MIND DA NEWS: Challenge to Accept or Reject

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 9 Oct) – The Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front 41st exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur is now ongoing – opening yesterday, October 8, to end on Friday, October 11. Can the Parties put a closure during these four-day talks to the negotiations on the two remaining Annexes – Power-sharing and Normalization – that they failed to do in ten days of the 40th exploratory talks last month?

MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, in his opening statement (we received a copy he had sent by e-mail yesterday), made a challenge: “I would like to urge the parties to resolve and finish the remaining annexes especially power-sharing, because it seriously impedes the working timeline of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in crafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” Will this challenge be accepted or rejected? Let’s see by Friday.

He reminded themselves that on signing the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro on October15, 2012 they set the following December as the deadline “to finish the four annexes” and that December 2013 “is less than two months from now and we are still struggling to finish the job” – stating forthright the embarrassingly slow pace of the negotiation.

He also reminded themselves that “Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong and Congressmen Rufus Rodriguez, and Jesus Sacdalan, who graced our meeting recently,” had urged them to have “the Basic Law finished by the BTC before January next year”. While conveying the eagerness of the Congress to enact the BTC draft into a law, they must be expressing their concern for the Congress to meet the President’s 2014 deadline.

As Iqbal enumerated ways to hasten the negotiation, he pointed out that (1) “the issues before us are tough, substantive, and sensitive or irritating, at times”; yet, (2) “if we can mutually improve … our respective internal working process, I am sure we can move forward quite faster” – singling out (3) “too much legalism” among what have been slowing down the negotiation.

To explain, obviously referring to the Annexes particularly on Power-sharing, he said: “One way to do is for the parties not to engage in too much legalism because the process is not a legal process but a political process.” As a policy, Government will not sign an agreement that is not in accordance with the 1987 Constitution or pertinent law.

He pointed the MILF contention about the insufficiency of the 1987 Constitution: “Much of what we intend to do to address the Bangsamoro Question is to think ‘out of the box’, because the current Constitution of the Philippines is too narrow and restrictive to argue or entrench any real solution to this problem.” The MILF negotiators have been pointing this out since the Arroyo years of the negotiation. While they have not gotten tired of barking, successive government peace teams, not heeding, have stuck to legalism.

Has the 1987 become irrelevant? To IqbaI and MILF, “whether there is a need to amend the Constitution or not is not a settled issue. Let us wait for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to make a stand on this. Therefore, the Constitution should not be used as an argument to limit our creativity to solve the Bangsamoro Question.” Evidently, he is proposing, ala Leonen, to agree now on the politically agreeable and to determine later constitutionality based on the BTC’s draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Adhering strictly to the 1987 Constitution, he contended, would result only in a “half-baked solution” to the Bangsamoro Question which “is no better than no solution at all; worse, the conflict will stay or worsen with all its ugly faces.” To preempt the consequence of a “half-baked solution”, he said: “This we must start arresting now and not to leave it for the next leaders or generations to handle. That might be too late.”

To drive home his fears about a “half-baked solution” by strictly adhering to the 1987 Constitution, he pressed: “The GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement of 1996 is a case in point. This agreement, although flawed in both substance and implementation, had better served our people if in its totality was made part of the Constitution or used to amend it. But that affirmative action was never fully considered or consummated. What was done by government was merely to scratch the surface.” (Emphasis ours)

This suggests the MILF position relating the BBL draft to the1987 Constitution: Make the draft part of the Constitution or use it to amend the 1987 Constitution. That, indeed, is a creative position, thinking “out of the box”, but it can wall in the box instead. [NOTE: As a rehash of R.A. 6734 which strictly adhered to the 1987 Constitution, the 1996 FPA, from the start, was part of the 1987 Constitution. We will discuss this fully later – ppd.]

Iqbal clarified the position of MILF toward MNLF and the 1996 FPA:

First: “[D]espite its (1996 FPA) infirmities, the MILF has considered the GRP-MNLF Final Agreement as an achievement not only of the MNLF but an added feather on the long and protracted struggle of the Moro people for their right to self-determination. The MILF has never been remiss in this recognition.”

Second: “This is the reason the MILF had made a stand that it wanted the GRP-MNLF peace pact fully implemented and what it is negotiating with government is what is lacking in this agreement, which is diverse and compelling. And more importantly, the fruits of this current endeavor will redound to the benefits of everybody including the MNLF.”

Third: “This is the reason that we appeal to our brothers in the MNLF to support the MILF, or at least not to stand on the way. They should give us all the chances to succeed as what we did to them by heartily allowing them for 16 long years to prove their thesis as correct. If they failed, they should also look at themselves for answers.”

Iqbal, in challenging “themselves”, is really challenging the government peace panel not to indulge too much in “legalism” in order to speed up the closure of the negotiation on the two remaining Annexes. He is also challenging the MNLF to support – if not, just to not impede – the MILF.

Will his challenges be accepted or rejected?

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENTS, is specifically an opinion on current news. [email protected]]