COMMENT: Muddled: Situwasyon sa Mindanao (1st of two parts)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – What now is the problem in Mindanao? This is the critical question as the Arroyo administration turned off the road and the Aquino government assumed the burden of continuing the peace process.

How will President Aquino do it? He has two options: Continue from where President Arroyo’s government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front stopped guided by the June 3, 2010 GRP-MILF Interim Agreement; or, start from scratch. Or, perhaps, a third option is to rummage the negotiation records back to 1997 and from bits and pieces deemed apt to satisfy majority sentiments, cobble together a new proposal.

SONA Pronouncements

During the election campaign period, presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III promised to continue the peace process but media never came out with details. In his first State of the Nation Address last July 26, speaking in Pilipino, he made reference to the peace problem in the country [the paragraphs are numbered for reference], thus:

[1] Dalawa ang hinaharap nating  suliranin sa usapin ng kapayapaan: ang situwasyon sa Mindanao, at ang patuloy na pag-aaklas ng CPP-NPA-NDF.

[2] Tungkol sa situwasyon sa Mindanao: Hindi po nagbabago ang ating pananaw. Marating lamang ang kapayapaan at katahimikan kung mag-uusap ang lahat ng apektado: Moro, Lumad, at Kristiyano. Inatasan na natin si Dean Marvic Leonen na mangasiwa sa ginagawa nating pakikipag-usap sa MILF.

[3]] Iwasan natin ang mga pagkakamaling nangyari sa nakaraang administrasyon, kung saan binulaga na lang ang mga mamamayan ng Mindanao.  Hindi tayo puwedeng magbulag-bulagan sa mga dudang may kulay ng pulitika ang proseso, at hindi ang kapakananan ng taumbayan ang tanging interes.

[4] Kinikilala natin ang mga hakbang na ginagawa ng MILF sa pamamagitan ng pagdidisiplina sa kanilang hanay.  Inaasahan  natin na muling magsisimula ang negosasyon pagkatapos ng Ramadan.

Note Well

In [1], the President sees the peace problem in the country as Mindanao situation and continuing CPP-NPA-NDF rebellion.

In [2], the President (a) states his unchanged view that peace in Mindanao can be attained only if all those concerned – the Moros, Lumad and Christians – will engage in an honest dialogue; and (b) has appointed Dean Marvic Leonen to lead the talks with the MILF.

In [3], the President wants to avoid the mistakes of the Arroyo administration – surprising the people of Mindanao with an agreement without prior consultations; and, he promises not to ignore suspicions of political motives in the conduct of the peace process, not for the genuine interest of the people.

In [4], the President recognizes the efforts of the MILF in disciplining their ranks and hopes that the peace negotiation can start after the Ramadan.

“Situwasyon sa Mindanao” or “Mindanao situation”, so general and broad, lumps the Moro rebellion together with all other social, political and local problems in Mindanao. It is vague as the core of a policy. While [2] infers a tri-people dialogue separate from a talk between the government and the MILF, [3] and [4] refer to the GRP-MILF talk only.

Stage and State

In what stage and state was the peace process or negotiation when the Arroyo GRP and the MILF broke off after signing the Interim Agreement on June 3, 2010? Whatever it was, the peace process at present must still be in that stage and state for the Aquino government either to continue or abort.

The core proposal of the GRP-MILF negotiation is: “Solve the Bangsamoro problem.” This is the core of all agreed GRP-MILF key documents – the framework agreements – which led to the initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Consensus: After eleven years (1997 to 2008) of contentious negotiations, the GRP and the MILF arrived at the consensus that the root of the Bangsamoro problem is injustice; the core issue is sovereignty; the solution is political settlement; and the imperative to the means of implementing the solution is political will.*

[*Note: This is stated or inferred in the works of MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, member Michael O. Mastura; former GRP panel member Rudy Rodil, and, recently, in a “Note” of former PAPP official Camilo Montesa.]

The first three are what the MOA-AD is all about. Political will cannot be negotiated. It resides in the President; only he or she can give it life and impetus or death.

Intervention: As negotiated and by consensus, the MOA-AD was the “Solution to the Bangsamoro problem”. However, before it could be signed on August 4, 2008, local government leaders opposed to the MOA-AD haled it to the Supreme Court to restrain its signing and to nullify it. The government was restrained from signing it and the Court, after hearing the petitions on merit – including those later filed by national leaders and other intervenors — declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional but not null.

Guide: While the Court declared the MOA-AD “unconstitutional and contrary to law”, it did not nullify it; instead, the Court prescribed its Decision as guide in future negotiations.  As such, the guidelines may be gleaned from the Decision:

1). Fourth Paragraph of the SUMMARY: “The MOA-AD is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001.  Hence, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.”

[Note: The Court recognizes the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of June 2001; and, the MOA-AD as “significant” and “necessary” to carry out the TAP — hence, the significance and necessity of both to the solution of the Bangsamoro problem.]

2). From discussions on the President’s authority to propose constitutional amendments: “As long as she [he] limits herself [himself] to recommending these changes and submits to the proper procedure for constitutional amendments and revision, her [his] mere recommendation need not be construed as unconstitutional act.”

3). From discussions on the power of the President to conduct peace negotiations: “If the President is to be expected to find means for bringing the [Mindanao] conflict to an end and to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao, then she [he] must be given the leeway to explore, in the course of peace negotiations, solutions that may require changes in the Constitution for implementation.”

[Notes: (2) Proposed amendments to the Constitution when properly done are not unconstitutional; (3) the Constitution may be amended to end the Mindanao conflict and bring lasting peace.]

Resumption: After almost one year of suspension, the GRP and MILF jointly declared on July 29, 2009 to resume the talks basically based on a reframed MOA-AD, obviously as suggested by the Supreme Court. On December 9, 2009, they agreed to exchange draft peace agreements based on a seven-point guideline drawn by Camilo Montesa of the GRP Technical Working Group, breaking down Item 2 of the July 29 Joint Declaration.

This was significant. Without declaring so, the MILF recognized the SC Decision and, in effect, challenged GRP to follow it in its full meaning. Article II, Section 3, of the MILF Draft Agreement proposes: “Each Party recognizes that the Constitution of the Philippines should cover a completely new document agreed in the light of an option for free association of state or union in the context of this Comprehensive Compact. The “what” and the “how” are elaborated in subsections a, b and c. This is clearly consistent with the SC guidelines spelled out in its Decision. The GRP balked.

Also significant to note: (1) by signing the July 29, 2009 Joint Statement, they agreed to be guided by the Decision of the Supreme Court on the MOA-AD; (2) in the respective drafts of their proposed Peace Agreement, they made reference to the Constitution; but (3) they differed in their views – the GRP’s, a Constitution closed and bounded by its existing provisions; the MILF’s, a Constitution open to accommodate the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

Internationalized: The peace process has been internationalized since 2001 when the Philippine President invited the Malaysia Government to facilitate and host the peace talks; then, three months thereafter, Libya hosted the negotiation that yielded the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of June 2001. Later, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team engaged to effectively enforce the ceasefire enhanced the internationalization.

The more the peace process was internationalized in 2009 when (1) the IMT mandate was expanded to include development and humanitarian aspects of the Bangsamoro problem and its membership also expanded to include more countries especially from Europe; and (2) the creation of the International Contact Group to assist the Malaysian facilitator in facilitating the peace talks and the peace process. (“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 [email protected])

(To Be Continued)