In their joint communiqué, the GRP and MILF panels hailed the event as having cleared "the way for the drafting of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain" – their respective drafts to be the subject of the exploratory talk in December and of the formal negotiation in January 2008. They were optimistic that a final peace agreement or comprehensive compact can be signed in August 2008.
Observing the negotiators, Othman said: "The mood is good; but based on experience, we can expect someone to throw a spanner in the works from time to time." This was prophetic. On December 15, the MILF dismissed the talk when in the GRP draft agreement the consensus points were diluted with constitutional processes.
This led to another impasse, its resolution still in limbo – to finger-pointing and moves that can abort the peace negotiation. In exasperation, Malaysia, while assuring to remain host and facilitator, pulled out four months earlier 29 from its 41-man contingent in the International Monitoring Team that it is heading. Malacañang hinted a plan to replace Malaysia with Libya.
"How sincere are the MILF and the GRP in negotiating to let peace, security and prosperity reign in Muslim Mindanao? Take it from the horses' mouths." With this we concluded our last Comment. From statements of the negotiators and their principals have given media dating back to 2001, but particularly after November 15, 2007, much can be gleaned of their sincerity.
The MILF – the Malaysians taking its side – insisting that the ball is in GRP's court, accuses the GRP of having no political will to comply with its commitments in order to end the impasse. Of course, the GRP can throw back the ball to the MILF's court. In finger-pointing, one finger points to the accused and three to the accuser.
However, more than political will, sincerity motivates action. A person is spurred to act only by what he/she sincerely believes in or believes to be right. Sincerity is the backbone of will; without the first, the latter is spineless. It is sincerity that strengthens the political will of either the GRP or the MILF.
By what parameters can the sincerity of the GRP and the MILF be measured?These are not imposed on them. They established them by agreements.
At the start of the negotiation in 1997, the MILF submitted one general agendum: "The search for the negotiated settlement of the Bangsamoro problem." GRP agreed and this was broken down to specific subjects in later exploratory talks.
On March 24, 2001, Eduardo Ermita, presidential adviser on the peace process, and Al-Hadji Murad Ebrahim, MILF vice chairman for military affairs, signed the "Agreement on the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks" in Kuala Lumpur. Articles I and IV should be noted:
1. In Article I, the "Parties" agreed to continue the stalled peace negotiation "from where it had stopped before April 27, 2000 until they shall have reached a negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro problem". (Bold supplied)
1. In Article IV, the "Parties" agreed to "commit to honor, respect and implement all past agreements and other supplementary agreements signed by them" and the details "of implementation shall be discussed by the Panels". (Bold supplied)
"The search for the negotiated settlement of the Bangsamoro problem" was broken down to three main aspects – Security, Rehabilitation and Ancestral Domain – in the Tripoli Peace Agreement of 2001 or "Agreement on Peace between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front" signed on June 22, 2001.
During their 7th Exploratory Talk, April 18 to 20, 2005, the Parties agreed on the four strands of Ancestral Domain – concept, territory, resources, and governance. They had a gentleman's agreement: The GRP will waive the Constitution as a term of reference and the MILF will not demand for independence. It must be in the spirit of that agreement that the 1987 Constitution is not among the eight terms of references in the negotiation of Ancestral Domain.
Whenever Manila balked – like what happened to the Ancestral Domain consensus points, the MILF never failed to call the attention of the Arroyo government to comply with the many agreements they had signed. Of course, Malacañang always has a way out that appeals to popular sentiments. In the Ancestral Domain draft agreement, the consensus points must be within the framework of the Constitution.
One intriguing question: Why did GRP waive the 1987 Constitution as a term of reference when the agreement should be within its framework? This speaks much of GRP's sincerity in entering into a negotiation with the MILF.
While the GRP agreed not to include the 1987 Constitution among the terms of references in the negotiation over Ancestral Domain, its positions have always been anchored on it. This explains the long impasse – broken when the Silvestre Afable-led GRP Panel offered "the idea of self-determination" as a talking point.
He said: "The crux of the Mindanao peace process is the idea of self-determination. … Given plainly, the era of 'assimilation and integration' must now give way to an era of 'freedom and responsibility' without a breakaway or erecting walls between peoples." [From the "Foreword" of The Long Road to Peace that he wrote. The book, by Salah Jubair, pen name of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbql, presents an inside story of the peace process.]
Both the government and the MILF have "formidable tasks":
– That of the government "is to temper the legal and political reflexes that deny the existence of 'share sovereignties' or 'nations within nations'. These reflexes are conditioned both by power manipulation by vested interests, and by the anachronism of a 'national security state, as opposed to a 'human security state' that is today's standard of modern nation".
– That of the MILF "is to embrace the poor and disenfranchised people of Mindanao, of whatever creed, or persuasion, and to elevate the struggle to a peaceful revolution of the whole rather than a rebellion of one of its parts".
The impasse could be interpreted as GRP's failure "to temper the legal and political reflexes". Until the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity becomes a reality, there is no way to judge the MILF on its "formidable tasks".
Afable's idea of self-determination was a creative way to clothe Ancestral Domain with some constitutionality. The right to self-determination is provided in the United Nations Charter and some other international laws and conventions. Article II, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution reads in part:
"The Philippines … adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land …."
Afable was no longer around to see his baby born as he surprisingly resigned in June 2007. His replacement, Rodolfo Garcia, was upbeat about the baby's birth. Evidently, he nursed Afable's idea. His statement (INQUIRER.net, Nov. 15, 2007):
"Demarcation (of the homeland boundaries) has been agreed. There are areas in Mindanao which we feel are justified, reasonable, and righteous to be acceded to the Bangamoro juridical entity because historically they belong to the Muslims. With the talks, we have now the opportunity to correct this historical flaw.
"After more than three decades of problems in Mindanao, it is for the government to give concessions. It could not be the other side, so the government has to concede what it thinks is reasonable.
"We are confident that the momentum of signing the ancestral domain agreement [in January 2008] will be able to carry us forward in the other tests and challenges ahead."
Iqbal, too, was upbeat: "Hopefully, we would be able, after the signing of the comprehensive compact, to find closure to the centuries-old problem in Mindanao which various regimes have not solved."
On that historic day in November 2007, did anyone think that exactly a month after, there would be a complete turnaround – in the position of the Arroyo government and in the confidence and good will so patiently built.
Othman was cautious. "The mood is good." Yet, "we can expect someone to throw a spanner in the works …" Not only someone but many a one did throw the spanner.However, while the turnaround means insincerity, Malacañang denies any such charge. Let's look into the denials. They may deny the denials. (To Be Continued)
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org).