COMMENT: Getting It All Wrong

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, April 23, 2013 – Posted in the website of OPAPP (Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) on Sunday, April 21, is “Gov’t on diligent review of GPH-MILF annexes; urges public to be patient”, the report on the message of Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, OPAPP head, to the Rotary International District 3870 in conference in Iligan City last Saturday, April 20.

As the report title states, the speech read by OPAPP Undersecretary Jose Lorena, “urges [the] public to be patient” while Government is reviewing diligently the Annexes to the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) – an assurance that all will be well despite the delay in signing the Annexes. What the Rotarians asked during the open forum and how Lorena fielded them for his boss must have been interesting but the report does not mention of any.

The perceived impatience should have been addressed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders and members. The urgent impatience with menacing undertones is from them as manifested in several reports of Luwaran, the official website of MILF Central Committee on Information. Is the general public really impatient? Criticisms in the media express concern on the implications and dire consequences of the delay; they should not be mistaken for impatience – much less as impatience of the general public.

Quoted portions of the speech provoke some hard questions.

President is the Reason

MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal said that while MILF is ready to sign the Annexes, Government is not. Deles confirms it: “While we move forward in this final stretch, we need to remain cautious of the intricacies involved in the crafting of the annexes.”

Iqbal implies that the negotiation on the Technical Working Group level of the Annexes (except that of normalization) is over; the MILF Central Committee has approved them. That Government “has been on diligent study of the intricacies” for more than two months now, it may be asked: Were the government TWGs instructed on what and what not to commit and cautioned on the intricacies?

The reason is the President: “The three remaining annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization are now going through due diligence review because our President wants to make sure that the whole government, not just the peace panel, has the full grasp of all the implications of what we are going to sign.” That the President is prudent should be admired.

However, “Our President has reiterated time and again that this government will not sign any agreement that it cannot implement” reiterates, policy-wise, another statement attributed to the President, “This government can commit only what we can give”. This is a policy statement crucial to the finale of the Government-MILF peace negotiation.

Core Question

This brings up a core question: Will Bangsamoro, the “new autonomous political entity” that the Aquino III government will grant, fully satisfy “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem” that MILF proposed as the only talking point and which the Parties approved on the first day of the GRP-MILF negotiation on January 7, 1997?

Prudence must temper but not weaken political will. It is not a matter of giving what can be expediently given; rather, it’s a matter of giving despite the odds what must be given to solve the Moro Problem. The first may be appreciated as prudence; the second is political will.

The Moro (Bangsamoro) problem could have been solved in the first three decades of the American rule had government given what had to be given; and so could have the Philippine Republic decades after independence in 1946. The MILF demands – as well as those of MNLF – were essentially the same as the Moro demands in their petitions in the 1920s and 1930s. But even what could be given were NOT given to the Moros!

The initialing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was a historical landmark: Government granted a significant part of the MILF demands. But MOA-AD was immediately slain by the leaders of the Filipino majority who considered the grant to the Moros a violation of their constitutional rights and by the Supreme Court which ruled that Government cannot grant more than what the 1987 Constitution provides.

In the wake of the MOA-AD debacle, the talking point in the peace negotiation deviated from “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem” to “How to solve the Problem about the Bangsamoro Problem”. More than ever, the Moro Problem has become the Problem of Government and the Filipino majority.

Hard Questions

Deles told the Iligan City Rotarians:

“The lessons of MOA-AD continue to remind us to practice due diligence by carefully studying the repercussions and examining the viability while making certain that that the voices of the people are heeded in the process.”

“We will never allow another hastily forged agreement to waste the gains achieved in the 14-year negotiations. We will never allow our people to suffer again. It is for this motivation that we want to settle on an agreement that is based on solid foundation and can withstand scrutiny and cynicism.”

Is Deles sincere? She knows. She risks being misunderstood as talking tongue-in-cheek.

It took more than four years to negotiate the MOA-AD? Call that a hastily forged agreement? There were long suspensions of the talks, repeatedly in fact, because of the need for “due diligence” in studying contentious issues. She knows that the MOA-AD negotiation started under her watch as Arroyo’s peace secretary.

The Aquino III government does not want to waste the gains of the14-year negotiations. Who wants to? The “gains” should not just be for “14 years” but for 37 years dating back to December 23, 1976 – the signing of the Tripoli Agreement. Likening the gains to a house, the FAB is the fifth renovation of the first house established in Tripoli.

What are these “renovations”? First, the Regional Autonomous Governments IX andXII of President Ferdinand E. Marcos; second, the ARMM constitutional regional autonomy under President Corazon C. Aquino; third, the Jakarta Accord or 1996 Final Peace Agreement under President Fidel V. Ramos; and fourth, the MOA-AD. Comparing the FAB and the four other “renovations” to the substantive provisions of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, would we find much essential difference?

The FAB embodies the gains bilaterally agreed from Tripoli to Kuala Lumpur. So as not to “waste the gains”, the Parties must have the FAB implemented as agreed. They must avoid the pitfall of the past: The Parties agreed but disagreed in the implementation.

But delaying longer the signing of the Annexes which already stand to be delayed for six months will constrict further the FAB roadmap. It can lead to the hasty drafting of the BBL, the hasty enacting of the Bangsamoro charter and the hasty transition. Yet, Deles has said Government will not allow haste “to waste the gains achieved”. What paradox!

Did the Panels and the TWGs not study with due diligence the Annexes? Is the FAB not being touted as the solid foundation of Bangsamoro?

Apparently, Government is anticipating “scrutiny and cynicism” and their “repercussions” from the people and other leaders of government. This calls for strong political will from President Aquino III – boosted by his popularity — to handle the “spoilers”. President Macapagal-Arroyo, sorely lacking the popularity and strong political will, could not fend off the opposition to the MOA-AD. What then is the real problem of Government?

Asking for Help

Deles told the Iligan Rotarians – “… we need the help of more and more groups and sectors. For a peace process to succeed, we will need the patience and support of the vast majority of our people” — citing “the last remaining issues of the three annexes” as “the most contentious and the most difficult”.

And directly appealing, “… I would like to call on your further help and assistance as the challenges continue to abound. I know that there will be no shortage of options for your involvement as you begin to know more and more about the unfolding possibilities for peace in our country.”

Specifically, “As well, your help will be needed in building bridges of understanding and in developing constituencies for peace especially in the professional and the business sectors. It is certainly welcome news to have you join and accompany us in this difficult but worthwhile journey.”

Her final appeal rings beautifully: “We have a limited window of time to pursue our dreams, but we can create unlimited opportunities if we help one another in bringing about creative solutions in bringing about a future for our children.”

The Response

Instead of saying so much, why did Deles not present to the Iligan Rotarians copies of the Annexes under study with “due diligence” and underscoring the most contentious and difficult issues? The same should have been done through the media and other forums if Government really wants the people to help.

Isn’t it absurd for Government to ask for “your further help and assistance” in solving the peace problem “as the challenges continue to abound” while keeping the problem a top secret?

Is keeping the problem as top secret while asking urgently for help not the very way of taxing the “patience and support of the vast majority of our people” and allowing “peace … already at hand … to slip out of our grasp”? (“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