Sema: “harmonize” MNLF, MILF peace agreements

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/26 October)  — The peace agreements entered into  by the Philippine government with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) must be harmonized  to achieve the long-desired peace in Mindanao, the chair of one of one of the factions of the MNLF, said.

“This is the only solution,” Muslimin Sema, chair of what he said is “the official MNLF”  and concurrent  Vice Mayor here, told MindaNews late Wednesday, as he advised the MILF to “be watchful” because “we don’t like them to fail.”

Muslimin Sema says the peace agreements between government and the two Moro liberation fronts should be “harmonized.” MindaNews photo by Ruby Thursday More

Sema was the MNLF Secretary-General during the 1992-1996 peace talks in Jakarta, Indonesia, when Nur Misuari was MNLF chair and peace panel chair.

Misuari served in various capacities after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) – as governor of the then four-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and concurrent chair of the transitory implementing  mechanisms — Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development and the Consultative Assembly.

Absenteeism and leadership issues hounded the MNLF which broke into several factions while the organization was at the helm of the ARMM from 1996 to 2001under Misuari and from 2002 to 2005 under MNLF Foreign Affairs chief Dr. Parouk Hussin.

Hussin and Sema were among those who grouped into the Executive Council of 15 in April 2001  and ousted Misuari as chair but elevated him to the position of MNLF “Chair Emeritus,”  a title Misuari dismissed as he maintained, to this day, that he is chair of the MNLF.

Tripartite, Quadripartite

Sema said the Council of 15 chaired the MNLF from 2001 until it declared the chairmanship vacant in 2008 and elected him as chair. He said the various factions actually agreed in 2005 to revert to “one organization, one leadership” with  Misuari as chair but the latter did not want to submit himself to a Central Committee.

Sema suggested at least two ways to address the issue of an FPA under review and the MILF’s Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed last October 15 in Malacanang.

He said there is a need to “put to a closure the tripartite review”  of the 1996 FPA “with the intention of amending RA 9054.” The latter amended RA 6734, the Organic Act that created the ARMM which the GPH-MILF agreement will abolish and replace with the new autonomous political entity called “Bangsamoro” by 2016.

Sema said they asked the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP) to “call for the final tripartite review.”

He said the last time the tripartite review convened was in Bandung, Indonesia in March this year.

Another way to address the issue, Sema said, is to have quadripartite meeting involving the government, MNLF, MILF and the OIC. The 57-nation pan Islamic OIC brokered the peace talks with the MNLF that led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the FPA in 1996.

The OIC gave the then united MNLF an observer status in 1977.

Factions, unification, coordination

Between 1976 and 1996, the MNLF had broken into three factions – the MNLF under Misuari, what is now the MILF under then MNLF vice chair  Salamat Hashim and the MNLF Reformist Group under Dimas Pundato.

Ten years after the 1996 FPA was signed and several factions more,  the OIC proposed a tripartite review in 2006 to look into the implementation of the agreement, and convened it in Jeddah in November 2007.  In March 2012, the OIC’s request to be an observer in the GPH-MILF peace talks was accepted by the two panels and OIC Secretary General Prof. Ekemelddin Ihsanoglu, witnessed the signing of the GPH-MILF’s FAB in Malacanang on October 15.

The OIC has repeatedly appealed for unification of MNLF factions as well as the MNLF and MILF. It also initiated the Jeddah formula where the MNLF factions led by Misuari and Sema, among others, are represented during meetings.

The OIC’s Ihsanoglu sent a message to the MILF’s  Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, that since the peace processes with the MILF and MNLF “revolve around the same problem and the same territory, the process of coordination between the two fronts has become of utmost necessity.”

“The OIC is trying to set up a Bangsamoro Coordination Forum between the MILF and MNLF, and I seize this opportunity to appeal once again to the two fronts to make this forum operative before the next meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers scheduled to be held in November,” Ihsanoglu said in his message read for him by Tahir Ahmad Saif, Deputy Head of the OIC Minorities Department.

“We don’t like them to fail”

“I don’t like to say anything against the (FAB).  I just would like to say that government has to make us feel first how sincere it is in implementing the first agreements it signed,” Sema explained.  Twice in the interview, he said, “we don’t like them (MILF) to fail.”

He said the MILF, which had earlier pushed for independence, had decided to settle for peace with government.  “We welcome this development. This has always been our position,” Sema said although he expressed reservations about the “outright reduction” of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro – the five ARMM provinces and two cities, six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in six towns of North Cotabato – which is smaller than 1976 Tripoli Agreement’s proposed areas of autonomy over 13 provinces and nine cities. (In the 2001 plebiscite, these proposed autonomy areas had risen to  15 provinces and 14 cities because of the conversions of towns into cities and the creation of new provinces).

But in that plebiscite, only Basilan and Marawi City voted to join the then ARMM provinces of Sulu, Tawi-tawi,  Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao to make for a total of five ARMM provinces and two cities (Lamitan in Basilan became a city by 2007).

Sema said the tripartite review had come up with 42 consensus points and only three issues remain unresolved: the transitory mechanisms, transition period and conduct of plebiscite for possible expansion of the autonomy area.

In a March 2, 2012 press statement, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said GPH has “painstakingly explained that the process of defining the area had been completed in 2001, when Republic Act 9054 was put through a plebiscite. Nonetheless, we do not foreclose that the possibility of a plebiscite may arise in the context of ratifying an amendatory law to RA 9054.”

While Sema welcomed the MILF’s coming to peace and is trying to find ways to “harmonize” the peace agreements, Misuari, who presents himself as MNLF chair and “President of the Bangsamoro Republik,” told supporters during the “Grand Summit Gathering” at the Crocodile Park in Davao City last Sunday that the signing of the FAB was tantamount to abrogating the 1996 FPA.

“Tripartite conspiracy”

He said MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and the MILF were “duped and ensnared” and had “fallen along the way, ending up joining traitors to their cause.”

He said the FAB was a product of a “tripartite conspiracy” involving President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the Malaysian Prime Minister and MILF’s Murad and added that MILF leaders had become “pure and simple puppets and pawns” of the Philippines and Malaysian “colonial powers.” Malaysia facilitated the talks between the government and the MILF.

“Murad and company have agreed to get only five tiny provinces, which, combined together,  is hardly the size of the Cotabato (Empire) of yore,” Misuari said, to which MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal retorted: “Misuari is no longer rational. The Framework Agreement speaks of its quality. Out of 13 he only got five provinces and one city?”

Iqbal is lukewarm to the idea of a quadripartite meeting. “That is not practical,” he told MindaNews in a text message Thursday.

“So what is practical?” MindaNews asked. He did not reply directly to the question. Instead, he said, the MNLF “has been in power but why did they fail? It’s their fault. MILF just did what we are supposed to do.”

Two MNLF officials governed the ARMM from 1996 to 2005: Misuari and  MNLF Foreign Affairs chief  Dr. Parouk Hussin. Misuari served on holdover capacity from 1999 to 2001 because Congress was unable to pass the law that would have incorporated provisions of the 1996 peace pact, for a supposed expanded autonomous region.

What is now RA 9054 lapsed into law in early 2001 even as the MNLF criticized it as having rendered the ARMM “less autonomous than it already was.”

Sema and Murad, Central Committees meet

Sema said he and Murad have “talked heartily” in “many instances” and that even the Central Committees of both the MNLF and MILF have met. The last meeting, he said, was in 2001 “wherein we agreed we follow two tracks. They (MILF) proceed with their peace (talks while) we proceed with our review. “

He also said “our junior officers are moving for the reunification with the MILF and even us, we are moving towards that.”

He said he hopes Misuari will recognize the primacy of the leadership of the Central Committee and the organization’s Charter, because if he does “he will still be our leader.”

MNLF in Transition Commission

Another solution that is being advanced is for government to include the MNLF in the Transition Commission that will be created by an Executive Order next month. The FAB provides for the creation of a 15-person all-Bangsamoro Transition Commission  that will, among others, draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Of the 15, seven will be selected by the GPH and eight, including the chair, by the MILF.

Quoting Deles, GPH panel member Senen Bacani told a forum on the FAB in Davao City on October 11 that of the seven members the GPH will name, there will “definitely” be representatives of the MNLF, indigenous peoples and women.

Former ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said government “may accommodate the MNLF in the Transition Commission so it can articulate its advocacies in the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the way forward for the MNLF is to transform into a political party so it can elect MPs in the Bangsamoro Parliament and maybe enter into coalition with the MILF political party to form a government.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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