Mind da News: Hope Vague, Press On

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, October 11, 2013 – As Government and MILF end their 41st exploratory talks today the expectation is they can sign the Annex on Power-sharing even if the signing of the Annex on Normalization will be deferred to another day. Both GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal know the expectation, the urgency and the stake in failing. However, while in their opening statements they expressed their resolve to press on, beyond that hope is vague.

Iqbal expressed the urgency of signing the Annex on Power-sharing, understandably by the end of the 41st exploratory talks; stated what had stalled the agreement for more than a year now; pointed out ways to overcome the obstacles; and said, “I am sure we can move forward quite faster”. This is a subtle expression of hope.  (See: Mind da News: Challenge to Accept or Reject, October 9, 2013).

Ferrer, in her opening statement, following her lengthy welcome with compliments to Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, she expressed her hope: “Later this week, we will be joined by one more member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Teddy Broner Baguilat Jr., as well as Presidential Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles and perhaps one or more Cabinet secretaries and another Congress official to witness, In Sha Allah, the closure of at least one of the two remaining Annexes.” (Bold supplied)

Take her seriously. Yet, toward the end of her opening statement, she said:

“We, the negotiating partners present here and the friends of this process in the room, will need to steadfastly work together to foil the many WHAT IFs. We carry a great burden borne out of equally great expectations.

“We know that it will require a lot of hard work, the appropriate strategies, the effective mechanisms and collaborative approaches, at the soonest possible time.”

By these, she acknowledged that the “great expectations” pinned on the negotiating panels – revealed in the “many WHAT IFs” during their consultations — have imposed on them “a great burden” to carry. She pointed out ways “to foil the many WHAT IFs”. This is the urgency to be met “at the soonest possible soon”.

While Iqbal’s sees rigid adherence to legalism and the 1937 Constitution as stalling negotiations on the Annexes, Ferrer appears to be preoccupied with the “many WHAT IFs” that can spoil support for the peace process. Is Government more concerned with the public pulse than with the contentious issues on the table?

Ferrer sees a favorable public pulse in the surveys: “Going by the June 2013 survey results of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a good 70 percent of Filipinos still believe a peace agreement between the GPH and the MILF is possible. However, only one-half of those people who continue to believe actually expect it to happen soon by or before 2016.” What many want to know, she said, is when “we will have a peace agreement”.

More difficult to answer than “the WHEN question”, she said, are the “WHAT IF questions” they had received during their various consultations – giving six of them:

WHAT IF for some intent, malicious or otherwise, a case is filed in the Supreme Court against the agreements and [it] actually prospers?

WHAT IF the Transition Commission is unable to finish a draft law by early-2014? Will Congress have enough time to work on it, when budget deliberations start once again next year, and who knows what other pork or other corruption controversies arise in Congress?

WHAT IF the President fails to muster enough support in Congress for this urgent bill?

WHAT IF Congress mangles the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted by the Transition Commission?

WHAT IF some of the ARMM provinces do not join the Bangsamoro political entity?

WHAT IF traditional politicians end up capturing the Bangsamoro in 2016 and thereafter? Will the MILF accept the election results?

She clarified: “Those who have asked the WHEN and WHAT IF questions do so, not just out of impatience, but of genuine concern for the success of the process.”

If we look at these questions, the five are consequences that gravitate on the second “WHAT IF” and the effects of “lost time”. Enough time to allow a well-studied, well-deliberated, well-crafted BBL draft with enough time to explain it to stakeholders can preempt the consequences. But, right now, with time running out, the apprehension in the second question might materialize. [NOTE: Space does not allow us to elaborate on the effects of lost time; however, we have discussed these in our past COMMENT articles. – ppd]

Regrettably, one year was lost between July 2010 and the first formal GPH-MILF (GRP-MILF until June 30, 2010) exploratory talks; and progress in the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) roadmap has been stalled since January 2013. Had two years not been lost, there would have been no WHAT IF questions.

Quoting Biblical passages, Ferrer invoked patience to “press on to fulfillment”. Reverting to the stalled negotiation of the Annexes, she concluded her opening statement:

“Indeed, if it has taken us a long while to put down in words and phrases in the Annexes, it is because we want to guarantee the integrity of the outcome.

“We need to ensure the justness of the solutions we are adopting for one and all, so that with the faith of our fellow Filipinos, this agreement will live and let live the hopes for less strife, good governance, harmony, cooperation and a better life among the Bangsamoro and the whole country.”

This is a response to Iqbal. The desire “to guarantee the integrity of the outcome” and the “need to ensure the justness of the solutions” explain the perceived GPH rigid adherence to legalism and the 1937 Constitution.

She implied “all’s well”. Will tomorrow’s news report the signing of the Annex on Power-sharing? If not, when? Then the enigma of the “WHAT IF” questions will not go away.

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