Q and A. Randolph Parcasio: “After 40 years, we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”

“I started to be involved in Bangsamoro issues when I was a new lawyer. I was 27 years old then and now I just got my senior citizens (60 years old) card,” Randolph Parcasio, chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro National Liberation Front said.

Parcasio was among the few brave souls who went into human rights lawyering during the Marcos dictatorship, a decision that was risky not only physically, emotionally but also financially.

As a young Moro lawyer, Parcasio handled cases of detained Bangsamoro fighters and “there were a lot of them across Mindanao, Davao, GenSan, Cotabato City.”

When the Marcos dictatorship was toppled down in 1986, Parcasio ran for Congress in Davao del Sur but lost to a well-entrenched family there.

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro National LIberation Front under founding chair Nur Misuari. MIndaNews photo by GG BUENO

He joined the peace panel of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that negotiated with government from 1992 until the signing of the Final Peace Agreeemnt on September 2, 1996 and joined MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari when he was elected Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that year.

Parcasio served as ARMM Executive Secretary and was the lead representative of Misuari to the Tripartite Review on the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement by the MNLF, government and the Orgnization of Islamic Cooperation.

MindaNews had earlier sought an appointment with Misuari but he was unavailable. To present the side of the MNLF-Misuari faction, MindaNews interviewed Parcasio, chair of its Peace Implementing Panel on March 5 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City. 

Q. The 1996 peace agreement is a continuation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. That’s 40 years ago. Forty years later, are we finally seeing — as head of the implementation panel — full implementation in letter and spirit of the peace agreement
A. We are very optimistic based on the pronouncements where President Duterte committed to implement the peace agreemen. So after 40 years… we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Q. Why do you say that?
A. Well, we have a President who understands the injustices committed aginst the Bangsamoro people. No other President has articulated on that until a President was elected coming from Mindanao. So with his deep understanding on the plight of the Bangsamoro people and with current mechanisms by which we would be able to craft an amendatory law to amend RA 6734 and RA 9054 in particular, I find it easier to deal now with government, more particularly because we only have three remaining issues left to be resolved and I’m confident that with the commitment of the President, his popularity, his understanding about the whole gamut of issues that have embroiled Mindanao into an endless cycle of violence and conflict that, finally, with the three remaining issues, we may be able to resolve it.

Q,  I know what these are but for the sake of  the public, what are these three remaining issues and why do you feel confident that this will be addressed under the Duterte administration?
A. First is.. about the strategic minerals. This is unresolved because of the invocation of past administrations of the regalian doctrine. We argue that the authority of a regional government to supervise and control strategic mineral could be resolved under the concept of devolution – devolution of powers so it’s central government transferring or devolving powers of control or supervision over strategic minerals. And unfortunately, the past two administration would not see that resolved under that context .. even facilitators from other countries could not understand why.

Q. Ano yung ikalawa at ikatlo?
A. Yung pangalawa naman is yung transitional mechanism. We feel that it is not a constitutional issue and therefore it being not a constitutional issue, there was no reason at all by past administrations not to resolve with us that problem. It’s a matter of crafting a mechanism under a new law in order to adopt a transitional mechanism as envisioned under the Tripoli agreement.

Q. And the third is the territory.
A. The third is territory. Again, there is no constitutional bar to conducting consultations, plebiscite, and referendum .. to us, other provinces and cities (that) would like to join ARMM or a new autonomous government under a new autonomy law

Q. Which brings us to the present. It’s 40 years after the Tripoli Agreement. Nagkaroon na ng 1996 and then somewhere between we had the agreements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — the Framework Agreement and  Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and now the Duterte administration wants convergence or however you may call it,  harmonization. of all these agreements into just one law right?
A. Yes.

Q. So how can this be done considering that … as illustrated .. di ba parang parallel tracks do not meet?   You on the one hand want an amendatory law to strengthen the ARMM.  But the BBL is actually going to come up with a new autonomous political entity that will abolish the ARMM.
A. I hope that the MILF would not control that line of thinking in abolishing the gains of the 1996 peace agreement. Basically what has been implemented in RA 9054 though we object to that law because of its infirmities, we have gone through a tripartite review to rectify it and it’s just a matter of incorporating what we have agreed into turning to law of course adding to it that resolution of the three issues. The other track speaks of small territories. The 1996 peace agreement comprises a larger territory and .. if you look .. at the provisions of the proposal under the other track, as well as the peace agreement and RA 9054 plus the 46 consensus points, there are certain areas identifiable that could be. .. resolved. Meaning it is not impossible at all to harmonize.

Q. So it can be done?
A. It can be done. Harmonization of the two tracks is possible.

Q. But we have very little time di ba for both the MILF and MNLF, considering that the roadmap deadline is July, before the President delivers his State of the Nation address on July 24… You’ve had informal meetings with your counterparts in government but you have not had a formal meeting, right?
A. Informally, yes. We were supposed to meet (formally) last February 23. It was postponed because Chairman Misuari wanted to confer with President Duterte before proceeding with the formalization of that mechanism.

Q. But I understand that the President and Chairman Nur met on February 23? What was the result of that meeting?
A. We were told that they are going to meet again (the President and Misuari met again on March 27 in Davao City. No announcement has been made about the closed door meeting, as of 30 March 2017).

Q. You are representing Chairman Nur in the implementation of the peace agreement and you have been the spokesperson for so long…. Nur’s leave from court is actually until April 27.
A. Well, we could always file a motion for extension since the peace processes are not really moving, because his leave is tied to the peace process. It ‘s tied to the fact that he’s given time to travel, to meet different people, to consult MNLF members, confer with government in connection with the peace process, so we are confident that hopefully the court will grant the extension.

Q. How long will it take for you to meet and craft your amendatory law?
A. We are able to resolve because we only have three issues. This could take place in a month. The most could be in two months.. in my estimate.

Q. So yung pag-uusapan basically, pag-uusapan ng MNLF peace implementing panel under you and the government under USec Nabil Tan is really just on the three unresolved issues?A. To be candid about it, we have to also discuss the form of the draft deal. We have partially done that during the time of President Arroyo. At that time we had 36 consensus points… We have not incorporated into the draft deal the 12 consensus points that we agreed under President Aquino. All we have to do now is to incorporate that into a draft law and incorporate what we are able to resolve in the last remaining issues. Once we will be able to do that, then our job is finished.

Q. So in terms of harmonization of the BTC and the MNLF, this should happen before July?A. It should happen before July but at least ready .. my mandate as a head of the MNLF implementing panel is we will now submit that idea to our principal.

Q. Ang mangyayari ba is when you finally finish the draft amendatory law, you will submit this first to the Office of the President then

“We are now seeing the light at the end of hte tunnel,” lawyer Randolph Parcasio, the chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro National Liberation Front under founding chair Nur Misuari, said. MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

A. In accordance with the agreement in Heritage hotel, if I’m not mistaken 2009 where we agreed about the mechanism and how to go about the process of amending RA 9054… We will craft an amendatory bill on the basis of the following: number 1, we have to go through the executive summary of the proceedings of the 1993 peace talks; second, basically go through the 1996 peace agreement, incorporate into RA 9054 the consensus points. Once we are able to do that, then we are able to craft the amendatory bill… We submit that to the MNLF panel and the GPH peace panel and then submit it to the President. We will furnish the OIC with a copy of a draft bill once it reaches the President. The agreement before was — he will certify that as urgent bill and submit it to Congress. That’s the roadmap.

Q. At which part of the process should the harmonization with the BTC track be done? At the level of the President na ito?
A. To be candid, there is no official agreement on harmonizing the agreements, no official position from the MNLF. But there are efforts towards that end.

Q. Anong tingin ni Chairman Misuari about this? Harmonization of the two tracks — MNLF and MILF — is mandated by the OIC Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, di ba?
A. Well, it’s part of the consenus that we had last December 2016 but there are still no official steps that are being taken by the MNLF towards that consensus that we had last 2016.

Q. But you would also say and I heard you … in terms of timeline, that the Bangsamoro peace track  — I’m referring to both MNLF and MILF, the Bangsamoro law, should be crafted first before we go into federalism.
A. Yes.

Q. Why do you say that?
A. That is to ensure that the Bangsamoro government that shall be established will not be diminished, its powers and authorities will not be diminished or taken by a Constitutional Commission or Constitutent Assembly that shall adopt a new Constitution because whatever is ratified by Congress as Bangsamoro Autonomous Government law or enabling law or new autonomy law, there should be a commitment from national government that its powers and authorities should not be diminished with the advent of a new Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines.

Q. But will be enhanced, pwede pang ma enhance under the
A. It can be enhanced but not diminished.

Q. But on the other hand, the MNLF — or is it just you — is pushing for one Mindanao state in a federal system and the Bangsamoro will just be an autonomous region under it. Or are you also for a Bangsamoro state in a federal system?
A. It’s an idea. It’s not yet an official position of the MNLF but I believe it’s a logical consequence of this peace process that once an autonomous government is established, then it should be part of the larger autonomous government called a federal state of Mindanao. So you will have an autonomous government within a federal state of Mindanao

Q. Ayaw mo ng separate federal state na Bangsamoro lang?
A. It will not correct historical injustice.

Q. Sa tingin mo?
A. Yes, because you will now be isolating a Bangsamoro government of the Bangsamoro people from the rest of the Bangsamoro homeland which is Mindanao.

Q. Okay. Let’s go to violent extremism. In previous conferences, I heard you say and several other Moro leaders, that the failure of the implementation of the peaces processes is driving quite a number of younger ones into violent extremism.
A. Well, as you have said, this is now the 40th year of the 1976 Tripoli agreement and this is becoming a fertile ground for extremists to recruit members on the basis of the failure of the Philippine government or the peace process itself to put in place a Bangsamoro government consistent with the hopes and aspiration and fulfilling the struggle of the Bangsamoro people to exercise the right to self determination. So out of frustration, utilizing that frustration, extremist groups are recruiting members, stating that there is no hope (in) staying with this Philippine government, that there’s nothing to expect at all from the peace process and that as I’ve said, if you are not able to seasonably craft a genuine a responsive Bangsamoro law, then my fear is recruitment will increase among frustrated young Moro throughtout Mindanao.

Q. One of the Moro leaders said that if nothing will happen pa under this administration where we have a President who is from Mindanao and who has Moro blood and who supposedly understands and wants to address historical injustices in Mindanao, they will not talk to any other President after this. Are you also of that belief?
A. Well, I think it would be doubly difficult to deal again with the Philippine government if we are not able to resolve the Bangsamoro problem in President Duterte’s administration. Of course there will be no end in the search for peace, in the search for full realization of the Bangsamoro right to self determination. It will not end even after — in a post-Duterte administration — but it would mean more difficult, I believe to pursue it.

Q. … if nothing happens
A. If nothing happens during the Duterte adminsitration.

Q. While we look at the national government for major assistance in finding peace in Mindanao, because they are very influential, they can do so much, quite a number of the younger ones are also saying … na medyo kulang din sa unity yung Bangsamoro, especially like leaders na nag aaway-away and even Chairman Misuari was calling them — the MNLF Sema and MILF — traitors when he was in Malacanang.
A. We’re negotiating from all sides – negotiating with national government and also sort of negotiating with our fellow Bangsamoro. Because there are different theories, different ideas, different approaches, one of which is the other peace track and we cannot … set aside or ignore the fact that there are people in the Philippines that do not want a united Bangsamoro because it will work to their interests. Meaning, the conflict in Mindanao will work to the interest of some people in the Philippines.

Q. But these … vested interest groups na sinasabi mo, quite a number of this we’ve already seen because of the watered-down Bangsamoro laws, di ba? But these are also the groups supporting some of the Moro leaders, propping them up during election time, di ba?A. Well, some of these Moro leaders are not even supporting the peace process … I think there are those who do not want the rise of genuine Moro-responsive government because it might work against their political (interests)

Q. But this group of yours, itong Insider Mediators, basically puro mga Bangsamoro ito, Moro leaders from various areas — may revolutionary fronts, merong lawyers, merong professionals, academe etc…. what is the role of the Insider Mediators in this process?
A. Well, it’s going to help reconcile certain approaches between the fronts that are different. It will help explain certain issues among the grassroots, it will also be able to help the respective principals of the participants because the participants have also their principals (and) they might be also able to explain to their respective principals the merits of the peace processes that are now taking place.

Q You are 60. Quite a number of you actually belong to the senior citizens level. Some of course will soon pass into another place… will be dead in five years or 10 years.. Are you more confident now that you will see … the realization of your dream Bangsamoro before you move on to the next life?
A. There are two sides. One is the establishment of a Bangsamoro government in accordance with the peace agreement. Right now, we are confident that will take place within the administration of President Duterte. The other side is if that does not happen and if future administrations will be hostile to the peace processes, then it will now be or it should have been taken as a responsibility by the Bangsamoro as a whole, to implement by themselves the structures, the institution, the reforms that they wanted to be planted or implemented by themselves

Q. Independence?
A. Not really. Because there are a lot of aspects that could be implemented by the MNLF itself, without government. There are a lot of provisions in the BBL that could also be implemented by the MILF themselves or by the Bangsamoro people themselves without government assistance. It would be more advantageous if there would be assistance from government and what are these? Education, MNLF can have its own educational program, it can have programs for agriculture, for business for health and there are existing laws such as Indigenous Peoples Rights Act where the IP could have their own system of resolving conflicts. So there are a lot of aspects within the peace agreements themselves that could be implemented by the MNLF themselves without government

Q. The right to self determination assertion?
A. It’s the real right to self determination. Meaning, governing Bangsamoro, governing itself without dislodging, without usurping government authorities. For example, crime. They could help solve crimes… help solve drugs .. In that way, the MNLF, MILF or the Bangsamoro people would not have to wait for legistlations to take place to improve their lives because they themselves could utilize all their resources, local and international, could put up their own institutions.

Q. What is the final word from Chairman Misuari on the bottomline of the MNLF in the implementation of the 1996 agreement?
A. I cannot speak on his bottomline.

Q. Ikaw man ang spokesperson.
A. Bottomline na yun eh.

[Peace Talk is a series of conversations on the Bangsamoro Peace Process with leaders from civil society, government and revolutionary fronts. Interviews with residents in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro are in multimedia format]