COMMENT: Disturbing Irrelevance. By Patricio P. Diaz

But the element of comedy has always been there.  Since Day One, the peace process has been saddled with inconsistencies. When acts and actors are not attuned to the theme of the process, how could they be relevant to the search for peace?

There are: first, the agreements that do not work; second, the government and the Moro rebel group that negotiate agreements to eventually disagree; and third, the Islamic body that seems to overplay and underplay its assumed role in the Mindanao peace process.


In a space of twenty years, two agreements were signed by the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front under the auspices of the Organization of  the Islamic Conference, the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Jakarta Accord or Final Peace Agreement of 1996.  In reality, the two are one agreement that took twenty years to negotiate.

When signed on December 23, 1976, the Tripoli Agreement was an unfinished agreement. Eight of its first ten substantive provisions were to be “discussed,” “fixed” or “determined” later.  “Later” meant three months after. Yet, even if the GRP and the MNLF had failed to agree on the eight substantive provisions, the agreement was implemented.

How was it done? The March 1977 conference of the GRP-MNLF Mixed Committee ended in an impasse. Then, President Ferdinand E. Marcos and Libya President Muammar Al Ghaddafi [also: Khaddafy] on behalf of the OIC as the MNLF sponsor, agreed in their wire exchanges on March 18-19,1977 on the implementation process according to the Tripoli Agreement.

The Agreement’s “to be discussed/fixed/determined later” provisions gave President Marcos much discretion to do as he wanted. This, to the dismay of the MNLF, was enhanced by Paragraph 16: “The Government of the Philippines shall take all necessary constitutional processes for the implementation of the entire Agreement.”

As it turned out, President Marcos implemented the Tripoli Agreement to suit his political design and the 1972 Constitution. The MNLF and the OIC considered the implementation as unilateral, protested and rejected it. At that point, the agreement did not work for peace.

On October 5, 1993, the Jakarta Peace Talks formally opened. Between that date and March 1977, all attempts to revive interest in the negotiation or to negotiate failed.  The Jakarta talk produced the Final Peace Agreement signed on September 2, 1996; but (again!), the euphoria at its signing was ephemeral, only a smokescreen hiding failure — the MNLF disillusionment.

To this day, twelve years after, the MNLF is accusing Manila of unilaterally and improperly implementing the agreement.  The OIC acknowledged the “unsatisfactory” implementation and late last year convened the GRP-MNLF-OIC tripartite meeting to address the complaints. The meeting, set to be finished last March, is still in exploratory stage. The 1996 FPA – in the least, from the MNLF viewpoint — has not satisfactorily worked for peace.

Why did such an agreement, hailed as a peace milestone that won for President Fidel Ramos and MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari the UNESCO Felix Houphonet-Boigney Peace Prize, not work as expected? To parody the poet Robert Browning, “Let’s count the faults.”

First: The 1996 FPA does not contain a guarantee that Congress, in enacting it into a law, would not revise it to establish the Muslim autonomy that the Philippine Government wants. Had there been such a guarantee, R.A. 9054 could have satisfied the MNLF.

Second: The Agreement has no provision to assure funds for the socioeconomic development of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Like the ARMM under RA 6734, that under RA 9054 still has to beg from Congress every year for operational and development funds,

Third: The Agreement is stacked with provisions not conducive to the existence of a truly autonomous region.

Fourth:  The Agreement followed literally the Tripoli Agreement ignoring conditions and events which had rendered some of its provisions impractical or had radically altered them. For instance, the transitory provisions ignored the lessons from the establishment of two Muslim autonomies – those under Marcos in 1977 and Aquino in 1989.

Fifth: Paragraph 16 of the Tripoli Agreement allowing the Philippine government to make the Muslim autonomy adhere to the Philippine Constitution was replicated in the Paragraph 153 of the 1996 FPA: “… Any conflict in the interpretation of this Agreement shall be resolved in the light of the Philippine Constitution and existing laws.”      

Sixth: The Agreement has no provisions to allow the MNLF and the Bangsamoro people to run the ARMM politically beyond the control of the national party in power and Malacañang. This is most pivotal to political autonomy.

The six faults are among the reasons why the 1996 FPA is not working to solve the peace problems in Mindanao as confirmed by the on-going Tripartite Meeting.

Agree to Disagree

Agree to disagree was patently the mode of negotiation in both the Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 FPA, betraying the pressure or ruse the parties employed in order to obtain favorable concessions. Such mode revealed designs irrelevant to the genuine and sincere resolution of the Mindanao peace problem.

In the Tripoli, the OIC pressured the MNLF to change its demand for the independence of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan to autonomy of 13 provinces – Palawan, all three of Sulu and nine from Mindanao. This was to pre-empt the Philippine objection to independence.  The MNLF yielded because they could not say “NO” to the OIC. [In 1977, the Salamat faction said “NO” and split from Misuari – a move that has undermined peace until today.]

According to a member of the Philippine panel, they were under pressure to sign an agreement before adjourning the week-long (December 15-23) negoatiation – leaving out the details “to be discussed/fixed/determined later”. They agreed on the general provisions only to disagree on the details later.  They agreed to insert Paragraph 16 which, the Philippine government later consistently interpreted to its advantage against the vehement objection of the MNLF.

In Jakarta, GRP chief negotiator Manuel T. Yan, a retired general, skillfully used the Ramos “win-win” approach to soften Misuari’s hard-line positions. By 1996, the volatile — sometimes hostile — Misuari had accepted the Constitution and the ARMM Organic Act. or RA 6734 as talking points.  In 1993, he threatened to walk out over the same instruments.

To circumvent the immovable objection of the Christian majority to the establishment of the Provisional Government, the MNLF agreed to the Transitory Provisions which established the Zone of Peace and Development as the area of autonomy and, as the Provisional Government, the Southern Peace and Development Council and the Consultative Assembly. This turned out to disillusion Misuari and the MNLF.

The GRP agreed to all provisions that according to the Tripoli Agreement would result in the autonomy the MNLF wanted.  But Congress, in enacting the Final Agreement into RA 9054, omitted or revised those provisions to conform to the Constitution or to the autonomy Manila wanted.

In sum, the GRP, MNLF and OIC agreed to resolve the Mindanao problem peacefully but they disagreed in how the agreed resolutions are to be implemented.  That is the core of the ensuing problem. In fact, the MNLF Executive Council of the 15 split from Misuari in their disagreement in how to relate with Malacañang under the Agreement.

Under these circumstances, is it a wonder why the peace process in Mindanao is in imbroglio?


The OIC has had a triple role in the peace process since it took under its aegis the Muslims in Southern Philippines – MNLF patron, negotiator, and negotiation facilitator. This is like a team having a member who, at the same time, is the coach and referee; or someone who is counsel, complainant and judge rolled into one.

The Philippines had no other choice than to deal with the OIC as such. The oil embargo was a sword of Damocles.  With support from the Arab countries, the MNLF rebels were drawing the Philippine military forces to a stalemate. The economic and social cost of the war was alarming. The OIC-sanctioned peace negotiation was both sought and imposed as a political necessity.

In 1974, the Islamic Foreign Ministers’ Conference urged the Philippines to negotiate a political settlement with the MNLF within its territorial integrity and sovereignty.  In Tripoli two years later, the OIC told the MNLF to negotiate for autonomy, not independence.  That was dictating the parameter of the negotiation.

When the GRP-MNLF Mixed Committee meeting in March 1977 ended in an impasse, the OIC through Libya President Ghaddafi negotiated for the MNLF.  So did an OIC delegation that went to Manila later that year to meet a cabinet-level Philippine panel.

The OIC shepherded the Jakarta Peace Talk. Paragraph 12 of the FPA “requested” the OIC to monitor the full implementation of the Agreement during the transitory period. In the Tripoli Agreement and the FPA, OIC officials were signatories as participants.

In the implementation of the FPA, the MNLF complained to the OIC, not to the Philippine government. In convening the Tripartite Meeting, the OIC overplayed its role.  Under the FPA, it could no longer monitor the implementation.  It should have counselled the MNLF to seek remedies directly from Manila or as provided in R.A. 9054.

Despite the break up of the MNLF and the detention of Misuari, it continues to recognize the MNLF as the sole representative of the Muslims in Southern Mindanao to the exclusion of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It pursues the cause of peace for the Muslims through the FPA while ignoring the GRP-MILF peace negotiation.

With the MILF now recognized internationally as the biggest Muslim rebel group and having the diplomatic attention of countries of the European Union, Asia and the United Nations – a tacit recognition as Bangsamoro representative — the OIC role in the Mindanao peace process is a big question mark. Is it still relevant?

In reality, the imbroglio in the peace process can be traced to the disturbing inconsistencies and irrelevance in the acts of players in the Mindanao drama through the last 35 years.
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently 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