COMMENT: No sign of signing: Iqbal’s Past Opening Statements

Part 4 of a series

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews /14 April) If Government has changed the focus or core of the negotiation and has consistently firmed up this change, MILF has tenaciously held on to the talking point agreed in 1997 that was defined in the June 22, 2001 Tripoli Agreement of Peace. It has reposed trust in President Aquino III; yet it sounds frustrated.


December 5 -7, 2011


With MILF not yielding to the “3 for 1 Proposal”, Iqbal reaffirms during the 23rd formal exploratory talks their unchanged position, the urgency and auspiciousness of “signing a comprehensive agreement”. The MILF’s “expectation is not hard to fulfill … because all the issues … are already put on the table” – obviously referring to their peace draft proposal.


No Secession: The MILF option is not to secede but to have a “real self-governance in the Bangsamoro state … within the larger Philippine state” as contained in their state-sub-state proposal. Emphasizing the primacy of this option, Iqbal urges Government to stop “attempting to integrate the Moros into the national body politic” – with reference to the “partnership” offered in the “GPH ‘3 for 1’ Solution” – a scheme tried in the past and proven a failure.


Nothing Moving Away: In its December 8-14 editorial entitled “Grand Offer”,, the official website of MILF Central Committee on Information, clarifies the statement to mean: The talk is moving forward but on the part of MILF nothing is moving away from its original position of asymmetrical state-sub-state political settlement that will address the Moro right to self-determination.        


Stern Reminder: Two closing statements of the editorial must be noted: (1) “If the Aquino Administration wants to solve the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao, let it be done by genuinely empowering the Moros, not through the policy of interference into their internal affairs;” (2) for Government to offer to MILF “something …like the flawed formula the MNLF accepted … will only prolong the peace negotiation and the chance of signing one will never happen under the Aquino administration”.



January 9 – 11, 2012


The same concern Iqbal repeats at the opening of the 24th formal exploratory talks: The need “…to assure ourselves that we are indeed in the right tract and the right pace” as the peace talks intensify “if we want to conclude the current GPH-MILF peace negotiation to a successful end, without derogating prior agreements. As to the pace, the March deadline will be missed unless “we are sincere, dedicated, and work hard and in double time”. [Emphasis supplied]


Four Requirements: To fast track the negotiation, the two parties must


  • meet “regularly and for longer period”;
  • clearly follow “the agenda, which the two parties had already settled as early as January 1997; i.e., How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem, which we now refer to as Moro Question”; [Emphasis supplied]
  • then “agree on basic principles and concepts, then on the basic elements or strands of the proposed Moro juridical entity, then provide the details, then the operational mechanisms, and finally sign it”;
  • of necessity, “provide for the implementing road map or mechanism that would include the active participation of the international community”.


Important Exception: MILF sees nothing to be happy with the negotiation that has “barely moved from where we started last year” except for the inclusion in “our agreement on the 11-point basic issues and concerns last December 5-7 during our 23rd GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks” of “‘autonomy’ as the form of self-governance that we intend to put into place in the future Moro state or substate”.


Why is this inclusion important? First, it “puts into definitive and clear term that in this negotiation we are not talking about a sham autonomy like the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with all its integrative features but something short of an independent state”. This reiterates MILF’s rejection of the “3 for 1” formula. Second, by focusing on this form of self-governance, “we can expect swift development in the talks. And then the March deadline is possible”.


Seeking Guarantee: As a “guarantee to stability, security, and life to the state-substate asymmetrical arrangement those powers allocated or conceded to the future Moro state must be entrenched by the government by undertaking constitutional amendment either by appending the Agreement to the present Constitution or to undertake a surgical amendment of the Constitution from Section 15 to Section 21”. This will avoid “more complications and hardships or dangers in the future” to the Bangsamoro state.


Not wanting to repeat the failure of the Moro National Liberation Front, “the MILF will not accept tentative arrangement or formulation” like “the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and governorship of the ARMM” as a guarantee to the full implementation of a peace agreement.


Transition Period Necessary: There must be sufficient transition period “before the regular phase of the implementation of the agreement. … The transformation, transfer, and devolution of power requires time, preparation, and training. Any sudden or drastic change of status quo will meet so many challenges or oppositions, not excluding violence, especially from people or groups who used to enjoy power and privileges.”


February 13 – 15, 2012


At the opening of the 25th formal exploratory talks, Iqbal issues this assessment and grim reminder: “We are now dealing with the core of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao … the issue of genuine self-governance for our people. … If we are not engaged in real problem-solving negotiation, then we will end up without signing the comprehensive compact soon or at any time during the Aquino administration.” [Emphasis supplied]

Consoling but Challenging: “… practically all the hard issues are on the table and clear to all parties; for instance, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, and interim period. But if we cannot settle these issues soon, surely, we are heading for more headaches.[Emphasis supplied]

Besides the three issues above, “other elements of the proposed Bangsamoro state like the establishment of police, internal security force, basic law, and normalization, among others, are equally challenging”. Iqbal calls for resolve “to deal with these issues head-on” as “time is running out” and “if we are to take into consideration the view of the GPH that the comprehensive compact has to be signed next month”.

Not Easy: Iqbal reiterates why “the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao are not easy nuts to crack”. The facts:

First: “Our negotiation is not about solving an ordinary conflict.”

Second: “What we are dealing here is about a deadly armed conflict where thousands upon thousands of people died or injured, and millions of people became homeless – many of whom have not returned to their original dwellings to this day and their lands are taken over by other people.”

Third: “It is about a home-grown sovereignty-based armed struggle that cannot be simply addressed by giving them cash, houses, or positions in government.”

Obviously, referring to the “3 for 1 Formula”, Iqbal reminds: “In other words, we cannot just design a formula that is working with ordinary conflict, because the MILF-led struggle is different.” He continues to clarify.

Distinctions: As an organization, “The MILF is armed,… has the popular backing and support, … has the organization, and … has ideology, which gives its members not only direction and guidance, but the reasons to undertake struggle.”

As rebels, “We did not join the MILF for the sake of wanting to get wealth and positions in the government. We are not solving our individual, family, or groups’ problem. What we are solving is the problem of the Moros, a problem spawned by colonialism and Filipino neo-colonialism.”

They have no personal ambition like MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, who, after his failure as ARMM governor and SPCPD chairman, “still wants to be in power. … Otherwise, if [his] were not a personal problem, he would willingly pass the buck to the MILF, because he has nothing more to offer to our people, after he agreed to be subsumed by the current system in the Philippines.”

What MILF Will Not Do: Posing the questions to both Parties: “On the practical side, do we think the MILF will settle for something that is not lasting and is not sure of really solving the problem? Do we think the MILF is willing to disarm and turn over its ‘12,500 firearms’, granting this government figure is correct, for something that is not sure to happen?

“Certainly, we cannot put the collective interests, security, and future of our people at the mercy or tyranny of the future. We need to be sure that what we sign with the government is the one that really addresses the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao. A half-baked solution is worse than no solution at all.” [Emphasis supplied]

Disappointments: Iqbal expresses three disappointments:

First, the Aquino government and MILF “managed to sign only few documents” that “are certainly important but … not directly related to the substantive issues of the current peace negotiation”. These are (1) “four joint statements which were worded almost vaguely”; and (2) “terms of references (TOR) for the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Humanitarian, Relief, and Development Component of the IMT”.

Second, something very important has seemingly been forgotten: “… that despite the rough-sailing in the current peace talks, the parties have already agreed on many things especially on the 11-point formulation that the parties have accepted last December 7, 2011, with GPH’s reservations on three issues, as part of the basic principles of the current negotiation.” [Emphasis supplied]

Third, “… no less than His Excellency President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III agreed to the MILF’s proposal to create a ministerial form of government in the future Bangsamoro entity provided that those running that state government are elected directly by the people.” It appears this has not been taken seriously by the Aquino government.

Iqbal observes: “Are these matters less agreed because they are not signed? To me an agreement is an agreement whether signed or not, because accountability does not only rest with men alone, but most solemnly to God.” Yet, he regrets: “But in a negotiation, this is not to be treated this way. There is no agreement at all until the parties so agreed and sign it.”

MILF Proposes: Put “all these agreed points including the 11-point formulation above-mentioned into formal documents and sign them” to show that “indeed we have achieved something and we are moving forward” and to “guide us on as we go into the details of the various issues of the negotiation”


Feeling Frustrated?


In Iqbal’s rundown of what he believes as the true state of the Government-MILF peace negotiation at the opening of the 26th formal exploratory talks early last month, MILF shows it still harbors trust on President Aquino III and the Leonen-led government peace panel; but it entertains doubt on their sincerity to negotiate according to its expectation. Evidently, its hope is turning to disappointment. It can be asked: Is MILF feeling frustrated?


In Leonen’s opening statements, Government shows no inclination to detract from its own focus and heed MILF’s expectation. In fact, Government is persuading MILF to reconsider its hard position and in partnership with Government and MNLF accept the reformed ARMM as the alternative to its asymmetrical state-sub-state option. It can also be asked: Is the reformed ARMM a leave-it-or-take-it alternative?


As MILF frets, Government offers roses with the thorns. The stalemate looms.

(To Be Concluded)


(“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