COMMENT: Talagáng Committed Ba Si Presidente?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/ 29 August)– As this piece is being written, the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels must be already prepared for their 31st exploratory talks – reset from August 27 to 30 to next month, probably in the first week. By their statements – official and in the press – about the present state of the negotiation, the 31st exploratory talks would be very crucial: to have the framework agreement ready for signing in September.


According to the official statements, signing in September the framework agreement will allow the Aquino government the time to fully implement the transition phase of the Moro autonomous political entity or NPE* (new political entity) before its term ends on June 30, 2016. Obviously, the assumption is that after that the new Moro autonomous government will be soundly autonomous politically and economically.


How sound or feasible or practical is the assumption?


*[Just to note: In the “Decision Points on Principle” (Key Point 2), a “new autonomous political entity” or NAPE will be created instead of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. In subsequent Government statements, the acronym was changed to NPE. Question: Why omit “A” for “autonomous”? Will the “new entity” no longer be autonomous? The BJE (for Bangsamoro Juridical Entity) in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was deemed amorphous. Is NPE not just as amorphous? A simple but most fitting name should be provided.]


Points at Issue


There are issues to be clarified. In their joint statements, Government and MILF show the same degree of optimism. But in their separate statements, as stated or revealed between the lines, their positions are not really that similarly optimistic.


First, to cite Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator, the two panels are now reading the same paragraphs in the same book — alluding to their negotiation being confined to the same key points of the “Decision Points on Principle”. But do they have the same interpretations of the same key points?


In his latest statement to MindaNews, the Tengku qualified his assessment as reading “the same paragraph but still long paragraph”. The “Decision” has ten key points or principles. Whatever disagreements they have in these key points – incidental, casual or contentious – will take time to resolve — perhaps long time for the contentious ones.


Second, set to be finalized next month and for signing in the same month is framework agreement, not final agreement. Unless it has a special meaning, “framework” means an outline of the final agreement based on the ten-point “Decision Points on Principle”. Such a framework still has to be fleshed out into a final agreement. By itself, framework agreement is not implementable.


A final agreement is not immediately implementable. The Congress has to enact it into an organic law. Besides the time it will take the Congress to enact the law, it will surely revise some provisions thereby altering the agreement. Will MILF accept an altered agreement, if not to their liking, and support its passage in the subsequent referendum?


Can fleshing out the framework, enacting the final agreement into a law acceptable to MILF and having it ratified in the referendum be done in the remaining months of the first half of the Aquino administration?


Third, Government has repeatedly made the assurance that President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is “committed to a just and lasting peace”. Meaning, he will grant all within his powers what will bring “just and lasting peace”.


This spawns two questions. (1) What is “just” in the context of the Moro problem? Any proposal that will not satisfactorily solve the Moro problem is not “just” and will not lead to “lasting peace”. (2) Has he the political will to grant what must be granted over the possible objections of the known anti-MILF top leaders of his government?


As the title of this article poses, “Talagang committed ba si President?” Or: “Is the President really committed?”


Little Difficulty


If the President is really “committed to just [political settlement**] and lasting peace”, his commitment is not difficult to meet. The World Bank in a study has ascertained injustice as the main root or core of the Moro problem. Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., DD through long interaction with the Moros and their leaders holds the same view. (See: The Long Road to Peace, by Salah Jubair. Davao City: 2007. pp 5-6).  He has expounded his view in several articles and forums. The President evidently knows.


**[Just to note: “just peace” is rhetorical extravagance. Peace is necessarily just. Where there is no justice   there is no peace. Hence, there is no “unjust” peace. In reference to the Moro problem, the first part of the President’s commitment must be “just political settlement”, the foundation of “lasting peace”.]


For fifteen years since 1997, MILF has stated repeatedly its unchanged position on “How to Solve the Bangsamoro Problem”, the original agreed talking point in the GRP-MILF (“GRP”, for “Government of the Republic of the Philippines”, had been referred to from the time of President Fidel V. Ramos through that of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; today, the Philippines is still a “Republic”.) peace negotiations. The latest restatement is: “the agreement that will address the problem in Mindanao”.


From March 2001 through July 2008, GRP and MILF negotiators, with the assistance of technical working groups and the facilitation of the Malaysian government, incrementally agreed in their interim agreements on how to address the Bangsamoro problem and embodied their consensus points in the ill-fated MOA-AD. The consensus points have survived the October 2008 Decision of the Supreme Court that declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional.


The Supreme Court did not nullify or invalidate the MOA-AD; instead it ruled that it is “a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace” so that “the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated” or reframed. GRP and MILF did that. During the last year — July 29, 2009 to June 3, 2010 — of the peace talks under the Arroyo government, the MILF peace proposal was the reframed MOA-AD according to the Parties’ agreed framework or outline.


Read carefully the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principle”. Basically, it is an outline of the reframed MOA-AD. Key Point 3 of the “Decision” – “The Parties agree to the continuity of negotiations in the context of agreed documents” — binds the Parties, to a considerable extent, to the reframed MOA-AD although “agreed documents” poses as a possible point of disagreement.


Unless the Aquino government and MILF have radically different understanding of the “Decision Points”, the panels, especially with the assistance of the technical working groups, will have little difficulty in forging a final peace agreement from the consensus points in past agreements as acknowledged in principle in the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principle”. The President will only have the Congress to deal with in fulfilling his commitment to “just and lasting peace”. Talagang committed ba si Presidente? 


(Tomorrow: Strikingly Similar)


“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