From RAG to ARMM to NAPE? A backgrounder (2)

2nd of three parts

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/29 April) –  Contrary to popular perception, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is not a product of a peace agreement but a creation of RA 6734, the Organic Act passed on August 1, 1989 as mandated by the 1987 Constitution.

The Philippine government under the Ramos administration and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) agreed in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) on September 2, 1996 to, among others, amend RA 6734 to incorporate the provisions of the FPA that would allow for the expansion of the then four-province ARMM and nstall the autonomy that the MNLF envisioned, in fulfillment, in “letter and spirit,” of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement that it signed with government on December 23, 1976.

But that was not to be so.

The MNLF had repeatedly demanded a “provisional government” over the “areas of autonomy” in accordance with the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. It had criticized the ARMM as having been created unilaterally by government and that it was autonomous “in name only.”

Such was the MNLF’s disdain for the ARMM that  MNLF chair Nur Misuari, when asked if he would run for ARMM governor, replied “I’d rather go line fishing than run for governor of the ARMM.”

In 1976, the “areas of autonomy” were 13 provinces and nine cities: the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao Del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan and the cities of Zamboanga, Dipolog, Dapitan, Pagadian, Cotabato, Iligan, Marawi, General Santos in Mindanao and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

By 1996, the  “areas of autonomy” had become 14 provinces and nine cities, with the creation of Sarangani province from South Cotabato.

By 2001, when RA 6734 was amended by RA 9054 and a plebiscite was conducted, the  “areas of autonomy” had become 15 provinces and 14 cities with the creation of  Zamboanga Sibugay from Zamboanga del Sur and the conversion into cities of the towns of  Kidapawan in North Cotabato,  Koronadal in South Cotabato, Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat,  Digos in Davao del Sur and Isabela in Basilan.

But only Basilan and Marawi City voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite, making the ARMM now a five-province, one city region.

As of 2012, the 1976 “areas of autonomy” are now 15 provinces and 15 cities with the conversion into a city of  Lamitan town  in Basilan in 2007.

Mindanao at present has 26 provinces and 33 cities.

No autonomous region

When the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 was signed, there was no autonomous region to speak of. When the peace negotiations ended with the signing of the 1996 FPA, the Marcos-created Regional Autonomous Governments that were set up in 1979 had been abolished by 1990, in favor of the then four-province ARMM, the core area of the envisioned expanded and strengthened autonomous region under the 1996 pact.

Because there was an existing regional government with elected officials serving a three-year term,  implementing the peace agreement meant coming up with a transition mechanism from the ARMM to that envisioned autonomous region: thus was born the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) which would oversee peace and development efforts over 14 provinces and nine cities – the Special Zone for Peace and Development or Szopad — in the hope that by 1999, when RA 6734 shall have been amended, more provinces and cities would join the  autonomous region.

Sixteen years after the signing of the FPA, the government, MNLF and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (formerly Conference) were still reviewing its implementation as of early March 2012.

The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on the other hand began exploratory talks on August 2, 1996, a full month before the signing of the  GPH-MNLF final peace pact.

Then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres met with MILF Vice Chair Ghazali Jaafar in Cagayan de Oro City. Torres later explained that he met with Jaafar hoping he could convince the MILF to agree to the peace agreement the MNLF was about to sign a month later. The MILF insisted on separate talks.

Torres, a classmate of  MNLF chair Nur Misuari at the University of the Philippines, is credited for having convinced Misuari to run for governor, months ahead of the signing of the FPA.

On July 11, 1996, Misuari filed his certificate of candidacy for ARMM Governor.

The FPA was signed in Malacanang on September 2. A full week later, on September 9, Misuari, running unopposed and with the full backing of the Ramos administration,  was elected ARMM Governor. He began his three-year term on September 30, 1996.

Misuari transitioned from rebel commander to candidate for governor, to rebel commander again on the day of the signing of the agreement, to elected governor a week later, and by the end of that month, as ARMM governor, chair of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and chair of the Consultative Assembly.

New Bangsamoro autonomous area

Recalling how they came to accept ARMM during the negotiations, Misuari was quoted in Tom Stern’s book, “Nur Misuari: An authorized biography” as saying: “I accepted SPCPD when they said it was not a constitutional body, while the ARMM is. We faced a dilemma. How could we deal with ARMM? I said I would not run ARMM, and proposed that ARMM and SPCPD should collapse simultaneously, with the formation of a new Bangsamoro Autonomous area coming into existence, and that in such a new body, I could serve.”

Misuari, however, never got to serve the “new Bangsamoro Autonomous area.” He ran for ARMM governor. But in his speech on the signing of the 1996 peace pact, made it clear that the ARMM was just a transition to that envisioned autonomous region: “We appeal to all men and women of conscience for their goodwill and unity and solidarity behind the SPCPD and the ARMM and the permanent Bangsamoro Regional Authority that may come three years hence,” he said.

The Ramos administration ended on June 30, 1998, without passing the legislation that would have incorporated the provisions of the 1996 peace pact.

RA 9054, which amended RA 6734, lapsed into law in early 2001 when Misuari was still governor. The MNLF protested the passage of RA 9054, claiming it did not incorporate major provisions of the peace agreement in the law and that the law rendered the autonomous region less autonomous than it already was. A plebiscite was scheduled for August 14, 2001. As it did in the 1987 ratification of the Constitution, the MNLF again campaigned for boycott.

Misuari’s three-year term as ARMM governor would have ended on September 30, 1999, but because Congress was unable to pass the law that would amend RA 6734, he stayed on. Congress rescheduled the elections several times and allowed him to stay on holdover capacity. He served as governor until November 24, 2001, when he was arrested off Sabah for alleged illegal entry.

Misuari left Sulu for Sabah days after he was accused of mounting a rebellion in Jolo and in the ARMM compound in Cabatangan, Zamboanga City. He was fetched from his detention center in Malaysia by then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao and government peace panel chair Jesus Dureza on January 7, 2002 and brought to the detention center initially intended for the ousted President Joseph Estrada in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. He was later moved to the St. Luke’s Hospital and later to a government-rented residence in New Manila where he continued his detention. He was freed in April 2008.

The GPH-MILF talks formally began in 1997, when President Ramos was ending his six-year term.

From the start of the talks in 1997, the MILF had repeatedly said the ARMM is not the solution to their struggle for self-determination. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

[Tomorrow: Status Quo and the 12-year cycle]