ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (6)

6th 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.)

Chapter 3

Long Rugged Road to Tripoli

From local Peace talks to the Tripoli Agreement was a long rugged road to peace. There was plenty of give and take. In the end, for the government, the effort and the distance was worth the trouble.  For the MNLF, it was the path of major political compromises — from independence to autonomy.

Pangandaman Headed New Panel

What followed after the Government panel and the MNLF failed to meet in April 1975 was a unilateral initiative on the part of government to pursue its own brand of peace talks. President Marcos constituted an entirely new panel, all Muslims, mandated to conduct direct peace talks with the rebels in the field and vested with authority to guarantee the safety of rebels to and from their meeting with the government panel.

Amb.  Lininding Pangandaman was summoned from his post in Saudi Arabia to head the panel. His members were Comelec Commissioner Hashim Abubakar, Maguindanao Governor Simeon Datumanong, and Acting Governor of Lanao del Sur Brig. Gen. Mamarinta Lao. Sheikh Abdul Hamid Camlian of Zamboanga was added later.

The new panel conducted two rounds of talks in the field in rapid succession. They traveled all over Moroland. The first one from April 17 to May 12, 1975  was headed by Amb. Pangandaman himself, the second one in the month of June was handled by Maguindanao Governor Simeon Datumanong. They organized talks with rebels at designated assembly points, announced through flyers rained down from helicopters into known rebel territories.

These meetings had moments of tension and drama, too. Datumanong recounted his meeting with rebel leaders in Tuburan, Basilan:

During the dialogue, Col. Isleta whispered to me that we were surrounded by the MNLF; a machine gun was mounted and trained at us as a matter of fact. I said, let us finish this dialogue. After the two-hour dialogue, we stood to go but they (the rebels) said “let us eat first.” We were hesitant but Cando Muarip, who was then mayor of Tuburan, said, “Commissioner, you have to eat because they would not take it kindly if you reject their invitation to eat. So we ate.”

Amb. Pangandaman was elated with their success. “We were able,” he said, “to bring back to the fold of the law  26,000 MNLF rebels, fully armed about 6,000 to 8, 000; the rest are sympathizers.”  Asked to explain their success, Pangandaman put it straight: “Tell them the truth, that there is no genocide. I talked about everything that the government was doing, this mosque in Manila, the adoption of Muslim holidays as public holidays, the recognition of Sultan Kudarat.” This writer asked both Pangandaman and Datumanong how the rebels viewed them as they were Muslims working on the side of government. Both claimed that they were generally treated with respect; the rebels did not resent their presence.

Lobby in Jeddah

In July Governor Datumanong, along with Gen. Eduardo Ermita, Gen. Mamarinta Lao, and Comelec Commissioner Hashim Abubakar proceeded to Jeddah to lobby among the delegates of the 6th Islamic Conference to be held in that same city on July 12-15, 1975. Also part of the team, Lininding Pangandaman who was then Ambassador to Saudi Arabia arrived earlier. As Gov. Datumanong put it, they went there “for the purpose of asking our friends in the meeting to help us.” They met with the head of the delegation of Egypt who used to be Ambassador here. They went to see Adam Malik, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, who was head of his delegation and had very encouraging statement to us. The Governor remember him saying, “inform your President, the problem of the Philippines is the problem of ASEAN and the problem of ASEAN is the problem of Indonesia.” In his speech during the plenary, Adam Malik assailed the MNLF for its intransigence. He stressed that no government worthy of its name can accept the demands of the MNLF. Indonesia, Datumanong also noted, had always been a close friend and very supportive of the Philippine Government from the very beginning as far as this problem in the south was concerned.

More Positive Developments in 1976

The year 1976 seemed to augur well for both Government and MNLF.  One event led to another, culminating in the signing of the Tripoli Agreement.

In August of that year, President Marcos instructed Amb. Pangandaman to join the RP delegation with Ambassador Pacifico A. Castro to the 5th Non-Aligned Summit conference at Colombo, Sri Lanka. They were to extend an invitation to the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference and the members of the Quadripartite Ministerial Commission to enable them to see for themselves the real situation of the Filipino Muslims in the South. This was a crucial move on the part of President Marcos because Philippine government image among OIC countries obviously needed some retouching and what better way to do it than through the Quadripartite Commission seeing for themselves the situation in Mindanaw. The OIC after all had placed the Commission in charge of overseeing the welfare of Muslims in Southern Philippines. That same month a powerful earthquake and tidal wave hit the Moro Gulf and caused tremendous devastation upon the settlements along the coasts. Knowing the area to be the ancestral home of the Maguindanaos, the Iranuns and the Meranaos, may have hastened, in the mind of Amb. Pangandaman, the Sec. General’s acceptance of the invitation.

The OIC delegation composed of Secretary General Karim Gaye, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelsalem Ali Treki, Senegal Foreign Minister Hassan Seck, Ambassador Darman of Somalia was in the country on August 20-24, 1976 and toured Zamboanga, Jolo, Cotabato and Lanao for two days. The visit led Dr. Ali Al-Treki,  to comment that  “conditions in Southern Philippines are now much better than in 1972,” and that  “the Government is now in control of the situation.” The delegation held a four-hour closed  door conference with the President at Malacañang and agreed on the following points:

  1. Resumption of negotiations with the so-called MNLF in Tripoli, Libya, sometime in the second week of October, 1976, based on the following conditions:
  2. No preconditions (based on a clean slate);
  3. Sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippine Republic is non-negotiable;
  4. Philippine negotiating panel to be led by a Christian; and,
  5. No publicity.
  6. Final negotiations with the so-called MNLF to be held in the Philippines.

Libyan Foreign Minister Treki also extended his President’s invitation (which was accepted) for the First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos to visit Libya. President Marcos reciprocated with an invitation for President Khaddafy to visit the Philippines. Pangandaman noted  that the OIC pledged a donation of U.S. $1,000,000.00 to the earthquake calamity fund for Mindanaw. When finally turned over to the Government, this, Pangandaman noted, would represent  “a meaningful first time that funds for the development of Mindanaw are channeled by the Islamic Conference through the Philippine Government, and not through the MNLF.”

RP’s Goodwill and Economic Mission

Led by the First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, the Goodwill and Economic Mission to Libya in November may be viewed as another round of negotiation. By this time it was clear that the Philippine Government had to reckon with the Libyan government, the only question was how. Elaborately prepared, the mission, a powerhouse judging from its composition, had an advance party and a main party. It was meant not only to reach economic and cultural agreements but also to pave the way for the eventual meeting with the MNLF.

The working group headed by Ambassador Pangandaman and under the guidance of Ambassador Romualdez did its assignments fast. Composing the main party were the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, Secretary Vicente Paterno, Undersecretary Manuel Collantes, Ambassadors Lininding Pangandaman and Pacifico Castro, Admiral Romulo Espaldon, Commissioner Simeon Datumanong, Abdul Karim Sidri, Generals Fabian Ver, Fortunato Abat, Sarmiento and Olivas, and Consul General Jose Syjuco.

At this level the Libyan side committed to the signing of drafts of the Economic and Cultural Agreements before the arrival of the main party. Most significant, a commitment in principle on the signing of a communiqué establishing diplomatic relations was also obtained. These agreements were later approved by the main parties with very minor modifications. There was as yet no mention of the MNLF and the problem in Southern Philippines or anything political.

What was unexpected was the turn the first meeting would take between the First Lady and Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Sallam Jalloud at 6:00 in the evening of November 14.  Bringing up first the subject of the MNLF, Undersecretary Collantes noted that Prime Minister Jalloud “insisted on a meeting between the First Lady and Misuari and made almost rude and even insulting remarks on the way that the Philippine government was handling the Muslim problem. The First Lady handled Jalloud’s hostile attitude with firmness and with dignity. In accordance with the President’s instructions, she refused to meet with Misuari. Nevertheless, the call, which lasted up to 8:30 p.m., ended on a discordant note for both sides. This was the first indication that the Mission was in for a rough sailing in the negotiations that were to follow.”

Veiled Threat

The Libyans tried to arrange for a meeting between the MNLF and a team from the Philippine group but the plan fell through; the MNLF decided to cancel it. Treki also emphasized that Libya and, inferentially the MNLF, are bound to support the Nine-Point Plan of Action adopted in Resolution 10 of the Sixth Islamic conference in July of the previous year. He said that if the problem is settled, prospects of Libyan, Arab and Islamic cooperation to RP economic development would be bright. On the other hand, if agreement is not reached soon, he intimated that Libya would do any or all of the following:

  • Inform the 8th Islamic Conference meeting in May 1977 in Tripoli about the RP refusal to negotiate, thus moving the Conference to adopt a more hostile resolution. In this connection, Treki cited the example of Ethiopia and the Eritrean rebels. Ethiopia, he said, wanted to solve the problem on its own, and failed. After the Islamic Conference passed resolutions on the problem, to include economic boycott and an oil embargo, Ethiopia is now listening to the Conference’s plan of action to solve its problem.
  • Elevate the problem to the United Nations’ Security Council.
  • Release Misuari and his group from Libya’s control and allow them to turn to Vietnam and Cambodia, as they had threatened if Libya could not help them find a solution to the problem, thereby triggering Communist entry into Mindanaw.

Plan of Action

The Plan of Action was also referred to as the MNLF Nine-Point Agenda. In the words of  a key official in the government, the Nine-Point Agenda “echoed the nine-point demands of the Misuari faction of the MNLF during the negotiations which collapsed in Jeddah.” This was the same plan of action submitted by the MNLF to the Ministerial Committee of Four, which the Committee in turn presented to and was approved by the 6th ICFM in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 12-15, 1975. It shall serve, according to Resolution No. 10, as  “a basis to solve the problem,”  in accordance with Resolution 18 of the Fourth Islamic Conference of Kuala Lumpur. The same resolution also expressed satisfaction that the MNLF had agreed to it.” This was sent by the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference to President Marcos in a communication, dated June 3, 1975, as part of an attempt for a second round of negotiations after the failed talks at Jeddah.

The Nine Points were (1) self-government; (2) affairs of internal security; (3) defense and foreign policy; (4) administrative system; (5) system of courts; (6) system of education; (7) establishment of Islamic life and society; (8) financial and economic affairs, and (9) participation in central government and all organs of state.

In the discussions on these agenda items, the Philippine delegation stated that they would have little difficulty accepting items Nos. 3 (defense and foreign policy); 6 (system of education); 7 (establishment of Islamic life and society), and 9 (participation in central government and all organs of state) because Philippine sovereignty was clearly left untouched. They would have great difficulty accepting items 1 (self-government); 2 (internal security); 4 (administrative matters); 5 (financial and economic), and 8 (system of courts) owing to the overlaps in authority between central government and the autonomy.

The differences on the other items were settled when Treki agreed to the point raised by the First Lady that the Philippine government would have no problem meeting almost all the demands, “as long as the solutions did not infringe on our territorial integrity and did not violate our Constitution.”

The Philippine group observed during the negotiations that the MNLF had the full backing of Libya and Libya made no attempt to hide it.

The last item for discussion which took the longest to resolve was on the issue of the Philippine government negotiating with the MNLF. The Libyans wanted to specify the MNLF in the communiqué, the Philippines group dissented stressing that there were other rebel groups in Southern Philippines, not just the MNLF. It took a last minute meeting between the First Lady and Col. Khaddafy at his home to break the impasse. This explains the popular sentiment in government circles in those days that sending the First Lady to Libya was a stroke of genius on the part of President Marcos. The talks had hitches but in the end the same turned to be something positive. The accomplishments of the mission were, as follows:

  • Establishment of diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors at the earliest time
  • Agreement on Economic Scientific and Technical Cooperation
  • Cultural Agreement
  • Negotiations with MNLF to be held in Tripoli on December 15, 1976
  • Implicit acceptance of the OIC Nine-Point Plan of Action as a basis for the solution of the problem of Muslims in Southern Philippines

The Goodwill delegation made several important observations in their official report, portions of which we have excerpted here. They are revealing in themselves and are best left unedited.

  1. The Philippines has obtained the better part of the exchange. The mere fact that diplomatic relations have been established and two agreements signed by the Philippines with the country that was heretofore, very openly hostile to the Philippine position, must surely come as a great blow to the MNLF. The additional fact that the contents of these agreements are favorable to the Philippines certainly must convince everyone that we have won this particular round.
  2. During the negotiations, there was no doubt and Treki made no attempt to hide the fact, that Libya pulls the strings insofar as the MNLF is concerned. Treki kept harping on his line that as far as Muslim leaders in the South are concerned, “Nuri is your man. He is definitely not communist; he is sincere and dedicated, unlike all the old politicians like Lukman, whom we have stopped dealing with. If Nuri were like your other politicians, he would long ago have been enticed by your offer of a Cabinet position and forgotten his cause; but he is truly after a lasting solution in the South.
  3. Although Khaddafy has made significant concessions to the Philippine side, it is still safe to assume that (Libyan Foreign Minister) Treki still retains the full confidence of his President with regard to the ironing out of the details of a possible settlement with the MNLF group. To the extent, therefore, that Treki would still be given a free hand by Khaddafy during the forthcoming negotiations, the Philippine Panel is going to encounter rough sailing in attempting to produce a settlement with Misuari… it is most important that direct lines of communication should be maintained between the President (Marcos) and Col. Khaddafy at all times during the negotiations.

The Tripoli Agreement

At the Tripoli talks, which took place on December 15-23, 1976, Carmelo Z. Barbero, Undersecretary of National Defense headed the Philippine Government Panel. His vice chair was Amb. Lininding Pangandaman; the other members were Commissioner Simeon Datumanong and SPDA Administrator Abdul Karim Sidri.

Prof. Nur Misuari led the MNLF side. His members were Salamat Hashim, Abdulbaki Abubakar and Abdurasad Asani. Also with them were their legal counsels Atty. Zacaria Candao and Atty. Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur.

This phase of the talks produced the Tripoli Agreement. Aptly entitled Agreement Between The Government Of The Republic Of The Philippines And The Moro National Liberation Front With The Participation Of The Quadripartite Ministerial Commission Members Of The Islamic Conference And The Secretary General Of The Organization Of Islamic Conference, it came in three original versions, English, Arabic and French, all equal in legal power. The Agreement is not self-executory; details in many provisions had to be threshed out before the entire document could be implemented. A Mixed Committee was tasked to do exactly this.

Signatories are Hon. Carmelo Z. Barbero, Undersecretary of National Defense For Civilian Relations, for the Government of the Republic of the Philippines;  Prof. Nur Misuari, Chairman of the MNLF, for the Moro National Liberation Front; Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Libyan Arab Republic and Chairman of the Negotiations, and Dr. Ahmed Karim Gaye, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Reflecting the basic elements contained in the nine-point agenda, the accord  establishes  autonomy for the Muslims in the Southern Philippines within the realm of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

It specified the territory of the autonomy as the thirteen provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao Norte, Lanao Sur, Davao Sur, South Cotabato, Palawan, and all the cities and villages situated therein.

The details of nine provisions under Paragraph Three covering (1) the joining of the MNLF forces in the AFP; (2) judicial system; (3) education; (4) administrative system; (5) economic and financial system; (6) representation and participation in Central government and all organs of the state; (7) special regional security force; (8) legislative assembly and executive council, and (9) mines and mineral resources had to be ironed out in a meeting of a mixed GRP-MNLF Committee which shall meet in Tripoli from February 5 to March 3, 1977, specifically  “to study in detail the points left for discussion in order to reach a solution thereof in conformity with the provisions of this agreement.” The result of this meeting shall be initialed in Jeddah then, later, signed in Manila.

A provision for a ceasefire to take effect not later than January 20, 1977, was also in the document.

Immediately after the signing ceremonies in Manila, a provisional government “shall be established in the areas of the autonomy to be appointed by the President of the Philippines; and be charged with the task of preparing for the elections of the Legislative Assembly in the territories of the Autonomy; and administer the areas in accordance with the provisions of this agreement until a Government is formed by the elected Legislative Assembly.”

The last provision in the document, Paragraph 16, states: “The Government of the Philippines shall take all necessary constitutional processes for the implementation of the entire Agreement.”

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

Tomorrow: Story Behind Paragraph 16

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