Quevedo to Aquino peace panel: “Be open to the positive gains of previous nego; do not start from ground zero”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 May) – Acknowledging that the pitfalls in the peace process between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are “legion,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo has written a six-point “unsolicited advice” for the government peace panel under the Aquino administration, the first of which is to “be open to the positive gains of previous negotiations and do not start from ground zero.”

He also urged the Aquino administration’s panel to:
– Internalize the results of the wide consultations that have been conducted and be guided by them;
– Be open to the principle of self-determination and probe how such a guiding principle could be implemented in fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution while transcending or amending its letter;
– Consult the people and political decision makers whenever necessary and always be transparent;
– In the face of possible provocations, be persevering, patient and resolute until a fair and just final peace agreement is done;
– Both groups in the peace process are believers in the one true God of Peace; while working for peace, do not forget to pray for peace.

Quevedo was apparently referring to the Konsult Mindanaw and Dialogue Mindanaw consultations done by the Bishops-Ulama Conference and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, respectively. Only the results of Konsult Mindanaw have been made public and the consensus has been “yes to peace talks, no to war.”

Quevedo also urged panel members to be open to possibilities of amending the Constitution, if necessary, as suggested in several Mindanao gatherings.

Quevedo wrote this expanded answer, which will also appear in his blog at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website, in response to MindaNews’ request for reactions to the return of Teresita “Ging” Deles to Malacanang as the Presidential Peace Adviser of President-elect Benigno Aquino.

Deles was PAPP from 2003 until her resignation as part of the “Hyatt 10” on July 8, 2005, in protest of the “Hello Garci” electoral controversy that cast doubts on the legitimacy of the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Skewed view

In his piece titled “Peace in Southern Mindanao: Beyond the Rhetoric, Hope,” Quevedo recalled how “Christian politicians generally have a skewed view of the peace process” between the government and the MILF.

He said their view “reflects that of the great majority of Christians all over the country” that
– The ill-fated MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) sacrificed national sovereignty and territorial integrity for the sake of peace;
– The present peace negotiation between the GRP panel and the MILF is a repeat of the same;
– Like the previous peace talks, the present attempt is characterized by lack of consultation and transparency;
– Any ‘midnight’ signing must be forestalled; and
– The fundamental solution to the conflict in southern Mindanao is not a peace agreement, but a comprehensive no-nonsense economic development program.

“Such a view, no matter how skewed and incorrect, has been used in the election campaign by politicians at the local and national level as an issue to gain votes from Christians in Mindanao,” Quevedo said.

He noted that at the national level, “among the more prominent were Senators Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas. The rhetoric was strident and shrill. No Christian politician dared to go on a limb to defend the present peace talks for fear of losing Christian votes. The rhetoric has successfully glossed over the truth, despite some clear presentation of the government position by the GRP group.”

Signs of hope

But Quevedo said there are “signs of hope” for peace to progress “under the Noynoy Aquino regime” despite the election campaign rhetoric. He said that instead of biding his time and even before taking his oath of office, Aquino has chosen his primary peace negotiator and that Deles, “a person-oriented but hardworking technocrat basically known for her peace advocacy, is familiar with the peace-conflict terrain in southern Mindanao.”

“These are signs of good will and good intention on the part of the incoming chief executive,” he said.

Quevedo also noted that the MILF’s reported establishment of a “common ground with the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) is promising.”

“I also hope that the wisdom of the late (MILF) Chairman Salamat Hashim who wanted, I believe, to establish peace within the parameters of what he realized as irreversible historical and geographical developments would continue to influence the Bangsa Moro leaders who carry on his legacy,” he said.

Pitfalls are legion

“But the pitfalls regarding the peace process are legion,” he warned.

He said the incoming membership of the Senate and House of Representatives “is filled with personalities that generally opposed the MOA-AD. “

“The temptation is strong for the incoming administration to start from zero and not to follow in the footsteps of a peace negotiation that it perceives not only as a ‘failure’ but also a ‘betrayal’ of the Constitution.

“The primary government negotiator might want to hew closely to the bidding of principals who have expressed mistrust regarding previous peace talks and even tried to discredit them in favor of economic development. It would seem that there is a wall of negative perceptions and feelings that the primary negotiator might have to break through. Her courage to stand up for her convictions is a great asset,” Quevedo wrote.

The MOA-AD provided for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that would have the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and towns contiguous to the ARMM that voted for inclusion into the ARMM in the 2005 plebiscite, as core area.

Categories A and B

Category A is a list of 735 villages that are mostly predominantly Moro and contiguous to the ARMM and will go through a plebiscite within one year from the signing of the MOA-AD, whether or not they want to be part of the proposed BJE.

Category B is a list of 1,459 conflict-affected areas outside the BJE area that will be treated as “special intervention areas” and will still be “subject to further negotiations.” A plebiscite will be held in these areas “not earlier than 25 years from the signing of the Comprehensive Compact” if they want or do not want to be in the BJE.

Of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, the areas that are listed under Category A are four cities and six provinces; in Category B, 10 provinces and one city. (MindaNews)

The MOA-AD was initialed in late July 2008 by the government and MILF peace parnel chairs, even witnessed and initialed by then Palace Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.

The schedule for formal signing was on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur but as the aircraft that brought the Philippine government dignitaries and US, Australian and Japanese ambassadors in Manila and members of the Philippine media, arrived, they learned the news that the Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order, preventing the government peace panel chair and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who was to sign as witness to the formal signing, from signing the document.

The government dissolved the peace panel then led by retired general Rodolfo Garcia, on September 3, 2008.

Unconstitutional but…

On October 14, 2008, the Supreme Court by a vote of 8-7, ruled as unconstitutional the initialed MOA-AD but added that “surely, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one will be drawn up to carry out the Ancestral Domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, in another or in any form, which could contain similar or significantly drastic provisions.”

The MOA-AD was the last of three agenda items under the 2001 agreement of the GRP-MILF after security and relief and rehabilitation, just before the panel moves to the discussion on political settlement.

The Arroyo administration’s peace efforts took all of nine years from 2001 to 2010. Assuming the Presidency in 2001 from Joseph Estrada who declared an “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000, Ms Arroyo promised an “all-out peace.”

Her administration, however, fought two wars against the MILF in the midst of peace talks – in 2003 and 2008. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)