In her November 6, 2001 speech at that Malacañang dinner for officials of Muslim Mindanao, President Arroyo said:
“When I became President, soon after, I pronounced my Mindanao Policy. And following what President Ramos said: [No. 1], peace and development must go together. [No. 2], territorial integrity is our parameter. But [No. 3], we recognize that ours is a multi-ethnic society with institutionalized accommodations of our ethnic cultures and the institutionalized accommodations of our Muslim culture enshrined in the Autonomy of Muslim Mindanao.”
In MindaNews of November 23, Editor Carolyn O. Arguillas wrote: “[ARMM Gov. Zaldy] Ampatuan [as a candidate] told MindaNews in a 2005 interview during the campaign for the ARMM elections that he supports the peace initiatives of President Arroyo ….”
These three events must be viewed in their implications to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
What for was the 1996 Final Peace Agreement?
More than fleshing out the 1976 Tripoli Agreement that would end the MNLF phase of the Moro rebellion, it was to be the policy for the peace processes in Mindanao bilaterally agreed by the government and the MNLF – which the OIC recognizes as “the sole and legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people”.
The FPA, if correctly implemented, could have a positive impact on the MILF which entered into a separate peace negotiation with the government a month after the signing of the Agreement – even if the MILF had rejected it. The rest of the Moro population welcomed the Agreement.
The peace process according to the Agreement started with the Transitional Period or Phase I. President Ramos issued Executive Order 371 to implement this phase. His successors, President Joseph Estrada and President Arroyo, were expected to sustain EO 371 until the enactment of the new Organic Act.
Congress, in amending RA 6734 according to the Agreement, was supposed to have embodied in RA 9054 – the new Organic Law – the bilateral policy on the peace processes to be fully implemented in the New Regional Autonomous Government or Phase II.
Manila as its chief implementer was expected to sincerely adhere to the Agreement as the only policy for the peace processes in Muslim Mindanao. Unfortunately, the need to call the Jeddah Tripartite Meeting lays a big, bold question mark over such sincerity.
Either for his low regard of Muslim Mindanao leaders or for his lack of appreciation of the FPA, President Joseph Estrada downplayed the role of the MNLF in the development of Muslim Mindanao. In the first three months of his administration, the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development and its advisory arm, the Consultative Assembly, had no new funds.
Instead of supporting the SPCPD for the development of the Area of Autonomy, Estrada ignored it. In disregard of the FPA and EO 371 of President Ramos, the Area of Autonomy was lumped with the rest of Mindanao under his Mindanao Coordinating Council. No MNLF or anyone else from Mindanao was a member of the Council.
The MCC was Estrada’s policy-making body “to integrate, synchronize and accelerate the implementation of all plans and programs for Mindanao”. In relation to Muslim Mindanao, it was specific: “Decisions by the MCC immediately overrule decisions of any government agency on areas affected by the conflict, subject to the limitations of presidential powers.” [“The Challenge for Peace in Mindanao”, Catherine Dean R. Jayme]
Its relevance to the peace process envisioned in the FPA was doubtful – that is, so far as Muslim Mindanao was concerned. While Estrada’s peace process purportedly followed Ramos’ Six Paths to Peace [Jayme], it was, in relation to the MILF, it was a peace cocktail laced with war threats – a peace lyric in war music.
The “Six Paths” enlightened the GRP-MNLF peace negotiation. Estrada’s version of it led to an all-out war that stopped the peace process.
President Arroyo said it clearly: “When I became President, soon after, I pronounced my Mindanao Policy.” While she claimed to have followed Ramos, the three parameters she mentioned were widely at variance with the “Six Paths”. In fact, she implied that in the FPA, the government only “accommodated” the MNLF.
Clearly, like Estrada, Arroyo wanted to make peace in Muslim Mindanao her legacy. She has articulated this obsession in “my Mindanao Policy”. This could be one reason why she did not sign RA 9054 as it embodied the FPA, a Ramos legacy.
Yet, to obviously stamp her imprint on the implementation of the FPA, she issued EO 80 on March 11, 2002 to abolish the SPCPD, CA and SZOPAD, which she said was according to RA 9054. But Section 16, Article XVIII of RA 9054, provided that they were “deemed abolished and shall cease to exist” on “the date of approval this Organic Act” in a plebiscite.
SPCPD, CA and SZOPAD were automatically abolished on August 14, 2001 – the date when RA 9054 was approved in a plebiscite. EO 80 was superfluous and not necessary.
EO 80 – abolishing SPCPD, CA and SZOPAD seven months after they had been abolished by the law she refused to sign — revived Southern Philippines Development Authority which she had already abolished to take care of the “SPCPD functions and responsibilities for SZOPAD areas outside of the ARMM”. What “functions and responsibilities”? They were transitional agencies. EO 80 reeks with arrogance in ignorance!
EO 80 also provides that the ARMM regional government “will fill the void created by the abolition of the SPCPD” and the CA, understandably, so far as the ARMM is concerned. What “void”? The ARMM had long been there before the transitional agencies came. The arrogance in ignorance in EO 80 is insufferable!
Whatever her Mindanao Policy is it deviated from the peace process envisioned in the FPA.
Paragraph 2(a) of the FPA provides that the law amending or repealing RA 6734 “shall be submitted to the people for approval in a plebiscite in affected areas, within two (2) years from the establishment of the SPCPD (1998)”. However, RA 9054 did not become a law until March 31, 2001 – two and one-half years delayed. This set back the time-table of the peace process.
Was Congress obliged to pass the amendatory law in two years? The Agreement was between the Government of the Philippines and the MNLF. The Legislative Branch of the Government must comply with its part as a consequence of what the Executive Branch has committed for the Government in a negotiation.
Congress could not invoke its independence and right to prioritize legislation. Par. 2(a) of the FPA made the amendment of RA 6734 a priority. The fact that the 10th Congress failed to act on the bills filed in its second and third sessions and it took the 11th Congress three sessions to pass it spoke a lot of Congress’ interest in the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.
In enacting RA 9054, Congress omitted some provisions of the FPA, modified others, and inserted what had not been agreed in the negotiation. Misuari complained that the MNLF was ignored in the legislation phase of the Agreement.
The argument was: If the negotiation was bilateral, so the legislation should be. The Agreement zeroed on the peace process. Congress should have consulted the MNLF, as well as the GRP negotiating panel, on the relevance to the peace process of the provisions it wanted to omit or modify to safeguard the peace process. Was Congress aware of the peace process involved?
For instance, Par. 2(b) was omitted: “The new area of autonomy shall then be determined by the provinces and cities that shall vote/choose to join the said autonomy (1998). It may be provided by the Congress in a law that clusters of contiguous-Muslim-dominated municipalities voting in favor of autonomy be merged and constituted into a new province(s) and shall become part of the new Autonomous Region.” (Italics mine)
Did Congress ever think that the second sentence of this provision expresses the aspiration of Muslims which is vital to the peace process? A separate law did not have to be enacted. Had that been included in RA 9054, the constitutional requirement of a plebiscite for the separation and merger of political divisions could have been satisfied in the August 14, 2001 plebiscite.
I think, the MNLF – if not consulted from time to time by Congress – expected to be shown the draft law for its comments before the final vote.
The FPA is the agreed policy for the peace process in Muslim Mindanao. The social, economic and political development and other related activities of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – the political entity comprising Muslim Mindanao – should adhere to the FPA.
Regrettably, however, President Estrada and President Arroyo — in their respective Mindanao policies — lumped Muslim Mindanao with the entire Mindanao and with respect to Muslim Mindanao either ignored or modified the FPA to the prejudice of the vision of the peace process and the Muslims.
Congress unilaterally redacted what Malacañang and the MNLF had agreed – omitting some provisions of the FPA and modifying others. And, it amended RA 6734 further by inserting amendments not included in the FPA.
RA 9054 is the law implementing the FPA. The law itself may be at variance with the FPA. Or, its interpretation may deviate from the intents of the FPA. In the opinion of a staunch advocate of the peace process, Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado Jr., OMI, in cases of conflicts, the peace process must prevail over the legal process – and may we add, over the political process.
These deviations from the FPA and other flaws and deficiencies in the implementation of the Agreement are the subjects of the Tripartite Meeting in Jeddah. But in the present disarray of the MNLF — with Chairman Misuari in detention and in the wake of the misadventure of the Executive Council of the 15 – how able is the MNLF to present and support its complaints?
Add to this, while all Muslims appear to be proud as Bangsamoro, they seem to be at odds in their concept of Bangsamoro and in their positions related to the FPA. For instance, the ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan is supporting the Mindanao Policy of President Arroyo and is in the Philippine panel opposite the MNLF at the Jeddah Tripartite Meeting.
It is obvious that the Muslims are not only at variance in their views of the FPA and its implementation but, worse, they are also pitted against each other. This is a serious problem. Tomorrow: For whom? (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).