ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Kalinaw Mindanaw: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (4)


4th of 18 parts
Rudy B. Rodil

(This is a revised version of the book “KALINAW MINDANAW: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996” published in 2000.)

Chapter 2. First Contact, Touching Base

The Jeddah Peace Talks between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front opened on January 18 and ended on January 29, 1975. The two panels plunged into the negotiations without any preliminaries. It closed with neither side agreeing to anything except to meet again in the first week of April. The differences in their positions were irreconcilable.

Hassan Mohammed Al-Tohamy, Secretary General of the OIC, who presided over the negotiations and had expressed great optimism earlier when he met with President Marcos in Manila in September 1974, really tried his best to bring the positions of the two parties closer but did not make any visible headway. Dr. Majul heard later on that Tohamy had at various times really put some pressure on the MNLF on certain details. But he was also disappointed that the Philippine Panel did not come up with certain concessions.

At best, it was exploratory although it was never classified as such, as Secretary Melchor was not empowered to make any commitment. Still, as we shall see below, the talks did bring some concrete gains.

Panel Composition

Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor headed the Philippine government panel. His members were Lininding Pangandaman, Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Pacifico Castro, Department of Foreign Affairs; Admiral Romulo Espaldon; Dr. Ruben Santos Cuyugan, Chancellor of the PCAS, University of the Philippines (U.P.); Jose Almonte, Dean of Strategic Studies, PCAS, U.P.; and Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, Dean, Institute of Islamic Studies, PCAS, U.P. With them also were Gary Makasiar and Victor Taylor whose mission was to establish commercial contacts with Saudi companies; they were not directly involved in the peace talks.

Nurullaji Misuari led the MNLF panel. The other members were: Salamat Hashim, Abdulbaki Abu Bakr, Abdurasad Asani, Judge Abdul Hamid Lukman and Bakrin Lukman (son of Judge Lukman).

First Contact with MNLF

Until their arrival in Jeddah on January 14, 1975, the Government panel had not had any previous contact with the MNLF leadership.

Dr. Majul had decided earlier to perform the umra or lesser pilgrimage to Makkah and not knowing the schedule of the negotiations, he wanted to do that at the earliest opportunity and that was to be the evening of their day of arrival. It was he who would make the first contact with the MNLF. The way he narrates it, some Saudi Arabian officials came to his room and brought him an ihram, the two pieces of seamless white cloth worn on such a pilgrimage. Knowing about this trip, Secretary Melchor requested him to make contact with any MNLF official. Using the car of Ambassador Pangandaman, he headed only for Makkah that night. After the umra, before returning to Jeddah, he visited Abdulbaki Abubakar of the MNLF, whom he knew years ago, in the place where he was staying, the house of another Tausug in Makkah. This was the first contact between a member of the government panel and a top MNLF leader. There was no attempt to look for Nur Misuari since they all knew that he had not yet arrived in Saudi Arabia (he arrived on January 17). The next day he also met with Salamat Hashim, the MNLF Vice Chairman.

The Talks Proper

Facilitated by the OIC Secretary General Mohammed Al-Tohamy, the first meeting between both panels was held on January 18 and the last meeting took place on January 29. All sessions were held at Tohamy’s office.

There was a total of six meetings between the government and MNLF panel. The format of the sessions was that the members of the two panel sat on a row of chairs facing each other with Hassan Tohamy sitting on a table facing both sides with his personal flag behind him on the wall as is the custom among Arabs. To the credit of the presiding officer, the talks were normally held in a civil or even friendly manner with the use of first names. After such meetings, they would have good dinners in Tohamy’s living room, watch movies depicting Philippine government projects aimed to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the Muslims (“which Abdulbaki whispered to me,” said Majul, “was sheer propaganda”) with different members of the panels talking with each other aside. But there were also moments of tension when Nur Misuari presented the MNLF demands which Melchor could not accept not only because they were personally unacceptable, but also that he was not empowered to make any commitment. For their part, Dr. Ruben Santos Cuyugan and Dr. Majul visited Misuari and other MNLF members in their hotels and restaurants in between sessions, all, of course, with the knowledge and encouragement of Secretary Melchor.

At one point, a disturbed Salamat Hashim approached Dr. Majul and said that a member of the government panel delivered the message that Pres. Marcos was offering him (Hashim) the governorship of the whole Cotabato Province (what is now Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat). He was visibly very angry and resentful that the offer was made to him. Misuari also complained to Majul of the deviousness of the offer. This offer was later confirmed by other members of the MNLF panel who were very upset about the whole thing. They all assumed that this was a move by Marcos to sow division among MNLF leaders and weaken the MNLF panel.

As Majul perceived it, this not only marred the discussions but also added to the MNLF distrust of the government panel. Aside from the irreconcilability of their positions, this certainly was one of the many contributing factors to the failure of the talks. Tohamy was later also told of the secret offer; his report to the OIC about the talks seemed to side more with the MNLF stand, Majul further noted.

The last meeting of the two panels on January 29 was adjourned with the agreement that the two panels (not necessarily with the same composition) would meet in the first week of April of the same year. Judge Hamid Lukman read Misuari’s final rejoinder before the panels since the MNLF Chairman had sent a note earlier that he came down with bronchitis.

The April meeting did not push through, allegedly because of the three preliminary conditions set by the MNLF which were not acceptable to the government.

MNLF Demands

Initially, the MNLF had four substantive demands which were amplified to seven on January 29 in response to the seven proposals submitted by the government. The four demands seem clear enough and require no elaboration.

  1. Acceptance by the Philippine Government of the inseparable unity of the Bangsamoro people and the territorial integrity of the Bangsamoro homeland of Mindanaw, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan.
  2. Acceptance by the Philippine Government of the complete sovereignty of the Bangsamoro people over their ancestral homeland of Mindanaw, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan.
  3. Acceptance by the Philippine Government of the political autonomy of Mindanaw, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan within the framework of Philippine sovereignty.
  4. Acceptance by the Philippine Government that, while the protection of Mindanaw, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan from actual external threat and aggression shall be the primary duty of the national government, the maintenance of peace and internal security within the area shall be exclusively under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Bangsamoro Government.

Seven Government Proposals

Refined and submitted on January 29, the seven proposals of the government, which the MNLF panel refused to discuss earlier, embody all the ideas that had emerged in the course of the discussions, including many coming from the mediator OIC Secretary General Tohamy himself. These are summarized below.

  1. a cease-fire;
  2. “Muslimization” of existing national government programs for Mindanaw development;
  3. Philippine Government guarantees for the security, integrity, rights and interests of the Muslim peoples of the area, including the return of their ancestral lands, and assurances of the grant to them of the local autonomy as provided for in the present Constitution of the Philippines;
  4. incorporation of the MNLF fighting forces into the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the withdrawal of Army units with the taking over of security duties by local police and Constabulary units;
  5. securing of external assistance and their channeling through government agencies;
  6. a measure intended to ensure the implementation of all agreements, and
  7. the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

The government panel also suggested that further talks be held in Southern Philippines, and that negotiations be conducted simultaneously with other rebel groups.

By refusing to discuss the points put forth by the government panel, said Majul and Cuyugan, the MNLF panel served notice that they were willing to disregard everything but their pre-occupation with the “political solution” to the entire Muslim problem… as soon as this point is conceded by the Philippine Panel, all else will follow. It was on account of this pre-occupation that the MNLF panel did not seem prepared to discuss any social or economic plan for the rehabilitation and development of the Muslim peoples; they were not even prepared to discuss anything having to do with the political and administrative aspects of greater local autonomy for these areas. Indeed, the political, social, and economic development of the Muslim peoples as well as their present and future welfare was not so much the issue as it was that of all the peoples of these areas including the non-Muslims and non-Christians. In short, what the MNLF panel tried to do was to execute a coup by the de facto and de jure establishment of a new national entity embracing these areas.

Scholarly Reflections on the Demands

In a memorandum which they submitted to Secretary Melchor, University of the Philippines academicians Dr. Majul and Dr. Cuyugan conveyed their thoughts on the Jeddah talks.

In the beginning, they said, the MNLF panel only had four demands, amplified to seven on the last day in response to the government’s seven-point proposals. Gradually, as the talks progressed, their idea of a separate Bangsamoro State emerged and surfaced towards the latter part of the talks. From this point on, their position became focused on this particular demand and became intransigent. Viewing this is their “political” solution, they set this as a pre-condition for proceeding with the rest of the points submitted by the government panel; they did not present any other item in the discussions.

During informal discussions outside formal sessions, members of the government panel tried to dissuade without success the MNLF leaders from this position, stressing that this was an impossible demand, that it would fragment Philippine sovereignty.

The four demands, said Majul and Cuyugan, covers three major points: (a) territorial demand; (b) political demand; and (c) relationship between the Bangsa Moro State and the rest of the Philippines. What was added were, partly, that the Philippine Government “shall also undertake to indemnify the people of this area for property and lives lost in the conflict; and it shall participate in assisting the Bangsa Moro State in its socio-economic development. The Philippine government would just be a member of a joint Committee which will include foreign countries.” The heart of the MNLF demand is, the two scholars further noted:

“the separate “sovereignty,” the separate identity, of a so-called “Autonomous Bangsa Moro State,” with its own government and its own security forces, the BMA. Its internal affairs will be entirely the business of its government. However, it will allow the Philippine government to concern itself with its defense from external threats; it will also accept assistance not only from the Philippine Government, but also from other governments or organizations, for its internal development.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

Tomorrow: Implication on OIC Resolution No. 18

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