MIND DA NEWS: At the Heart of 39th ET

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 August)– Despite the “air of optimism” prevailing, negative expectation tempered with hope is at the heart of the ongoing Government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front 39th Exploratory Talks that opened in Kuala Lumpur two days ago. This MindaNews (August 22, 2013: Optimism marks resumption of GPH, MILF talks) observed.

MindaNews editor Carolyn O. Arguillas reports:

Sources from both parties do not expect a signing in this round of talks but are hoping that the contentious issues are resolved so they can move forward.

“Malaysian Facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed told MindaNews the parties are ‘working on the language’ of the annexes and are expected to bring back the drafts to their respective principals.”

This is the cake of the 39th ET beneath the icing of glowing rhetoric of assurances from the government panel chair and challenging scenario of urgencies and imperatives from the MILF panel chair.

Quotes from the GPH panel chair that “… both parties [are] looking forward to ‘put to sleep’ what GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer describes as ‘the infamous devil in the details and awaken the angel of creativity and compromise’ — portray “optimism” and “assurances”.

“For MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, the last two of four annexes that would complete the comprehensive peace agreement ‘must be settled and fixed now’

“Sources from both parties” must be from the technical working groups as well as the peace panels. They are realistic. They know no “glowing rhetoric” or “prodding” can ease the difficulty in reconciling contrary and contradictory positions and in expressing their agreements in the language agreeable mutually to the Parties and their principals. What the Malaysia Facilitator has stated is the standard procedure, unless through on-line consultations the Parties are given the go-signal to sign.

Hence, even if the Parties can agree on and initial the Annex on Power-sharing – so much the better if they could do the same with the Annex on Normalization – this will have the imprimatur  of President Aquino and Chairman Murad before the formal signing. The submission of the copies to the principals is not mere formality but for “further study”. When brought back to the next meeting, the copies may have revisions that will need further discussions or that can derail the talks like what happened in the negotiation of the Annex on Wealth-sharing.

How far forward the talks can move during the 39th  ET will be known on Sunday. Can the Comprehensive Peace Agreement be signed by December? Can the Bangsamoro Transition Commission go full-blast in drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law by January 2014? Will the Bangsamoro Transition Authority have the needed time to transition the Bangsamoro properly? That is how portentous the 39th ET is?

The House of Representatives sent three Mindanao congressmen as observers in the 39th ET – House Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong (Lanao del Sur), Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Rep. Jesus Sacdalan (North Cotabato. Unfortunately, Rodriguez sadly sounded out of sync. That his statement showed (MindaNews, August 23, 2013: “Balindong: “Bagsamoro Basic Law has to be finished as soon as possible”).

Balindong  echoed the House leadership commitment and common sentiment when he told MindaNews on Thursday morning:  “We will try to do our best to craft this law. We need this. We want peace as soon as possible.”

Rodriguez, however, sounded out of sync by what he told MindaNews on Friday morning:

First,they ‘want the two annexes finished this month or next month’ so that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) can draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law and submit it to Congress by December.” This desire is most welcome as morale booster. However, even if the two annexes can be signed this month or next month, how can the BTC finish the BBL draft by December? That is not a mere city ordinance.

Second, “Intimating that they “want to have peace in Mindanao” so the need “to hurry up”, he assured that Congress “will have to fast-track” the BBL; “can act on the draft law from January to March [2014], before Congress goes on break”. Does he reflect the thinking of the majority in the House? Is the BBL a mere local legislation?

To restate, glowing rhetoric or grim scenarios can spur the technical working groups and the peace panels to find common grounds but will not wipe out the contentiousness of the issues. Finding common grounds will mean reconciling positions to clear the ground for the emplacement of the foundation of the Bangsamoro envisioned to solve the Bangsamoro Question. Not to be trivialized the two icings of the cake at the heart of the 39th ET have the flavors of two contrary positions being reconciled.

Emplacing the foundation needed for the Bangsamoro envisioned by MILF poses a serious challenge not only to the President but especially more to the Congress. The BBL being drafted by the BTC will shake up the political and economic status quo; it cannot be drafted by December 2013 as Rodriguez would want it done – within two months, granting that the CPA can be signed in October, a grant against hope.

For Rodriguez to expect the BBL draft to be submitted to the Congress in January 2014 and to presume the Congress will fast-track the BBL bill and come up with the law by the following March is to trivialize the serious. Firstly, no BBL draft can be certified by the President to Congress in January 2014. Secondly, the draft will precipitate some controversies that will call for plenary debates longer than anticipated.

Let’s hope the Congress is not as out of sync as Rodriguez. The Bangsamoro is not a mere political entity like the city, the municipality or the province. The BBL bill calls for longer and more thorough deliberation than the ordinary bills of local application.

What does the Congress seriously think about the Bangsamoro? This is at the heart of the Rodriguez statement. Significantly, he is from Mindanao and is expected to be most knowledgeable of the Bangsamoro Question.(Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)