The Bangsamoro Dream (1): Why offer a “failed experiment” as platform for peace?

1st of a series

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/07 September) – When President Benigno Simeon Aquino III met with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan on August 4 to talk peace, he did what his mother did 25 years ago: meet with rebel leader Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in his homeland in Sulu, to talk peace.  Aquino the son would have wanted to meet with Murad anywhere, even in his camp in Darapanan, Maguindanao.

But a negotiated peace settlement eluded the Cory Aquino administration. For while she met with Misuari on September 5, 1986, her administration also pushed for the inclusion in the crafting of the 1987 Constitution, the provision creating what would become the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a regional body autonomous in name only, a 21-year old “failed experiment” of a national government that has been unable to fully grasp what the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination means.

The MNLF and MILF campaigned against the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.

Two decades later, Aquino the son is being asked to face squarely the issue of amending the very Constitution that in 1987 his mother thought would solve the problem. The proposed solution in 1987, however, had eventually become a problem in crafting a workable peace agreement with the MNLF in 1996 and with the MILF in the still ongoing talks.

Contrary to popular perception, the ARMM is not a product of peace negotiations but a product of the national government’s interpretation of how to end the Bangsamoro struggle.

Aquino the son’s administration is now offering a “three-for-one solution” to the MILF.

Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen describes it as the result of the panel’s “extensive consultations with the different stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process” and “the mandate of the President of the Republic.”

“It seeks not only to provide a just and lasting peace to the troubled south but more so to improve and uplift the lives of the people who have long suffered from the brutality of decades-long armed conflict. It is a principled, realistic and practical proposal that follows a comprehensive ‘3 for 1’ approach or 3 components for 1 solution to the Bangsamoro problem. These components are made up of: 1) massive economic development; 2) political settlement with the MILF, and; 3) cultural-historical acknowledgment.”

In the first component, government will go through a “transformation of the ARMM” involving “a massive program of social services and economic development and these will prepare the people and serve to strengthen the foundations on which economic development can commence and be sustained,” Leonen said.

 

The government is offering a partnership with the MILF through the Joint Coordinating Committee on Development and a Bangsamoro Commission that will be “established on the principle of inclusivity that will be composed of the government, the MILF and stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process.”

Leonen said the Commission will be composed of 1/3 MILF, 1/3 government and the last third for  other stakeholders as agreed upon by both the MILF and the government.

The Commission will “supervise the implementation of the components of this peace agreement which will include the lobby on Congress of the new organic act that will campaign for strengthened autonomy in that area,” Leonen said in his August 23 statement on the KL talks.

The MILF panel quickly rejected the proposal and said it would recommend the same to its Central Committee. The Committee met on August 31 but asked for more time to decide whether it would uphold or reverse the panel’s recommendation.

Iqbal told MindaNews that as a panel, their collective appreciation of the government’s proposal was that it carried only 15% of their proposal.

“There was no room for doubt about our understanding,” he recalls of the August 21-22 deliberation by the panel. “There were only three options open to the MILF:  to accept it; accept some, reject others which is a weak position; and reject. We could not accept it so we rejected it.”

Iqbal after the adjournment of the talks on August 23 in Kuala Lumpur, described the difference as “heaven and earth” while Leonen described it as “not too far apart.”

“Where is the essence of self-governance (in the GPH proposal?) Where is the articulation of the right to self-determination?” Iqbal asks.

Followers of the peace processes of both the GPH-MNLF and GPH-MILF like the 85-year old Patricio P. Diaz, MindaNews columnist and former editor of the Cotabato City-based Mindanao Cross and Mindanao Kris, quickly noted that the government’s proposal is a rehash of  previous offers of government peace panels of  a  “enhanced” autonomous region.

Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) says the government’s proposal is “not a new idea and not a new formula.”

“I can see from the characterization that was offered by the GPH, I  think we really need  a new framework for doing that,  to carefully examine ano ba talaga ang naging problema sa ARMM and from there move forward,” he told the Tapatan sa ARMM, a weekly media forum on August 31.

Sinarimbo, lauded by many for having set the new work ethic in the ARMM in the post-Ampatuan administration, said the national government has characterized the ARMM as a failed experiment “so why offer a failed experiment?”

He said the MILF’s proposal is “about self-determination and self-governance” but the government’s approach to compose a Joint Development Coordinating Committee “actually runs counter to that idea of self-determination. That has been the problem with the ARMM and that has been our practical experience with agencies implementing development in the region. And that’s what they don’t want and the practical experience in the region tells them exactly that it cannot work. It’s not working,” he said.

“You will repeat the framework that has caused the failure of ARMM – from Zac Candao (the first governor) to practically everyone else. That has been the problem because your policy environment does not allow for what you want to resolve which is an issue of self-determination. The practical approach would have been to allow it within its perimeter otherwise it will be a  repeat of and a  copy of the ARMM structure. Talagang ayaw nila doon. And I think it is also not working,” he said.

Sinarimbo likens the proposed Bangsamoro Commission to SPCPD or the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) which was part of  government’s formula offered to the MNLF in the 1996 peace agreement.

“They can easily understand that. It’s a rehash. They can read between the lines of the presentation that it is a rehash,” he said, adding the government “did that with Misuari but of course Misuari is not adept as this one. Meron  silang perspective eh, meron na silang nakikita. It is difficult to sell that idea. (It’s like saying) ayan na naman yang SPCPD,  meeting meeting wala namang masusunod sa recommendation,” he said.

“I think we really need a new approach. What I am suggesting is study the problem of the ARMM, find out what the problem is and from there move forward.”  [Tomorrow: “Guberno a sarwang”] (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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