7th of 18 parts
(This is a revised version of the book “KALINAW MINDANAW: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996” published in 2000)
Story behind Paragraph 16
Paragraph 16 emerged from the two panels’ disagreements over the area of the autonomy.
The way Governor Datumanong perceived it, the positions on territory were locked and the negotiation was not moving forward. The impasse was on the area of the autonomous region. The MNLF insisted on Mindanaw up to Palawan. The government panel had two positions. The first position was five provinces: Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. The fallback position authorized by President Marcos was 10 provinces or Regions IX and XII.
Datumanong took the initiative of speaking to Misuari alone in the hall; he could not say though whether this conversation had any impact on the decision of the MNLF Chairman later to modify his position. He said:
“I explained to him that Mindanaw up to Palawan consisted of about 12 million people and of that 12 million, only 3.5 million are Muslims. I said that the Muslims are in the minority and since this is only going to be an autonomy the mode of selecting a leader shall be by election. It is always the situation that the majority will win over the minority. And on top of the fact that Muslims are minorities, there are also three major tribes who have political rivalries. The Tausug, his tribe will put up a candidate; the Maguindanawons, my tribe will put up a candidate, the Maranao tribe of Ambassador Pangandaman will also put up a candidate. All the three candidates together against the majority, the Muslims will lose. And I said if the Muslims will lose, the leadership of the region will be taken away from the Muslims. What are you going to do? Go back to the hills and fight again? Our exchange was candid.”
The Governor continued:
“Actually, it was the Libyans who were pushing it. We thought that was the end of the talks without achieving anything. And so we wanted to go home, it was Christmas time. So, we sent one of our companions, a certain Minister Manzano to get booking for us outside Tripoli, any point outside Tripoli. When he came back, he reported to Secretary Barbero that there was no seat available in any plane. We even thought of chartering a bus from Tripoli to Tunisia but no one was willing to take us. So, we had to wait.”
The following day Ali Treki, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Libya came to the government panel’s hotel with the MNLF counter offer:13 provinces. Barbero could not agree; it exceeded their authority. President Marcos’ maximum was ten provinces.
So, Barbero called Pres. Marcos and explained the situation. This was December 21. Pres. Marcos authorized the acceptance of the 13 as long as there was a provision “subject to the constitutional processes of the Republic of the Philippines.” When they came down to Secretary Treki who was waiting downstairs, Secretary Barbero relayed the message and Treki said “very good, very good.” So, the following day, December 22nd, it was okay. The four of them, Misuari, Barbero, Treki and Amadou Karim Gaye met in a room by themselves and agreed. The matter was not decided in formal session; it was a product of backroom diplomacy.
Moreover, prior to the signing, they were all summoned by Khaddaffy who wanted clarification about the meaning of “constitutional processes.” Secretary Barbero explained to him that in the Philippines there are many constitutional processes, one of them is appointment. The power of appointment by the President is a constitutional process. Referendum is a constitutional process. Plebiscite is like a referendum, it is also a constitutional process. Holding an election is a constitutional process. Plebiscite may not be clear to Arabs but referendum is a very well understood among them. So, he approved.
Strangely, Datumanong noted, after the agreement was signed, plane seats became available. Extra solicitous, Treki asked Barbero, “Excellency, we know this is Christmas time, when do you like to leave?” That very afternoon of the signing, they all departed. Amadou Karim Gaye, Pangandaman and Datumanong proceeded to Jeddah; Barbero flew to Rome.
RP Panel Chair’s Official Impressions
We cite Undersecretary Barbero’s very revealing impressions here on the negotiation process itself and the personalities involved. Since we cannot accommodate all of them, we are only excerpting the first five observations; the assessment we have here in full. Readable in style and revealing from first hand the government viewpoint, long kept from public scrutiny, we thought it best to leave them unedited.
1. “Throughout the negotiations, Dr. Ali Treki was the dominant figure, in his role as conference chairman. The RP panel was actually negotiating with him, not with Misuari. Misuari himself was totally subservient to Treki, and was allowed to speak only three times during the entire conference. Likewise, any illusions which we might have harbored before the negotiations that Secretary General Dr. Karim Gaye exerted at least some amount of independent influence with the Islamic Conference as regards this issue, were completely shattered, after our observance of his complete deference to Treki. The three other members of the Committee of Four also seemed ready to blindly follow the lead of Libya insofar as this question is concerned.
2. “It was apparent, at every stage of the negotiations, that Col. Khaddafy and Libya were determined to make the talks successful, with Libya pictured as the champion and the one who successfully solved the problem before the eyes of the Islamic Conference. This bolsters the belief of the undersigned as well as those who went on the First Lady’s visit to Libya, that Khaddafy had been sold on the Third World challenge and was therefore ready to consolidate ties with the Philippines, but only if Libya could find a face-saving device which would enable her to still face the Islamic world with some pride.
3. “On the other hand, the Libyans did not leave any trace of doubt in our mind that they would also strike back with full force, should they be embarrassed by a breakdown of the talks. They seemed to imply that any half, or part success, was no success at all, bearing in mind, perhaps, that the longer the matter was left hanging, the more the MNLF would lose its bargaining leverages, to the eventual embarrassment of Libya. It seemed, therefore, imperative to the Libyans that some form of settlement of the problem be in effect by the time the Eighth Islamic Conference meets in Tripoli in May; anything less than this implied failure, as far as they were concerned.
4. “In view of all these, it was therefore only logical that the threats which were brought to bear against the Philippine Government by Libya and the Islamic Conference during the moments of impasse in the negotiations were never more unequivocal and straightforward as they have ever been. More ominously, whenever Treki expressed these threats, there appeared to be unanimous expressions of approval from the Secretary General and the other three representatives of the Committee of Four. The new elements of the threats which were expressed on two different occasions, were as follows: (a) complete blame on the RP government for the failure of the negotiations; (b) recommendation to Islamic Conference to stop all negotiations with the Philippine government; (c) elevation of the matter to the Security council, and the General Assembly of the United Nations; and (d) application of economic sanctions against the Philippines.
“It was, and still is, the opinion of the undersigned that Libya and the Islamic Conference are very much capable, at present, of carrying out these threats, and the thought of the possible damage to the Philippine government of the eventuality of these threats indeed being carried out, weighed heavily upon the undersigned in his conduct of the negotiations.
5. “As we had been warned by the members of the First Lady’s mission, Libya, as the host country, used all available physical and psychological means in order to achieve maximum advantage for them and for the Misuari group. All scheduling was controlled by the Libyans, as well as all movements, appointments, and even mealtimes. Even the crateful of supplies which was brought along as accompanied luggage, was intentionally withheld from the delegation for almost five days. As such it is an understatement to say that the RP Panel was negotiating under the worst possible physical and psychological circumstances. The same circumstances should be expected by the RP panel which will return to Tripoli on February 5.”
Undersecretary Barbero proceeded with his assessment, as follows:
“Comparing the original objective of the delegation to what has actually been accomplished by it, it seems clear that the RP Panel was highly successful in achieving what it set out to do.
“It must be admitted that the Philippine Government has had to pay the necessary price of sitting down officially and signing an agreement with a rebel group which it sought to completely disregard before. Concessions to this group also had to be made, in terminologies perhaps more palatable to the Libyans than to the Filipinos, to afford the Libyans their much needed face-saving device. But in essence, there is nothing to indicate that the implementation of the terms of the agreement would be beyond the future actual control by the Philippine government.
“Much more has been achieved on the more favorable side of the balance sheet. A ceasefire has been drawn up with a separate communiqué, promising the saving of thousands of valuable Filipino lives, as well as resources. The goodwill of the 42-member Islamic Conference has been assured as evidenced by the very generous words of praise from both President Khadaffy and Dr. Treki, as well as from the Secretary General, for the cooperation shown by President and Mrs. Marcos and the Philippine government. There has been a pledge from no less than Libya of sponsorship of the Philippines as an observer in the Eighth Islamic Conference to be held in Tripoli. As most tangible sign of the fruits that we are beginning to reap, the Department of Foreign Affairs only yesterday received a cable from Dr. Treki informing them of the coming arrival of Mr. Mohammad Dreiza and his staff, to open the Libyan Embassy in Manila.”
The President unilaterally implemented the cease-fire the day after the signing, nearly a full month before its actual implementation. The mixed committee convened in February-March as scheduled. For a while the prospects for peace seemed bright indeed.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)
TOMORROW: A sorry mix up