GHP to MILF: It’s still the ARMM

DAVAO CITY  (MindaNews/19 March) –  The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur Monday morning, 12 days before the end of the first quarter but instead of  forging an agreement by March 31, the two panels appear headed for a stalemate, government maintaining as it did in its “3 for 1” formula in August last year,  that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  under a Malacanang-appointed caretaker administration would transition into the ideal form of governance for the Bangsamoro.

 

“We are approaching what would seem to be a stalemate in our ideas for transition as well as in our ideas of how to make permanent the solutions that work for our peoples. I invite our counterparts to take a step back with us.  Perhaps, by examining the reasons why we insist on our various positions we can see ways forward,” government peace panel Marvic Leonen admitted in  the prepared statement read at the start of the talks.

 

Apparently anticipating what Leonen would say, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal’s prepared statement, read after Leonen, said he hopes the Aquino administration is still pursuing the “first best option, which is to sign an agreement with the MILF, and the second best option, which is merely to reform the ARMM is not being pursued by the government in replacement of the negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.”

 

“Clearly if the first is the option of the government, then we can expect seriousness in the current peace talks. But if the second is now the option, then it is very easy to see. Expect commitment made to be changed randomly,” Iqbal added.
“Surely and without doubt, the comprehensive compact will not be signed now or perhaps even in April,” he said, adding the  “greater fear is that we might not even sign it at all if we are not firm on our resolve to push hard in our negotiation.”
The MILF, which had proposed a sub-state, had expected that both parties would craft a new autonomous government in lieu of the ARMM.
But Leonen, whose opening statement was titled “The welfare of our People is at the core of these negotiations,”  said autonomy should “never be a reason to entrench any form of authoritarianism” and “neither should it be used to justify lack of good and effective governance.”

 

He spoke of effective and transparent governance to address issues plaguing the region: poverty, education and abuse of office and said “all these are now being addressed by government…. with some leaders within the current ARMM.  To a certain extent, we need to acknowledge the progresses (sic) that have already been made,” he said,  noting that in time, “given the sincerity, capability and resources and the support of many peoples for these reform agenda, communities will be able to feel that their lives have changed and that they have more control of what happens to them.”

Value added

 

He said the “value added” of the ongoing peace negotiations is “to bring on board more of your aspirations and solutions that you brought with you as a movement. We daresay, that these negotiations should not be for the purpose of supplanting the good that has already been achieved. Again, at the core of these discussions we should only have our various peoples in mind.”

 

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus asked, “what good has been achieved? I thought the objective is to resolve the root causes of the armed conflict?”

 

Guiamel Alim, executive director of Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. and  Council of Elder member of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society told MindaNews the ARMM “is a given. Reformed or unreformed, allow the new political set up to imbed a reform agenda. The best practices in the transition government can be carried over. What it needs is a strong political authority and the will to make it happen. Let the talks go further and discuss territories and constitutional guarantee and the transition. Resource sharing is very important.”

 

Soliman Santos, a regional trial court judge who has written several books and essays on the GPH-MILF peace process said, “basically for me, okay if, big important if, the GPH can eventually accommodate key substantive features in the MILF-envisioned sub-state which would need a constitutional amendment, as the strategic direction of any short-term MILF engagement in the ARMM Reform, for a just, lasting comprehensive solution of the Bangsamoro  problem. This has to be clear and mutually agreed.”

 

Historian Rudy Rodil, former member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said, “nagkakatalo sila sa daan. Maraming daan. Gusto ni PNoy yung kanya.  Iba naman sa MILF. Tila kailangan nilang magkasundo muna kung ano ang problema na gusto nilang ayusin (they don’t agree on what road to take. There are many roads. PNoy wants his. The MILF’s is different. They need to agree first on what in the problem they are trying to solve).

 

 “3 for 1” formula

The MILF peace panel handed  its draft peace settlement proposing a sub-state at the first  formal exploratory talks under the Aquino administration in February last year,  the 20th since peace talks resumed after the 2003 Buliok war.

 

The GPH handed its proposed “3 for 1” formula on August 22, 18 days after President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo, Japan to fast-track the peace process and ensure an agreement is reached within the first half of the Aquino administration. .

 

The MILF peace panel rejected the GPH proposal, prompting Leonen to quickly reply, “We reject your rejection.”
“Heaven and earth,” Iqbal said of  the two proposals. Leonen said the gap was “not too far apart.”

 

Government’s “3 for 1” formula which involves massive economic development;  political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment was described by Leonen as  “pragmatic, workable, viable.”
He said the ARMM., which was to play a crucial role in the undertaking, would be strengthened.

 

At that time,  Malacanang, which had earlier described the ARMM as a “failed experiment,” had successfully pushed for a law resetting the August 8, 2011 ARMM elections to May 30, 2013 and allowing the President to appoint officers in charge (OICs) to  govern the ARMM  until the new set of ARRM officials shall have been elected on May 13, 2013 and shall have assumed post on June 30, 2013.
The President’s appointed OIC, Mujiv Hataman, assumed post on December 22, 2011.

 

The MILF’s framework was to start with the political settlement first and the rest – economic, etc.. would follow. The proposed sub-state, however, requires amending the Constitution, a move that is not a priority of the Aquino administration, Leonen said.

 

“The proposal of the government to the MILF does not contain a proposal for constitutional amendment,” he told a press conference in Cotabato City on August 30 last year.

 

“Autonomy as practiced by the ARMM in the past is a failed experiment.  However it does not necessarily mean we do not learn from that experience,” he said, adding the autonomy they are proposing “comes close to the idea of self governance also of the MILF.”

 

He also noted that many of the fundamental aspirations of the MILF “can be fitted into the provisions of the current Constitution.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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