Abp Quevedo to GPH, MILF: peace possible without sacrificing RSD or nat’l sovereignty and territorial integrity

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/02 April) – The peace process between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) can succeed because the paramount concerns of both parties – territorial integrity and national sovereignty for the government and right to self-determination (RSD) for the MILF — are politically acceptable and the other issues are negotiable, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said.

Quevedo,  president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines during the  “all-out war” waged by the Estrada administration against the MILF in 2000 and the Buliok war waged by the Aquino administration in 2003, wrote on April 2 a seven-point “unsolicited advice” for the two panels to consider (see Quevedo letter),  as he expressed optimism “lasting peace can be achieved without sacrificing either RSD or national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Of Quevedo’s seven-points, one was addressed directly to government (GPH), two to the MILF,  three to both panels and one to the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

MindaNews emailed Quevedo’s piece to GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal for comment but Leonen opted not to comment “for now.” Iqbal responded point by point.

Quevedo admitted reluctance in expressing his thoughts publicly on the peace process “until the news came that it might break down.”

Doubts and optimism

On March 31, Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs was quoted in luwaran.com, the MILF’s website as saying, “we are very doubtful now whether we can sign a peace deal with government under this present administration.”

Leonen had earlier expressed optimism a peace pact would be forged within the first quarter this year while Iqbal hoped an agreement on points already agreed upon be signed in March. But no signing of either the comprehensive peace pact or interim agreement happened in the last month’s talks in Kuala Lumpur.

In a press statement on April 2, Leonen urged the MILF to “work with government and meet our timetable for a peace agreement this year” instead of  “trying to fuel people’s apprehensions” of a breakdown in the talks.

He said the GPH maintains it is “ready to sign a peace pact with the MILF in the soonest possible time,” reiterating they have “laid a very pragmatic proposal that will ensure real and genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro on the table.”

The MILF handed over its peace proposal for a Bangsamoro sub-state at the first formal talks with government in February last year. Leonen described the proposal as “not a document seeking independence or secession from the Republic of the Philippines.”

Quevedo wrote that the major obstacles to forging peace are the MILF’s “claim to have RSD over some ‘disputed territories’ that are beyond the confines of the present ARMM territory as well as the public misunderstanding of the terms ‘sub-state’ and ‘asymmetrical relationships’” and the government’s “reluctance to accept the term RSD and its insistence on the term ‘autonomy’ and on a reformed ARMM (“3 for 1” concept) as the preferred option as well as its reluctance to amend the Constitution to accommodate the implications of RSD.”

He cited as other obstacles “the general misunderstanding of the public, even of media, that the MILF is demanding secession or independence as the political solution; the lack of a common consensus agenda for peace among the MILF, MNLF and ARMM authorities past and present; the lumping together of armed outlaw groups such as the Abu Sayaff group and some ‘private armies’ with the MILF; and the lack of action to initiate corrective measures on these obstacles.”

But he remains optimistic that the peace process can succeed if the two panels consider the seven points he referred to as “unsolicited advice.”

Seven points

Quevedo cited the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization’s (UNPO)  understanding of RSD as “the right of a people to determine its own destiny, in particular, the principle allows a people to choose its own political status and to determine its own form of economic, cultural and social development.”

He said RSD “does not necessarily mean Secession, Separation, or Independence.. At various times I have explained RSD as covering a multitude of levels, from independence to full integration, the basic principle being the right of a people to choose what they wish for themselves,” including what UNPO says, that “the exercise of this right can result in a variety of different outcomes ranging from political independence through to full integration within a state.”

Quevedo  requested GPH to  “adopt this fundamental RSD as its own in the peace negotiations, fully aware that the MILF has unequivocally rejected independence as its understanding of RSD.”

To the MILF, he suggested that “the term ‘sub-state’ be momentarily dropped as a basic reference” because it is a “loaded term that is being misunderstood and misinterpreted.”

He said “what comes to the ear of the public is the word ‘state’ and the qualifying ‘sub’ is ignored, especially when technical terms, such as ‘asymmetrical relationships,’ are used to describe the nature of the ‘sub-state.’”

Revisit territories

He also asked the MILF to “revisit its insistence on including the disputed territories that were the major cause of vehement local opposition to the ill-fated MOA-AD” (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) in 2008.

“Suffice it to say that predominantly Moro barangays and sitios contiguous to the boundaries of the present ARMM would not require a substantive redrawing of the Mindanao map. But to include non-contiguous territories as well as entire towns or provinces would certainly result to an impasse and breakdown of the peace process. With due respect to my MILF friends, it seems to me that the present geographical and/or demographic situation of such territories does not place them in the top tier of Bangsamoro aspirations for RSD,” Quevedo wrote.

To the MILF and MNLF, Quevedo suggested that they “agree on a common position that would not contradict each other’s efforts for a negotiated peace” because “the question naturally arises: How does the MNLF effort towards the full implementation of the 1996 agreement correspond to the MILF effort towards RSD in the very same territory? Additionally, the question also arises: Would it necessarily follow that ARMM clans and families, ARMM government officials past and present will not challenge the new power structure resulting from MILF-GPH peace process?”

To the two panels, Quevedo proposed that they ensure “the situation of the Lumads within the territory under political negotiation be a major consideration” in the peace deal.

He said he acknowledges the common original history of the Bangsamoro and the Lumads “but they are, I believe, separate peoples that are distinct and different in cultures, social structures, and traditional religious beliefs. With due respect to their own IP (indigenous peoples)  rights recognized by law, the situation of the Lumads should be separately considered in the peace package between and the MILF and the Philippine government.”

Nature of the “baby”

Quevedo also suggested that the two panels “agree on the nature of the ‘baby’ that they are midwives of”  and  that  “only when they have agreed on its nature will they choose a name for the baby.”

“Perhaps the name ‘sub-state’ will continue to be threatening and loaded and perhaps they can agree on an equivalent name. Perhaps ‘Self-Administered Philippine Bangsa Moro Region or SPBMR’? Such a name is self-explanatory. It clearly specifies how RSD is related to Philippine sovereignty,” Quevedo wrote.

On his seventh point, Quevedos said both panels should “seriously consider whether or not the baby’s birth and continuing life are possible, with the necessary guarantees, within existing basic laws or the present Constitution. If yes, there is no problem. If no, a pro-active stance is necessary.”

“The time was ‘yesterday’ for the GPH panel to inform, educate, and persuade the three branches of government to prepare the necessary surgical amendments so that RSD for the Bangsa Moro with its political, economic, and cultural implications would be realized and guaranteed,” he said.

MindaNews e-mailed Leonen and Iqbal copies of what Quevedo wrote for their comment.

Leonen’s no comment, Iqbal’s point by point

Leonen told MindaNews he read Quevedo’s piece but “I don’t think we need to respond for now.”

Iqbal e-mailed that the Archbishop “hit the nail right on the head” on the issue of RSD.
“Merely confining the option to autonomy is to play hostile to the principle of RSD which can be integration, autonomous or secession. But the MILF had already said that in the current negotiation there is no option to secede. What more is required from the MILF?”

He said the MILF is a member of UNPO “because we subscribe to its ideals and principles.”

On Quevedo’s proposal to drop the use of  “sub-state” as reference, Iqbal said they told the GPH panel that the use of “sub-state”  is “actually helping the GPH to fend off detractors that the MILF is secessionist. Substate clearly means situated with a larger state. It seems the GPH is suffering from phobia syndrome, the sign of immaturity. At any rate, this term can be dispensed with.

Asked for clarification on this last sentence, Iqbal told MindaNews  by phone:  “Personally, the substance is more important than the name. It can be Moro Province, it can be Bangsa Moro. What is important is the substance.”

On Quevedo’s comment on the insistence of the MILF to include disputed territories, Iqbal replied, “the parties agreed on July 29, 2009 to reframe the MOA-AD; in this way, creativity can help a lot. We have constituency to address.”

Lumads’ place in peace

On Quevedo’s point on the Lumads and their place in the peace deal, Iqbal: “Perfectly correct view. We have Datu Kinoc in our panel to argue, protect and promote IP’s interests and aspirations. We have no difference on this.”

On the MILF and MNLF, Iqbal said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly Conference),  had sponsored two meetings between the two fronts. “The MILF has been anxious in forming the coordinating council in order to bring together the MNLF, its various factions, and the MILF in multilateral group to coordinate their major activities. But Nur Misuari is hesitant.”

On the bishop’s last point on agreeing on the nature of the “baby” to be born, Iqbal said, “it can be done; in fact, the MILF agreed to discuss the elements such as power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, transition arrangement, etc. of the political entity before agreeing on the name. But the GPH is flip-flopping.”

The two panels will resume talks this month in Kuala Lumpur. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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