Preparing for the signing: GPH, MILF draw lessons from previous peace pacts

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KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/05 October) –  In crafting  the  framework agreement that is expected to be signed soon, the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been drawing lessons from previous peace pacts.

And lessons there are aplenty, not only from the ill-fated GPH –MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2008 but also the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and peace processes elsewhere in the world.

One lesson is not to sign a one-time peace agreement like those with the MNLF, but a series of agreements. From MindaNews’ conversations with panel chairs Marvic Leonen of the GPH and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF,  that series would begin with a framework agreement and end, when both parties are satisfied with its implementation, with an exit agreement.

Also, while the peace panels in 1976 and 1996 were disbanded after the signing, the GPH-MILF peace panels now will continue existing and negotiating for subsequent agreements. Panel membership, however,  may be reconstituted should other members  move on to other undertakings but the peace panels will continue existing and will be disbanded only after the exit agreement shall have been signed.

Other peace process mechanisms such as the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, International Monitoring Team and International Contact Group are expected to also continue, albeit adjustments may have to be made on their respective mandates.

The panels’ joint technical working group (TWG) on wealth-sharing finished at 12:30 noon Friday the agreed text it is recommending for inclusion in the framework agreement. The TWG on power-sharing has yet to complete its task.

The framework agreement, which Leonen refers to as “the mother agreement,”  provides, among others, for the transitory mechanisms for the shift from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the New Autonomous Political Entity (NAPE) that both parties agreed to set up under the Decision Points on Principles signed last April 24.

Elections in the five-province, two-city ARMM will proceed as scheduled on May 13, 2013 even as transitory mechanisms will be put in place after the signing of the framework agreement, in preparation for the NAPE in 2016.

Spoilers and test of constitutionality

The panels are crafting an agreement that they hope would keep the spoilers out of the way. But more than that, the panels also want to ensure that the agreement can stand the test of constitutionality, to avoid the fate that befell the 2008 MOA-AD.

To recall,  the MOA-AD was initialed on July 27, 2008 and was supposed to have been formally signed on August 5 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. It was supposed to be the last agreement on the three-item agenda of the peace talks (after security and rehabilitation),  prior to the discussion of  the political settlement for what would eventually be the comprehensive compact.

Everything was ready for the signing morning of August 5, 2008. In fact, the Putrajaya Ballroom 2 at the main lobby of the Marriott Hotel had been prepared to accommodate 350 guests.  The delegation from the Philippine government and the MILF, the Philippines’ foreign minister, two other Cabinet secretaries, the Manila-based ambassadors of the United States, Japan and Australia, civil society representatives and the media had arrived or were on their way to Kuala Lumpur for the signing.

But no signing happened.

In the afternoon of August 4, while the dignitaries were en route to Kuala Lumpur from Manila, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the government peace panel from signing the MOA-AD. The SC responded to a petition filed by North Cotabato officials who asked the High Court to compel the national government, through the office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, to divulge the contents of the MOA-AD before signing.  On October 14 that same year, the Supreme Court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional.

Publish first before signing

That was 2008.  Today,  the Aquino administration’s policy is “publish first before signing.”

To avoid a repeat of the MOA-AD debacle,  Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process told MindaNews in late September:  “we will not sign anything without disclosing text in advance.”

The peace talks with the MILF began under the Ramos administration in1997 and within that 15-year span across four administrations, a major lesson that the Aquino administration has learned is that the President, Cabinet and allies in Congress should be on the same page on the issue of peace with the Bangsamoro.

Under the Arroyo administration, the government peace panel found it easier to negotiate with the MILF than within government.

Jesus Dureza,  Mindanao pointman of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,  often relates this story about how, as government peace panel chair (2001 to 2003) and later as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process,  he found it easier to negotiate with the MILF rather than within the Cabinet cluster on security. A similar complaint was heard from succeeding panel chairs.

The peace panels under the Estrada administration also went through the same process: negotiate with the Cabinet cluster on security.

In the loop

Like Aquino, then President Fidel Ramos, also made efforts to push for a negotiated peace settlement with the Bangsamoro since Day One of his Presidency. But Aquino has apparently done more on this aspect of getting everyone in the loop than Ramos: he got his entire Cabinet and allies in Congress regularly updated and consulted.

Also in the loop are the military and police. Unlike the panels in past administrations, the Aquino panel is always accompanied by the heads of the ceasefire committee and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group as well as a senior military adviser and a senior police adviser.

Aquino hit the ground running in the peace process with the MILF by naming Leonen on his 15th day in office on July 15, 2010, as panel chair.

Defying protocol, Aquino on August 4, 2011, slipped out of Malacanang at noon, unnoticed by the Malacanang press corps, to meet with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in a hotel near the Narita airport in Japan.

In their two-hour meeting, Aquino and Murad agreed to fast-track the peace process to come up with a peace agreement within the first half of Aquino’s term of office, so that implementation can be done in the remaining half. Aquino bows out of office on June 30, 2016.

Critics, Supporters

In 2008, Aquino as Senator,  joined Senators Franklin Drilon and Mar Roxas (now Local Governments Secretary),  North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan (now 1st district Rep) and Vice Governor Emmanuel Pinol, among others, in opposing the MOA-AD.

Today, with the exception of a few, the MOA-AD critics are in full support of President Aquino’s peace plan.

Sacdalan, chair of the House Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation,  has attended several negotiations as consultant. Pinol, now a member of administration’s Liberal Party,  was among the first to support the President’s unprecedented meeting with the MILF chair in August 2011.

Recently, Pinol said he would respect and support whatever decision President Aquino makes on the peace process with the MILF.

Referring to his opposition to the 2008 MOA-AD, Pinol said, “the lack of consultation and information breeds distrust and this was the main flaw of previous efforts to forge a peace agreement.”

The governors of the five ARMM provinces – the core territory of the ARMM and the future NAPE — Jum Akbar of Basilan, Mamintal Adiong, Jr. of Lanao del Sur, Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao,  Sakur Tan of Sulu and Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-tawi, and OIC ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, have attended the peace negotiations as consultants.  Hataman was here earlier this week, his third time to attend the talks.

Whether or not the final text of the framework agreement is acceptable to the communities will be known when the agreement is published. But both panels claim they have been consulting with and updating their respective constituencies on the progress of the talks. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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