COMMENT: Bridging the Historic Chasm (1) Intriguing Notes

1st of a series

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 October) —  In “Mind da News” (MindaNews, October 5, 2012), we cited the Government and MILF panel chairs as referring in their opening statements to fundamental differences they were still trying to resolve during the critical 32nd exploratory talks – the historic gaps they were urging each other to persevere in bridging. We cited, too, MindaNews reporting “what is certain”: that “both panels agree they are ‘almost there’” as “We cannot postpone any longer.”

We concluded, noting that the suspense would end on the next day, Saturday: “If the Parties come out with a framework agreement, they will have succeeded in bridging the historic gap. From the framework agreement, we will see how heroically they have done it. If they fail? The spoilers will jubilate.”


They succeeded. MindaNews editor Carolyn O. Arguillas said the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was sealed at 10:40 p.m., on Saturday, October 6, 2012 (MindaNews, October 11, 2012: “How the GPH-MILF Framework deal was (finally) sealed”.)

Arguillas summed up the last day of the 32nd exploratory talks: “The number 13 would figure prominently in what turned out to be the longest day for the peace panels, clocking 13 hours to finally complete the crafting of the 13-page Framework Agreement on the 13th round of talks under the Aquino administration.”

The 32nd exploratory talks, originally October 2 to 5, was extended first to the 6th and then to the 7th to become the longest meeting between the Government and MILF panels in the 15-year history of the negotiation — and the most hectic, too, with the Parties’ resolve and mood: “we will return home only when we’re done”.   

Government Panel Chair Marvic Leonen left for Manila at 1:20 a.m. Friday, the 5th, had a 2 to 5 p.m. “very major Cabinet-level meeting” with the President, and returned to Kuala Lumpur late that Friday night. The MILF panel had separate consultations via Skype with the Central Committee and Chairman Murad Ibrahim.

Yet, Saturday was suspense-filled as the Parties scrambled over the “final wordings of the still contentious provisions, particularly on normalization”. However, while the Parties agreed to a second day extension, Sunday, they were able to compromise at their 7 p.m. plenary leaving Sunday for President Benigno Aquino III to announce the forging of the Framework Agreement.

The Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB), compared to other agreements from which it has evolved, will show the compromises the Parties heroically – also smartly — entered into to bridge their historic differences. This we will discuss later.

Euphoria, Hope, Support

From the time President Aquino announced on Sunday, October 7, that a peace deal had been finally agreed, the euphoria, hope for lasting peace and development in Mindanao and expressions of support generated by the FAB have snowballed from Mindanao peace groups, foreign countries, the European Union, the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly: “Conference”) and international aid and other agencies. The euphoria is richly deserved, the hope well placed, and the expression of support most welcomed and encouraging.

As the signing of the FAB in Malacañang last Monday (October 15) neared, the national media echoing the OPAPP Website (Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process) and Mindanao-based media adding their voices have sustained the euphoria. “Parang tsunami” (like tsunami or tidal wave), wrote MindaNews (October 12, 2012) quoting Gus Miclat, executive director of Initiatives for International Dialogues.

After Monday, the euphoria will wane. The hope and expressed support will sustain Government and MILF morale as they implement the FAB roadmap and strengthen the bridge they have just built over their historic differences. All the statements at, before and after the signing ceremony by the President, the Malaysian Prime Minister, the MILF Chairman and the heads of the Government and MILF panels are challenges to Government and MILF in the implementation of the FAB.

It is most sobering to remember what Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia – he shepherded the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement – reminded GRP and MNLF at the signing of the FPA in Malacanang on September 2, 1996: “… the real hard work begins after the signing of the agreement. For a peace agreement, or any other agreement for that matter, does not implement itself.” [As quoted by Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., O.M.I. in his February 5, 2010 blog.] The sixteen years past have borne out his wisdom.

As reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (October 16, 2012), MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal stated a similar reminder when he “conceded that [the FAB] would turn out to be a mere piece of paper unless fully implemented at the grassroots.”   


The FAB, more than just a “framework”, is a “comprehensive” agreement. It is the fruit of fifteen years of hard negotiation of four governments with MILF – President Aquino and his government working out with MILF the FAB edition, still subject to more editing through 2012 until the President’s term ends in 2016. This is what FAB says “without derogating from any prior peace agreement”.

The FAB provides the basic elements of Bangsamoro self-determination spelled out in the Memorandum of Agreement; it further provides the implementing mechanisms that should have been crafted in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Agreement within fifteen months after the signing of the MOA-AD had this not been aborted. This is the historic irony staring all in the eye that none would see or admit.

In their Joint Communique, Government and MILF state:

“The Framework Agreement serves as the overarching architecture for the Mindanao peace process and provides the foundation for a just and enduring peace in Mindanao. It defines the powers and structures of the new Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It sets the principles, processes and mechanisms that will shape the new relations between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro.

“The details of the remaining issues will be spelled out in annexes that will form part of the Agreement. The Parties committed to continue discussions until the details are settled.”

In reality, the FAB is what the Supreme Court in its October 14, 2008 Decision had enjoined Government and MILF to do with the MOA-AD. While the Court declared the MOA-AD “unconstitutional and contrary to law”, it did not nullify it as prayed for. Instead it ruled: “The MOA-AD is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement” of June 2001. It recommended: “… the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compare to the original.”

The present Government and MILF peace panels should be congratulated for dressing the FAB in clear and simple language. In the estimation of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, the well admired constitutionalist, “language engineering” led to the misunderstanding of the MOA-AD – contributing to its downfall aggravated by adverse political climate.

Whether by accident or intention “Bangsamoro” in the FAB is a fitting solution called for in the original talking point: “How to solve the Bangsamoro problem.” It may not yet be the ultimate solution but it is the bridge, the open door, leading to it.

Hard Issues

Hard issues will confront Government and MILF as they implement FAB and continue ironing out their remaining contentious differences within their December 2012 deadline. In fact, hard issues have already emerged. More will surface. Interestingly, Government has done most of the talking and singing.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has already raised constitutional issues including the involvement of Malaysia and the International Contact Group in, she alleged, dictating “what terms should be included in a proposed constitutional amendment”,

Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, has assailed the “illegality” of the FAB since there are existing agreements between the Philippines and the MNLF – the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Ramos government (Jakarta Accord); the 1987 Jeddah Accord with the Corazon C. Aquino government and the 1976 Tripoli Agreement with the Marcos government.

Mayor Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City is leading the opposition to the territorial provisions of the FAB. While the movement is still confined in Zamboanga City the possibility of other local government leaders joining Lobregat cannot be dismissed.

These and other hard issue that may still emerge cannot be ignored. They will disturb the implementation of the FAB.

Beyond June 2016

That the full implementation of the FAB is being crammed within the term of President Aquino III – three years and eight months remaining – is not reassuring. The Aquino III government can commit and guarantee only on what it can deliver.

As Conrado de Quiros, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist wrote, the FAB is “a roadmap to something.… But the road isn’t just rough and rocky; it has yet to be built.” He has insightful points there.

  • After the signing of the      FAB, the transition period begins. The Parties have agreed to resolve all      remaining contentious issues by end of December 2012.  What if they fail to meet their      self-imposed deadline?
  • A Transition Commission will      be created to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The draft will be submitted      by the President to the Congress for enactment, certifying it as “urgent”.      Only after the enactment and ratification of its Basic Law and the      subsequent creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will Bangsamoro      be deemed established.
  • Two questions beckon: (1) If      Congress fails to pass the Basic Law on time, what will happen? (2) Even      if Congress succeeds, what guarantee has Bangsamoro of the political and      fund support it will need after June 30, 2016?

As the euphoria dissipates after the signing, uneasy questions await. The overwhelming hope is for FAB to succeed. The same euphoria and hope engulfed the 1996 FPA that in fact earned peace awards for President Ramos and Chairman Misuari. What followed is history. President Ramos, a popular president, had solid support in the Congress. But his government had to end shortly after the FPA signing. President Aquino III and the FAB can be viewed similarly.  Intriguingly, can history repeat?

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards 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

(Next: Looking into the FAB)