COMMENT: BBL Concerns: Little, Nothing or Big? (2)

2nd of a series

I. What MILF Says (Continuation)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, July 13, 2014 – By the statements of Chairman Murad Ebrahim and Peace Panel Head Mohagher Iqbal, also chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, MILF is hurt. While they temper the hurt feelings with “still having faith in the President, holding on to his commitment” and “the belief that the problem can be settled if reasons and consistency prevail”, the balm cannot suppress the disillusionment.

There are from others more than what Murad and Iqbal have said.

Alonto Disillusioned

If Murad and Iqbal have reined their disillusionment, Robert Maulana Alonto – member of MILF Central Committee, of the negotiating panel and of the BTC — let go his own as seen in his Facebook posting datelined Marawi City, Give peace a chance. Or so we thought” (MindaNews, July 7, 2014)

Alonto’s piece expresses disillusionment punctuated by the refrain “Or so we thought” to stress deception. This may be dismissed as his alone; but that there is a number, few they may be, who are as disillusioned as Alonto should not be just waved off. He is top-ranking MILF member and a prominent Moro; he is influential.

In the opening of his piece, he twits as hypocritical the off-repeated call, “Give peace a chance,” feeling it to be directed to the MILF and the Moros by those he sees as the real source of the “unpeace.”

”It almost sounds as if we were the cause of ‘unpeace’ in our land. It almost sounds as if we were the ‘enemies of peace’ that brought the scourge of war to our homeland and on our people. But has anyone ever thought of seriously considering that 17 years of peace negotiations were all about ‘giving peace a chance’? (Bold ours)

“Has anyone ever considered that though both deception and armed aggression were invariably used by our adversaries to force us to accept subservience, we nonetheless pursued the peace negotiations all for the reason of ‘giving peace a chance’? For 17 years and the previous decades before that?”

He sees the Aquino government appearing to be different from previous governments. The MILF took the risk and compromised for the sake of peace.

“In the name of peace, we were willing to set aside political independence. But in return, we exacted the promise from our adversaries that they will not ram down our throats their constitution as the framework for defining a just peace in our land.

“Given the long, dark record of broken promises that our adversaries were notorious for, we took the risk in the name of peace and with the hope that perchance a modicum of sense of justice will this time move them to realize that a just peace is what is required to resolve the Bangsamoro Question.

“The present regime showed signs of promise in this respect. Or so we thought. The regime was ‘different’ from previous regimes. Or so we thought. The regime wanted to leave a lasting legacy that institutionalizes an enduring peace based on justice in Mindanao and Sulu. Or so we thought.

“The regime had at last experienced an epiphany that made it realize that the Bangsamoro is unique and therefore a reconstruction of the totality of relationship is needed that accords parity of esteem and replaces the status quo with asymmetrical relationship with genuine self-rule at its cross-hair. Or so we thought.

“The regime desired to forge a partnership for ending violence in the Bangsamoro by uprooting the cause of such violence. So we were no longer adversaries but partners. Or so we thought.

By allowing the Moros – through the all-Moro BTC – to write the BBL, the Aquino government impressed the MILF of its sincerity.

“The regime went through the motion of allowing us to write our own Basic Law through the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, and we eagerly jumped into the bandwagon bearing the billboard sign ‘sincerity’ for all to see and leap to the roof with joy. Or so we thought.

“The menu of ‘or so we thought’ is so long that to many it exceeded the measurement of common sense and patience. But we chose to ignore that because we wanted to ‘give peace a chance’. Or to be more precise, both our adversaries-turned-partners and we desired to ‘give peace a chance.’ Or so we thought.”

But all the motions or gestures of sincerity of the Aquino government have turned out to be an illusion.

“Now, with the recent development relevant to the emasculation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, everything is but an illusion. The partnership is an illusion.

“In one of our last meetings abroad, the MILF Panel was given a symbolic gift by the GPH Panel in the form of a disc of the song of John Lennon entitled ‘Imagine.’ The disc was encased in a beautiful mounted case. The song is indeed symbolic as – come to think of it now – it foreboded the things to come in the Bangsamoro: That all we’ve agreed on at the negotiating table is just to be ‘imagined’ and not intended to be implemented. (Bold text ours)

“’Beware the Greeks bearing gifts,’ so says the old adage. And, indeed, the last ‘gift’ that they’ve given us tells it all: A mongrelized ‘Bangsamoro Basic Law’ that’s an absurdity. It’s an absurdity that rubs all our faces on the ground. It’s an absurdity designed to insult and humiliate the Bangsamoro people, the MILF Panel, the BTC, the international community, and, over and above, the MILF leadership. As such, it’s an absurdity that I vehemently refuse to swallow because it is a deadly poison conveyed by a venom-carrying serpent.” (Bold text ours)

Disillusioned, Alonto did not attend the four-day Kuala Lumpur special meeting. Will he rein in his disillusionment and attend the next GPH-MILF talks in Manila? We will soon know.

“A very good friend told me recently to ‘no longer dance to their music’. She is right. Perfectly right. That’s why I prefer to inhibit myself from the KL talks. I could no longer endure sitting opposite those people who want us to just ‘Imagine’ living out a fantasy that actually brings back and perpetuates the nightmare in our homeland. I opted to stay in the homeland this Ramadhan and engage our people. They deserve to know the truth. So do the people of Mindanao and Sulu and the rest of the country – Muslims, indigenous peoples and Christians. We owe it to them.

“The Truth shall set them free, to paraphrase a popular saying. No more of this ‘or so we thought’. May Allah swt have mercy on us all.”

We decided to quote in full (in Italics) the entire Facebook posting as published by MindaNews in order to convey the depth of Alonto’s disillusionment in the review and revisions of the BBL draft by the OP legal team and the hurt it has inflicted.

Luwaran Warns

Luwaran, the website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, is the MILF mouthpiece. Its July 8, 2014 editorial, “Moro Question is political,” ponders on the unexpected turn of events around the BBL draft and warns of dire consequences.

It observes: People are speculating “on the nature of the comments made by the Office of the President (OP) on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) …” Since there is no way to stop the speculation, “it is better to discuss, at least the generalities of the comments, rather than close the door of their understanding completely. The people have the right to know.”

It reasons: “Right now there are groups who asked the government to make public the BBL. The MILF is not taking an active endorsement. We are aware of the consequence, plus or minus, of disclosing or withholding it. Besides, negotiation is not always transparency but also confidentiality.”

Not the answer to the Moro Question: Using the analogy of “a cow bearing a horse” it sees the OP comments on the BBL draft and its proposed revisions as without reason – defying “the law of science or nature that the offspring will always carry the genes of the parents”, meaning, as revised by the OP, the BBL draft is not the solution to the Moro Question.

The root of the present conflict: To the point, it states that the OP “review team looks at the Moro Question as purely legal matter” anchored in the constitution, suggesting that the BBL draft has been revised according to the text of the 1987 Constitution. It reiterates the MILF’s long-held position: “While we respect the Philippine Constitution, but it is too shallow and limited to fully address this problem. This is the reason that up to now the MILF is firm on its conviction that the current Constitution would require an amendment to finally put to rest the conflict in Mindanao.”

And, it notes the GPH’s contrary position: “But the government side is equally firm on their stand that this Constitution has the flexibilities to accommodate and implement legally the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).” This must explain the OP legal team’s action despite the agreements allowing proposed amendments to the constitution if necessary.

It sees the GPH in an awkward situation: The government also repeatedly said that they will not sign an agreement that they cannot implement. These two theses are put to test now and soon a verdict comes out.” By “two theses”, the editorial must mean the opposing positions of MILF and Government; by “test”, how the controversy is being resolved. If in the present talks, the GPH and MILF panels restore the original BBL draft – much of it, if not all – will President Aquino III certify it to the Congress?

Feeling betrayed? While admitting, MILF “cannot fathom … why they had that kind of comments, which are purely based on legalese”, it resents the participation of the Office of the Peace Process and of one member of the BTC in the review and revision:

“Part of the review team were the very office tasked by the government to oversee the conduct of peace negotiations not just with the MILF but with all “rebel” groups in the Philippines and a former lady commissioner of the BTC who did not sign the proposed BBL. Both are fully aware that the issue of the Bangsamoro is political that requires a political solution. Pure legalism will bring us to nowhere.”

Burden of the Parties and the President: “However, whatever is the reason is not the real issue. The real thing is how the Parties, especially their Principals manage the situation not to retrogress seriously. This if and they are still committed to settle the issue. Both sides have invested so much and it is easier to push forward rather than revert back to uncertainty.

“It is time that on the side of the government, President Benigno Aquino III should personally attend to this issue. Success or failure, it is his name which will be at the forefront and at stake. More seriously, success or failure of the peace-making matters much. Everybody will be affected.”

Warning of trouble: “The truth is that like the MILF, not all in government prefer to solve this conflict in Mindanao through peaceful means and fairly. There are those whose agenda run counter to the policies of the MILF and government and whenever opportunity arises they will do their thing on their own fashion. The worst enemy is not from without but from within.”

To Recapitulate

MILF Chairman Murad and BTC Chairman Iqbal, also chief MILF peace negotiator, have conveyed their concerns to President Aquino III. They and top MILF official Alonto have expressed their concerns publicly. The Luwaran editorial expresses more their concerns and those of the Central Committee. They are serious and have to be taken seriously. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz has written extensively on the Bangsamoro struggle and peace processes since the 1960s. While in Cotabato City, he served as editor of Mindanao Cross and later Mindanao Kris. He is now based in General Santos City. 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 [email protected].)

(Next: What Government Says)