COMMENT: Talagang Committed Ba Si Presidente? (2)

Second of Two Parts: Strikingly Similar

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 August) –The refrain, “The President is committed to just and lasting peace”, recalls then President Arroyo in the last year of her administration. She personally asked heads of state in the then Organization of Islamic Conference to help in the peace process; she went public fanning the “hope and assurance” that “the peace process would soon achieve long-term stability and prosperity for the people of Mindanao”. The hype was: “All-out peace will be realized because President Arroyo wants it done.”


Do the “refrain” and the “hype” show striking similarity?


Changing “GRP” to “GPH” seems to emphasize an Aquino era distinctly different from the past – hence, “GPH-MILF” emphasizing the difference between the Aquino and the Arroyo governments in conducting the peace process. What really is the difference?


Are the GPH policies, parameters and proposals basically different from GRP’s?


All-level “consultations” and “agreement acceptable” to all were initiated by Arroyo in the policy shift she launched in September 2008 in the wake of the MOA-AD disaster. Aquino has only improved the extent of consultations – believably, consulting senators, other key leaders in the Congress, etc. to avert the Arroyo MOA-AD nightmares.

“Accommodation of MILF demands in the Constitution” is not an Aquino novelty. That was well-considered by the Arroyo negotiators and their principals in acceding to the associative state as the core of political settlement in the MOA-AD.


Aquino has offered a “reformed ARMM” as an alternative to MILF’s state-sub-state proposal. This is not basically different from Arroyo’s offering in 2010 — two times earlierthe ARMM as “enhanced autonomy” with “doables” for icing and assured of constitutional amendments if necessary. The only difference: In the Aquino proposal, the ARMM will be reformed through a tri-partite partnership of Government, MILF and traditional leaders in ARMM with Government as chief partner.


The negotiation mechanisms are the same – foreign venue, Kuala Lumpur; Malaysia as the third party facilitator; International Contact Group; diplomatic protocol. In recalling the Technical Working Groups, the Parties did not create a new mechanism contrary to the Facilitator’s notion that their “creation” was a “sign of progress” in the “15-year negotiations” (OPAPP report, August 8, 2012). GRP and MILF created the TWGs on their first meeting in 1997.


President Aquino wants the Moro problem solved within his term. So did then President Arroyo – first setting June 30, 2004 as the target date; then 2010.


GRP and GPH hypes and refrains are strikingly similar. GRP panel chair Rafael Seguis (MindaNews, June 24, 2009), after acknowledging the challenges and odds expressed confidence to achieve “all out peace”, saying: “Yes, we can because we will” – neither the first nor the last of a series, not by Seguis alone. A review of the many statements of Secretary Deles, Panel Chair Leonen, et al. would show how GPH and GRP optimistic declarations ring similar tunes and lyrics.


However, GRP by 2009, considering the dying days of the Arroyo government, was desperate. This should not be said of GPH – knowing the almost four-year time it still has and the avowed MILF confidence in President Aquino III.  Let it be: GPH is singing similar GRP tunes and lyrics to dissuade the skeptics. Will GPH prove its difference with GRP despite the striking similarity?


This calls for a review and re-view of the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principle”.


Defining Points


Key Point 2 on the “unacceptable status quo” and the “creation of a new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM” and its complement — Key Point 4 on “ministerial form of government” — are defining points. They will determine the resolution of Key Point 5 on “transitional period” and “mechanisms”.


In the negotiation of the framework agreement, which will prevail – the government’s implicit position that the unacceptable status quo (Key Point 2) refers only to the ARMM or the MILF’s that, foremost, it’s the unitary system of government not just the ARMM that is unacceptable? Necessarily (Key Point 4), the MILF demands for the parliamentary form of government to break away from the unitary system; to a great extent, this will consequently impact on the power-sharing provision of Key Point 5.


It boils down to this: In “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principle”, Government and MILF by blending the essential points of their peace draft agreements – GPH “3 for 1” Proposal and MILF Draft Comprehensive Agreement 2011apparently bridged the “heaven and earth” gap between their proposals. In “Framework Agreement”, will they reconcile their contrary options? Will they either sacrifice or compromise positions?


Government’s Gambit


Credit Government for doing its homework. While studying the MILF draft agreement and clarifying what it really wants, it conducted extensive consultations to know the parameters of an agreement acceptable to all – not just to the Moro people. From leaders in the Congress, Government must have determined what agreement would pass trouble-free congressional scrutiny and action.


This must explain the aims of the government peace panel in formulating the GPH “3 for 1” Proposal focused on the reform of the ARMM – incorporating in the proposal demands of the MILF that can be accommodated in the present Constitution and are acceptable to all. A tripartite partnership of Government, MILF and the elected officials of ARMM with Government as the chief partner to implement the reform agenda will satisfy those in Manila who are critical of the Moro administrative capabilities.


The GPH “3 for 1” Proposal gambit could put MILF on the spot. Government is willing to accommodate MILF in an agreement acceptable to all including incumbent Moro leaders of the ARMM – an agreement avowed to envision the redress of political and economic injustices against the Moros.  Will MILF reject it at the risk of becoming irrelevant and of being isolated?


Taking the risk, MILF rejected on the spot the “3 for 1” Proposal. Risking an impasse, Government rejected pronto the MILF rejection.


Averting an Impasse


In their joint and press statements, the Parties have expressed their common desire to end the Moro problem despite their hard positions. To avert the impasse, they adopted the “Decision Points on Principle” as their guideline for a framework agreement set for negotiation and signing in September.    


Apparently, MILF hopes that by the signing of a framework agreement in September the Moro problem will be over within the last four years of the Aquino government. With the transition fully implemented from June 30, 2013 to June 30, 2016, the new Moro political entity – by whatever name – will be soundly autonomous politically and economically to stand on its own starting with the next administration.


As an act of sacrifice to have the Bangsamoro problem solved, MILF abandoned its demand for independence during the negotiation of the MOA-AD. Last July 9, during the press conference capping the 4-day Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly, Chairman Murad Ibrahim announced the MILF had agreed to shorten the transition period of the new autonomous political entity to three years instead of six (MindaNews, July 10, 2012).


Will it have to make more sacrifices?


At that conference with local and foreign media, Murad said: “The MILF has offered many compromises already (Luwaran, July 10, 2012).” The same MindaNews report above cited Murad to have emphasized that “the MILF ‘cannot compromise any further’ because it has ‘reached the bottomline’.”


Hopefully, there will be no more major compromises. Murad told the local and foreign media the MILF has been pushing for a “state-substate asymmetrical arrangement” as a political settlement and this “will be constitutionally entrenched and will not be altered by a unilateral decision of the central government” – without reference to a constitutional amendment having been guaranteed by the government.


In agreeing to the creation of the new autonomous political entity, MILF must have been assured by Government this is its “state-substate” demand. As noted by MindNews, “the MILF had earlier pushed for an amendment of the Constitution” but “government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen repeatedly said there is no need” for that “to accommodate the demands of MILF”. As stated above, credit Government for doing its homework.


Final Reckoning


How can a state-substate form of government be entrenched constitutionally without amending the Constitution? Has the government peace team in their consultation with congressional and key administration leaders guaranteed that the 1987 Constitution can accommodate in its provisions the MILF demands including the state-substate form of government? Do Government and MILF have the same state-substate form government in mind?


The answers are in the framework agreement – how the Parties will interpret Key Points 2, 4 and 5 and adhere to Key Point 3 of the Decision Points on Principle. The other key points will have minimal problems.


In the final reckoning, just political settlement as the foundation of lasting peace, like the proverbial bird, is in the hand of Government for it to let live or let die. MILF, by its repeated manifestations and by the collective voice of Moro leaders in the in their July 7-10 assembly, will not compromise the state-substate political settlement as the just solution of the Bangsamoro Problem. That is the bird in Government’s hand.


In the final reckoning, the framework agreement will manifest in flesh the “just and lasting peace” President Aquino III is “committed to”. Negotiation is “give and take”. However, in the words of a Moro professional posted in the discussion loop online, Kusogmindanaw, “… the government is the one that will have to give more and more concessions as the talks progresses …” Why so? The victims of injustice cannot give redress; they can only receive.


Talagang committed ba si Presidente? (Is the President really committed?) Is the refrain intended to hype or to show resolve?  The framework agreement and the subsequent final settlement will tell the truth or the lie.

(“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