ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Reflections on the GRP-MNLF Interim Agreement of 1995 (1)

1st of 2 parts

[Paper delivered on the occasion of the Policy workshop on Peace and Growth Prospects in Mindanao, CASS Audio Visual Room, MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, Iligan City, March 25-26, 1996, sponsored by the Department of Sociology of CASS, MSU-IIT, and the International Strategic Research Consultants. I was a Professor of History, Department of History, College of Arts and Social Sciences, MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, and Panel Member of the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel in the GRP-MNLF Formal Peace Talks.]

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 3 Nov) – The 1995 Interim Agreement represents the product of two years of formal peace talks. It reflects an honest to goodness attempt on both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines GRP) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to come to an agreement on the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement signed on 23 December 1976.

But it is not complete, it is far from final.

As agreed upon in Par. 14 of the Statement of Understanding between the GRP and the MNLF, signed in Cipanas, Indonesia, on 16 April 1993, “the agenda for the formal talks will focus on the modalities for the full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement in letter and spirit, to include specifically:

a. Those portions of the Agreement left for further or later discussion; and
b.Transitional implementing structure and mechanism.

Of the items covered in (a) only those on national defense and regional security force remain to be fully resolved. The second refers specifically to the establishment of the Provision­al Government which, in turn, will automatically touch off the matter of the plebiscite and the territory of the autonomy.

Before we proceed, let me first discuss an aspect of the talks which is hardly ever talked about, the psychology of the peace process. It will put the talks in a more meaningful perspective.

Psychology of the Process

The Talks, you see, cover highly political matters. It is part of the nationwide effort to heal old wounds. It is an inte­gral part of a bigger peace process and, many are not aware, it is also an intimate interplay between the psychological process and the legal issues. Allow me to relate to you how it was from the GRP Panel’s end, of which I am part.

As early as August 1993, when the GRP Panel was constituted, there was already an informal but unwritten understanding within the Panel that the MNLF people are not enemy; they are our citi­zens. Anyone of us could go across, as it were, and make friends with anyone of the MNLF without fear of being cited for high treason or for fraternizing with the enemy. We were not expected to report what transpired in our conversations. This had the effect of contributing to a positive atmosphere in the talks. It set the tone of goodwill for all of us. This was very much in line with the mandate given by President Ramos, which says in part,

“The conduct of the formal talks shall be in line with the aim of the national comprehensive peace program to seek a principled and peaceful resolution of armed conflict, with neither blame nor surrender, but with honor and dignity for all.”

There was no illusion, however, that things would be easy. The President further said that “the formal talks shall be conducted within the mandates of the Constitution and the laws of the land,” but these are not always in harmony with the Tripoli Agreement, or at least, not clearly so.

So much has transpired since the signing of the Tripoli Agreement: a turnover of presidents from Presidents Marcos to Aquino to Ramos; a change of Constitution; two attempts at government implementation of the Tripoli Agreement. The legal frame of reference within which the Tripoli Agreement was to be imple­mented has changed and the problem which the Agreement sought to resolve is still there.

The present GRP Peace Negotiating Panel has consistently been candid and straightforward in its dealings with the MNLF counterpart. Its posture has been cordial and accommodating, dignified and honorable. If our perception is accurate, this has delivered a positive impression on the MNLF counterpart – in all levels of the talks, from the panel down to the last commit­tee.

At the Sixth Mixed Committee Meeting in General Santos City on July 2-28, 1995, no less than the Chairman of the MNLF, another key commander also of the MNLF, and the OIC Assistant Secretary General affirmed the sincerity of the GRP.

Expanding Participation

At the First Round of Formal Talks, several committees were created to distribute and facilitate the work. These Committees were:

A. Joint Ceasefire Committee

B. Ad Hoc Committee – Setting Up of the Transitional Implementing Structure and Mechanism

C. Mixed Committee:

1. Support Committee 1 – National Defense and Regional Security Force

2. Support Committee 2 – Education

3. Support Committee 3 – Economic and Financial System, Mines and Minerals

4. Support Committee 4 – Administrative System, Representa­tion in National Government, Legisla­tive Assembly and Executive Council.

5. Support Committee 5 – Judiciary and Introduction of Shari’ah Law

The creation of the various committees and the decision for these committees to hold talks in the Philippines opened several fronts, as it were, which allowed the active participation of more people in the process. Mutual confidence building processes took place in all committees. Anyone who has participated in these, whether as active negotiators or merely as witnesses, can speak of new relationships developing from the level of the suspicious to something more cordial and more respectful. In the discussion of the various issues, there was a deepening apprecia­tion and understanding of each other’s position, thus opening the way for more give and take. But where it was not possible to give, at least there was the acceptance that despite honest to goodness efforts, certain problems are presently irresolvable and no ill-will is triggered by disappointments.

Participation of the OIC

The participation of the OIC is two-fold. First, there is the consistent presence of either the Secretary General himself or the Assistant Secretary General in all Rounds of Talks at the Panel level and at the Mixed Committee Level. Second, there is the constant presence of an Indonesian presiding officer in all levels of the talks, from the Panel to the last Support Committee meetings.

A little historical backgrounder here is in order. The Quadripartite Ministerial Committee was established by the OIC in the implementation of Resolution No. 4/4 of the Fourth Islamic Conference of Ministers (ICFM) of Foreign Affairs at Benghazi, Libya, 24-26 March 1973. The Chairman of this Committee was Libya, and members were Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Senegal. Its role was to guarantee the security of the Muslim community in the Philippines and as well as to secure the respect of their basic rights. A decision to expand the number to six was reached at the 19th ICFM on July 31-August 4, 1990. Bangladesh and Indonesia were added. This is now known as the Committee of the Six with Indonesia as the Chair.

The participation of the OIC has been a permanent fixture in all the formal GRP-MNLF negotiations since 1975. We all know that at the height of the MNLF-led Bangsamoro armed struggle in 1973, there was also the Arab-Israeli war in the Middle East. The Arabs discovered at the time that there was political power in oil. They succeeded in influencing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) founded in 1960. Founding members: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela. Joined later in the 1960s: Algeria, Ecuador (left in 1992), Gabon, Indonesia, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, which controlled more than 80% of the world known petroleum resources, to impose an oil embargo on all countries supportive of Israel. The Philippines was one of them. The country only had reportedly three months’ supply of oil; it was said to be 94% dependent on the Middle East for its oil needs; the military had allegedly run out of ammunitions and could not get any replenishment from the United States. The drain on foreign exchange would have been enormous. The country’s survival was clearly at stake. And so, there was the move to negotiate with the Arab leaders to lift the oil embargo. We are told that when the Saudi decision to lift the embargo came, it was with the condition for the Philippine government to negotiate with the MNLF with the participation of the OIC. Perhaps, it was for the better.

For one, it has made us, as a country, realize that we have to decisively harmonize our relationships not only with our Muslim citizens in the country but also with Muslim countries abroad. And this in a manner that is mutually acceptable, based on the acceptance of each other’s identity and dignity.

Further, the OIC had, from the very beginning to the pres­ent, consistently taken the position that the Moro rebellion in southern Philippines was a domestic problem and should be resolved within the realm of the sovereignty and territorial inte­grity of the Republic of the Philippines.

It was the Quadripartite Commission under the chairmanship of Libya that took part in the making of the Tripoli Agreement. Now, it is the Committee of the Six with Indonesia as Chair that is actively pursuing the final stages of the implementation of the same agreement.

The participation of the OIC and Indonesia have contributed immensely to the creation of a positive climate in the GRP-MNLF Talks. Through the guidance of the Indonesian facilitators, the talks in all levels have been able to maintain a high level of cordiality. As hosts of the talks in Jakarta, they ensure that all the amenities and requirements to keep the talks moving forward are in order. As presiding officers, their neutrality has been most admirable.

Tomorrow: Prospects of the Talks

[Si Prof. Rudy Buhay Rodil ay aktibong historyan ng Mindanao, tagapasulong ng kalinaw (Bisaya sa kapayapaan). Kilala siyang espesyalista sa paghusay ng mga gusot sa Mindanao-Sulu. Naging Komisyoner noon ng Regional Consultative Commision sa siyang nagbuo ng draft organic law ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao noong 1988. Dalawang beses siyang naging miyembro ng GRP Peace Negotiating Panel. 1993-1996, pakikipag-usap sa Moro National Liberation (MNLF), at noong 2004-2008 sa pakikipag-negosasyon sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Naging visiting propesor sa Hiroshima University, Oktubre-Disyembre 2011. Nagretiro noong Oktubre 2007.]