RIVERMAN’S VISTA: What’s next for the Peace Process?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/17 October) — After the signing of the Framework Agreement, the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will sit down again for more talks, this time to give flesh to the agreement. Remember, the Framework Agreement is only the “mother of all agreements” which means that side agreements – referred to therein as Annexes –have yet to be proposed, negotiated, and agreed upon by both parties.

These Annexes taken together will provide a panoramic, if not a comprehensive view, on how to concretize the Framework Agreement. The parties are given a three-year window to fully implement the Agreement, that is, before the term of the incumbent president ends in 2016. This is a bit tight since its full implementation will involve a long list of processes and procedures, involving a lot of people working on ways on how to address complex issues affecting millions of inhabitants in the war-torn island of Mindanao. Nonetheless, the negotiating panels have committed to continue with the negotiations until all issues are resolved and all agreements implemented.

One thing that future negotiations should keep in mind are the commitments made during previous agreements including those made in the Tripoli Agreement between the GRP and the Moro National Liberation Front dated 23 December 1976 and the Final Agreement on the Implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement signed on 2 September 1996 between the GRP and the MNLF.

It would be ironic indeed if the operations of the Bangsamoro were to become untenable only because of the disruptive activities of other Muslim armed groups like the MNLF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who might feel left out and totally ignored from the whole process.

To be addressed is the question: Did the Framework Agreement totally abrogate the 1996 peace agreement or does the new agreement merely serve to complement the previous one? Or is the just concluded agreement a reboot of the 1996 peace agreement considering the pronouncement by the President that the ARMM was a failed experiment? How may the MNLF and other armed Muslim factions with legitimate grievances take part in the peace process?

Other equally important considerations include the rights and obligations of the indigenous peoples and Christian communities in the Bangsamoro. Or asking how will the Bangsamoro avoid a repeat of the failed ARMM in terms of accountability of its public officials and capacity to shake off its overdependence on the national government in fiscal matters? A holistic and comprehensive approach to the Moro problem is a must in order to achieve a settlement that is truly final and enduring; one that will bring a lasting peace in the South.  A piecemeal solution will simply not do; it will only create a different crop of disgruntled groups that will sow more troubles in the future to negate whatever gains thus far achieved.

Following the signing of the Framework Agreement, the President, with the support of Congress, will issue an Executive Order calling for the creation of the Transition Commission. As stipulated, the Transition Commission, to be composed of fifteen (15) members all of whom are Bangsamoro, seven (7) of whom shall be selected by the GPH and eight (8) members, including the Chairman,  by the MILF, will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.  The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to be passed by Congress shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.

Once the basic law, which provides for the creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Authority, is promulgated and ratified in a plebiscite, the ARMM will be abolished.  Until then the ARMM officials will continue to govern the region.

Public consultation that is, in the words of chief negotiator Marvic Leonen – inclusive, people-driven and democratic, will be undertaken and facilitated by the national government to inform stakeholders, gather comments and suggestions, and to rally support for the enactment of the law after the issues have been thoroughly considered.

With the election and assumption into office of the members of the Bangsamoro Legislative Assembly in the 2016 and the formation of the Bangsamoro Government, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will then be dissolved.

Critical to the success of the Bangsamoro is to ensure that there is peace and order in the region; hence, a police service that is professional, effective and non-partisan must be organized. As agreed, the MILF shall undergo a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use. Eventually, law enforcement functions will be transferred from the Armed forces to the police force of the Bangsamoro. A program for decommissioned MILF elements for their post-conflict life must be formulated and fully implemented with especial attention to the specific needs of women, children, disabled, internally displaced persons and the like who were affected by the years of armed conflict. The region will remain a security nightmare unless and until law enforcement is able to dismantle private armies and arrest lawlessness, including the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of high-powered firearms.

Often, rebellion is borne out of desperation.  It is therefore important that the new government is able to inspire hope; and this can only be achieved if the people see that their leaders are sincere and capable of providing them their needs, even the most basic ones. Comprehensive socio-economic development plans and programs that will benefit not only the conflict-affected areas but the whole Bangsamoro must be formulated and fully implemented at the earliest possible time.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dean Tony La Viña is a human rights and environmental lawyer from Cagayan de Oro City. He was a member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel that negotiated with the MILF from January-June 2010. He is currently the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. Dean Tony can be reached at Tonylavs@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook: tlavina@yahoo.com and on Twitter: tonylavs)