COMMENT: Just a Passing Remark

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 July) – In his State of the Nation Address (SONA 2012) last Monday, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III said this of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in relation to the ongoing Government-MILF peace negotiation:

“Even those who previously wanted to break away are seeing the effects of reform. Over the past seven months, not even a single encounter has been recorded between the military and the MILF. We recognize this as a sign of their trust. With regard to the peace process: Talks have been very open; both sides have shown trust and faith in one another. There may be times when the process can get a little complicated, but these are merely signs that we are steadily moving closer to our shared goal: Peace.”

The President, in this portion of his SONA, relates the ongoing peace negotiation to the overall peace efforts of his administration – the modernization of the military and police forces, the neutralizing of “1,772 outlaws” in the Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan; the liberation and rehabilitation of “365 barangays”; and the benefits for the soldiers and their families for “winning the peace.”

Cites ARMM

Not only by military operations is the peace being won. Reforms also do. And for this the President cites the reforms in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The President describes the ARMM as “a place that has long stood as a symbol of frustrated hopes.” What frustrated hopes in ARMM? Ghosts! Specifically: “Before our reforms in the ARMM began, what we had were ghost students walking to ghost schools on ghost roads, to learn from ghost teachers.” Ghastly haunted place!

OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman, on his assumption of office, found (1) “four schools … with ghost students”; (2) “teachers whose names do not appear in the list of the Professional Regulation Commission”; (3) “government workers not listed in the plantilla” and since then, “fifty-five entries have been taken off the payroll”; (4) the “scheme of regraveling roads again and again just to earn money”; (5) the “cash advances for agencies”; and, (6) “the ghosts in voters lists.”

For driving away the ghosts, the President commended Hataman: “This is why, to OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman, we can say to you: You are indeed a certified ghost buster.”

Aside: The figures cited are not frightening – do not substantiate the rhetoric.

Then the President enumerates what his administration has put in the place of ghosts:

First: As immediate reforms: (1) real housing, bridges, and learning centers for Badjaos in Basilan; (2) community-based hatcheries, nets, materials to grow seaweeds, and seedlings that have benefited 2,588 fishermen; (3) certified seeds, gabi seedlings, cassava, rubber, and trees that are bearing fruit for 145,121 farmers.

Second: More will be done: (1) 183 million pesos has been set aside for the fire stations; (2) 515 million pesos for clean drinking water; (3) 551.9 million pesos for healthcare equipment; (4) 691.9 million pesos for daycare centers; and (5) 2.85 billion pesos for the roads and bridges across the region.


The President clarified: “These are just some of the things that will be afforded by the aggregate 8.59 billion pesos the national government has granted the ARMM. Also, allow me to clarify: This does not include the yearly support that they receive, which in 2012 reached 11.7 billion pesos.”


MILF Seeing, Convinced


The Aquino government has proposed a “Reformed ARMM” as the centerpiece of the political settlement it is willing to grant the MILF and has invited the MILF as a partner in the reform process. Hataman assumed office on December 21, 2011; hence, the reform has been going on for the last seven months. Of its significance, the President told the nation, without specifically mentioning the MILF: “Even those who previously wanted to break away are seeing the effects of reform.”


Specifically, “Over the past seven months, not even a single encounter has been recorded between the military and the MILF. We recognize this as a sign of their trust.” The reforms so far done in the ARMM have won for the government the MILF’s trust.


The President relates this to the peace talks. “With regard to the peace process: Talks have been very open; both sides have shown trust and faith in one another. There may be times when the process can get a little complicated, but these are merely signs that we are steadily moving closer to our shared goal: Peace.” Said seemingly in passing, the remark may not have mattered much to his audience at the Batasan.  Is this the true and correct status of the peace process at present?


Three Comments


MindaNews (PNoy says signs augur well for GPH-MILF peace talks but …”, July 24, 2012) quotes three concerned comments:


Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Cotabato City-based Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society: “He could have done better if he had asked for patience and support for the peace talks from all stakeholders especially government political institutions.”


Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of Mindanao Peoples Caucus: The President’s remark on the peace process was “like a re-stating of GMA’s (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) ‘peace is at hand’ announcement.”


Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, the secretariat to the Mindanao Peaceweavers, the network of peace networks in Mindanao which urged both panels to suspend the ARMM’s regional polls in May 2013 to pave the way for a transition commission: “Last year there was no mention of the peace process but a breakthrough meeting with Murad happened after. This year, there was a line or two about the talks, so perhaps a bigger breakthrough is in the offing?”


MPC has done very much to keep the peace in Mindanao and the peace process moving on. Ms. Arnado’s remark should not be ignored. It asks a subtle question.


How different is PNoy from GMA? “Paikotin natin sila (Let’s outsmart them)” was the GMA mental set through her Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. “Let’s charm them” appears to be PNoy’s ploy through the rhetoric of his chief negotiator Marvic Leonen and OPAPP Secretary Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles – and his own.


Relevant Facts


The President’s “passing remark” should be viewed against relevant facts.


First: The President assumes that on “seeing the effects of reform” in the ARMM, the MILF changed its original demand for independence. What is the “reform” and what are its “effects?” The reform: The ARMM was purged of ghosts and socioeconomic projects were set up for the Badjaos in Basilan – Hataman’s home province. The effects: The President did not mention any — too early to be seen.


Four more projects worth P8.59 million will be done. Not yet done, no effects to see. When they will be started, the President did not say. Can they be finished before June 30, 2013 when the term of Hataman and of the other ARMM OIC officials end? Are funds available?


MindaNews reported last June 22 (PNoy admits slow implementation of “stimulus fund”) that President Aquino told ARMM regional, provincial, municipal and city officials on June 20 that the status of most of the projects funded under the P8.59 billion “stimulus fund” for the ARMM as of May 31 was either “not yet started” or “still ongoing”. They were supposed to have been started in October 2011.


Could the purging of ghosts and the slow or non-implementation of projects under the P8.59 billion “stimulus fund” have caused the MILF to abandon their demand for independence? The fact is: In the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), the MILF had already changed from independence to associative state. While this has been revised – associative state to state-sub-state to new autonomous political entity – the essence has hardly changed.


Second: The President assumes that “the effects of the reform” have won the trust of the MILF; consequently, not a single encounter between the military and the MILF had been recorded “over the past seven months” – since January.


The matter of MILF trust on the Aquino government is difficult to ascertain. The facts are: (1) The MILF would talk with the Aquino government only through the Malaysian facilitator. (2) The MILF has repeatedly said they do not recognize the ARMM; as they have refused the government’s invitation to partner in reforming the ARMM, it can do anything it wants with it. (3) Despite the President’s meeting Chairman Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo, the MILF rejected the government’s “3 for 1 Proposal”. Signs of MILF trust?


Is the matter of peace between the military and the MILF the consequence of whatever reforms there have been in the ARMM? The President must have lifted this from the report of the Government Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities. As posted in the OPAPP website on 22 June 2012 it read: “Since January 2012, there have been no recorded skirmishes between the government and the MILF.”


Brigadier General Gilberto Jose Roa, head of the Government CCCH attributed this to the efforts of the Joint CCCH and the International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia. In fact, for 2011 the incidence was almost nil – a sharp decrease from the “highs” in 2008 and 2009 since the return of the IMT in 2010. The same trend was observed for the period 2002 to 2007 – from 698 in 2002 and 569 in 2003 before the coming of the IMT to 16 in 2004, 13 in2005, 10 in 2006 and eight in 2007 after its arrival.


Third: On the peace process: “Talks have been very open; both sides have shown trust and faith in one another…. [Despite the little complications] … we are steadily moving closer to our shared goal: Peace.”


That is the same rhetoric coming off the July 16-18 exploratory talks: “We are at the door of an agreement.  Let us persevere.  Now is indeed the time for peace.” Yet the “breakthrough” was “modest” while “there are still many issues to resolved” with “the devils waiting in ambush” when the Parties discuss the details.


How much trust really is there between Government and MILF? The following appeals of the Government and MILF panel chairs in their “Opening Statements” at the 29th Exploratory Talks are authentic and authoritative indicators.


Leonen: “Let us build a working relationship based on trust.”


Iqbal:  “Finally, I appeal to the international community particularly [to the] members of the ICG to extend all possible help to the government and the MILF to overcome their differences and sign the comprehensive compact immediately. Malaysia, as the facilitating country, is doing a very fine job, but any external help within the bound of agreed terms of reference is certainly a welcome development.”


Not as Hoped


How “open” have the “very open” talks been? Our impression based on reports of the July 16-18 29th Exploratory Talks is that we are all being kept in the dark concerning the “modest breakthrough” and the “many more issues to be resolved”. We dwelt on this in our Comment “Keeping ALL in the Dark?” (MindaNews, July 24).


We hoped it was left to the President to break the news in his SONA about the “modest breakthrough” – a landmark in his government’s two-year negotiation with the MILF bringing the country to “the door of an agreement” and to “the time for peace”. But contrary to hope, the President’s “passing remark” is keeping us as much in the dark.


By its policy of transparency and peace agreement acceptable to all, the Aquino government has done extensive and intensive consultations. The MILF did the same. The response has been remarkable. The peace groups in Mindanao, the bishops, the ulama, the academe, the business leaders, and other concerned sectors including the media have become the government’s and the MILF’s partners in consultation.


True partners take each other in confidence and trust – in openness. This is expected under the Aquino government – not under the Arroyo government, which kept the MOA-AD negotiations under strict confidentiality.


Guiamel Alim’s comment implied: Would it not be for “the better” if the “partners in consultation” are openly updated – what the “modest breakthrough” and “the issues still to be resolved” really are? The “partners” will help keep the “devils” away from “the details” and staging an “ambush”.


Unfortunately, the partners in consultation are seemingly told: “Just trust us. You don’t have to know. We will ask you if we need help.” This is not the way to keep the partnership vibrant and most productive.  (“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