accommodations in order to sue for peace.” Leonen’s warning of dire consequences may be discerned: of , the continuing lack of development in ARMM due to poor governance; and of , the endless complaints of the Moros and the armed Moro rebellion.
Leonen enumerates the three “weaknesses” of the ARMM: poverty, education, and abuse of public office which “are now being addressed by government … with some leaders within the current ARMM.” He foresees that “in time” with some “progresses that have already been made … [and] given the sincerity, capability and resources and the support of many peoples for these reform agenda, communities will be able to feel that their lives have changed and that they have more control of what happens to them.”
In a Stalemate
Leonen assures MILF: “But the value added of these negotiations is to bring on board more of your aspirations and solutions that you brought with you as a movement.” This is persuading MILF to support the ARMM reform agenda which is the core of the “3 for 1 Proposal”.
But at the same time, he reminds MILF: “We daresay that these negotiations should not be for the purpose of supplanting the good that has already been achieved. Again, at the core of these discussions we should only have our various peoples in mind.” As he has already said, the ARMM reforms have made progresses and these must continue as the centerpiece of the Mindanao peace process.
Leonen sees an impending “stalemate” in the negotiation even as he speaks of “timelines” for the signing a peace agreement. It appears that March 31, 2012 is only the first of a series that extends to June 30, 2013 presupposing “the political and legal possibilities that are present within the first half of this administration” — without specifying details.
He muses, “Should we fail to meet these timelines, these negotiations will continue but we would have to seriously re-craft the proposals that we now already have on the table. But that time has not yet come” [although the March 31 target would surely be missed] “and we are still in the midst of exploring the many opportunities that an agreement within the first half of this year can bring.” He implies that June 30, 2012 is the next target for signing an agreement.
He invites MILF “to take a step back with us” and consider these three possibilities: “ Perhaps, by examining the reasons why we insist on our various positions we can see ways forward.  Perhaps if both our teams can temporarily suspend judgment so that we can candidly evaluate our reasons and standpoints, [we can] see their political viability.  Perhaps, [if] we can both keep an open mind, we could convince ourselves that there are goals more appropriate rather than sticking to our encrusted positions.”
To forestall a stalemate, he perorates: “Let us redouble our efforts, understand the reasons for our positions, bring them carefully and accurately to our principals and constituents, spark the needed public debate and then participate with our principals to come out with difficult decisions. Let us stay focused, be patient so that we can have greater understanding of the possibilities that still lie ahead of us.”
In “The Clear Path without Branches”, his opening statement, MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal does “a rundown of what [he believes] as the true state of this 15-year old GPH-MILF peace negotiation in Mindanao”.
His title alludes to President Aquino’s “Matuwid na Daan” in the light of Islam’s “Stratal Mustaquim” – both meaning “straight path policy”. [In the Qur’an, “stratal mustaquim” means “clear path without branches”.]
Under the concept of “stratal mustaquim”, an “honest person” is described “as being straight” who fulfills “promises and commitments made with fellow beings”. The MILF has regarded the President Aquino and his government as “this person”.
Of the President: “It is on this premise that I am hopeful that under the administration of President Aquino the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao will finally be put to rest.”
Of the government peace panel: “It is also on this premise that I believe our honorable counterpart in the GPH would deal with us in straight-forward manner; meaning, what has been committed, as a product of honest discussion, will be pursued and followed sincerely, including signing it without delay. From it we can move forward with much trust and confidence, as we confront the most contentious issues of the negotiation.”
Then his hopes turn to contradictions and disappointment:
“Surely and without doubt, the comprehensive compact will not be signed now or perhaps even in April, despite the claim of the honorable Secretary Teresita “Ging” Deles-Quintos, banking on ‘miracle’ to happen. The greater fear is that we might not even sign it at all if we are not firm on our resolve to push hard in our negotiation.
“Sad to note, however, that within the first two years of the Aquino administration, we have not signed anything of great consequence that we can show to our people and the world that indeed there is big happening in the current peace negotiation.
“I am afraid that we might not be as productive as compared to the times of Secretary Silvestre Afable III, Secretary Rodolfo Garcia, and Ambassador Rafael Seguis, notwithstanding the fact that we have a counterpart in the GPH which is led by a brilliant lawyer and a dean of law at that.”
He points to the root of the impending stalemate:
“Up till today, I hope that the Aquino administration is still pursuing the first best option, which is to sign an agreement with the MILF; and the second best option, which is merely to reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is not being pursued by the government in replacement of the negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.” He is referring to the accretion of agreements with three governments prior to Aquino’s.
“And clearly if the first is the option of the government, then we can expect seriousness in the current peace talks. But if the second is now the option, then it is very easy to see [the lack of seriousness]. Expect commitments made to be changed randomly.”
This reiterates MILF’s rejection of Government’s “3 for 1 Proposal” centered on the reform of ARMM and of the call for MILF to abandon its proposed political settlement – the asymmetrical state-sub-state Bangsamoro form of government, the latest version of the ancestral domain aspect of the June 22, 2001 Tripoli Agreement of Peace. MILF has adamantly stuck to this option it calls “more than autonomy but less than independence”.
In their Joint Statements, GPH nee GRP and MILF appreciate each other’s efforts to stay on track to find a lasting solution to the Mindanao Problem despite their differences. In their opening statements they bare their differing positions and the impending stalemate. (Next: From Opening Statements)