COMMENT: Looking into Jeddah meeting

The meeting was just the first – the exploratory stage – of a series of meetings convened by the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to review the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement pursuant to Section 5 of Resolution No. 2/33-MM of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in June 2006.

 

The ICFM resolution embodied the report of a fact finding mission the OIC secretary-general had sent to Mindanao and Sulu in May 2006 to verify the repeated complaints of the MNLF that the Philippine Government had failed to properly implement the Agreement as agreed. The fact-finding committee had coordinated with the Philippine Government.

 

The question central to the meeting: How serious is the review of the implementation of so serious an instrument of peace in response to the naggingly serious complaints of one party to the Agreement, the MNLF? The question, considering some intriguing facts, is not meant to belittle the review.

 

Relevant Notes

 

  • The May 2006 OIC mission led by Ambassador Sayed El-Masry of Egypt reported the gaping difference between the Government’s and the MNLF’s assessments of the implementation of the 1996 FPA.  Subsequently, in its 33rd International Conference of Foreign Ministers in June that year, the OIC called for “an urgent high level tripartite meeting” to conduct the review. (Bold italics supplied).

 

  • The meeting, set to be held at Jeddah on July 7 of that year that for various reasons the Government – except for once by the OIC Committee of Eight – had been repeatedly asked to be postponed, was convened one year and four months behind schedule.

 

  • A high level meeting should have high level participants. The OIC Peace Committee, especially formed to conduct the meeting — composed of the Committee of the Eight, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan — was obviously high level. Can the same be said of the GRP delegation or of the MNLF without Chair Nur Misuari?

 

  • The GRP delegation headed by Nabil Tan, a member of the GRP negotiating panel in Jakarta, Indonesia and vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (1993-96), was composed of various-level ARMM and national government officials together with some MNLF members identified with MNLF Council of the 15.

 

  • Without Misuari, the MNLF delegation was headed by lawyer Randolph Parcasio, Misuari’s executive secretary when he was ARMM governor and MNLF legal adviser. Closely assisting him were MNLF spokesman Al Tillah and lawyer Firdausi Abbas.

 

  • MindaNews (November 11) reported three high-ranking MNLF members present at the meeting – Muslimin Sema, MNLF secretary-general under Misuari and vice chair of the MNLF panel in Jakarta; Hatimil Hassan, MNLF vice chair under Misuari and the present interim vice chair; and Parouk Hussin, MNLF foreign secretary under Misuari and ARMM governor (2001-2004).

 

  • Sema and Hassan must be in the MNLF delegation.  Why did one of them not head it? Was it that as organizers of the Executive Council of the 15 they have not yet regained the full confidence of Misuari whom they “retired” as MNLF chair? Hussin and another MNLF ranking member, Sulu Rep. Jusoph Jikiri, were advisers to the GRP delegation.    

 

  • Will the meeting just review the implementation of the 1996 FPA as complained by the MNLF? When Misuari, in his e-mailed speech read at the opening of the meeting, questioned the “legality” of the GRP-MILF peace talk, he was calling the attention of the participants to the implications of that negotiation to the 1996 FPA.

 

The Thrust

 

The OIC secretary-general, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and the tripartite meeting chair, Deputy Minister Rezlan I. Jenie for Multilateral Affairs of Indonesia, spelled out the thrust of the review (MindaNews, November 11):

 

  • Both the GRP and the MNLF should try to find a way out of the dangerous deadlock in the implementation of the Agreement, a situation that had been “moving from bad to worse and the gap between the two parties was widening”.

 

  • The meeting will focus on the assessment of the implementation process, “defining the obstacles and devising the solutions – a “huge task” that cannot be accomplished in one or two sessions.

 

  • The parties must “exchange … general observations on the issue of implementation, and from that … gather all the issues covering its progress as well as its obstacles”.

 

  • We need to find out problems without finger-pointing, and to harness aspirations without recriminations.

 

  • Based on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, “the next challenges will mainly be on the strengthening of the institutional capacity of the autonomy and implementing further measures on the economic and socio-cultural aspects of the Agreement”.

 

The Agenda

 

As agreed in small-group closed-door sessions, the general agenda of the review call for the scrutiny of Republic Act 9054 against the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.  Comparing the provisions of RA 9054 to those of the 1996 FPA will reveal how Congress used the latter to amend RA 6734, the original ARMM Organic Act, to come up with RA 9054.

 

The scrutiny will be according to five clustered issues covering: (1) Shariah and the Judiciary; (2) Regional Security Force; (3) Natural Resources and the Economy (including mines and minerals); (4) Political System and Representation; and (5) Education.

 

A six-member joint working group, three each from the GRP and the MNLF, will take charge of each of the five items or clusters. They will submit their “progress reports by January 10” four days before the next Tripartite Meeting on January 14, 2008.

 

Too Big a Bite

 

Noble may be their intentions, the participants in the Tripartite Meeting are, very obviously, taking a bite far, far too big for them to chew.  Are they honestly serious?

 

The five working groups correspond, cluster by cluster, to the five support committees that fleshed out the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 into the 1996 FPA. The GRP and MNLF had separate support committees headed by their top men.  The GRP support committees were chaired by cabinet undersecretaries. The MNLF tapped Muslims in government for their committees.  (Kalinaw Mindanao, B.R. Rodil, pp. 109 ff)

 

Presumably, the first task of the working groups will be to identify provisions of RA 9054 and of the FPA that are (1) identical, (2) similar, (3) complementary, (4) supplementary, and (5) entirely different.  They will also pick out provisions of the FPA omitted from RA 9054 and amendatory provisions in RA 9054 not provided in the FPA.

 

After making the provision-to-provision comparison, it is expected that the joint working groups will have comments and recommendations for discussions in the Tripartite Committee. These demands from the working group-members a high level of competence since their inputs will be the bases of sensitive, far-reaching policy discussions.

 

Each of the GRP and MNLF delegations has 15 members.  The GRP delegates were named in MindaNews report (November 9).  How competent are the GRP delegates? The same may be asked of the MNLF delegates, although they were not all named in the newspaper report.

 

The comments and recommendations of the working groups imply the taking of positions by their members. But the groups are jointly composed of GRP-MNLF members. What will happen if members have – as it most probably will — contrary positions?  In the Jakarta negotiation, the support committees separately formulated positions for the GRP and the MNLF panels.

 

Can the working groups accomplish their task in 60 days including holidays and Sundays?  It took the support committees and the GRP and MNLF panels more than three years to craft the FPA and a little longer for Congress to enact RA 9054.

 

Simple Approach

 

Ihsanoglu and Jenie stated a simple approach: Focus on the assessment of the implementation process, defining the obstacles and devising solutions. Exchange general observations and from that gather all the issues covering its progress as well as it obstacles. While unstated, it is implied that by this process, the problems will be resolved through consensus.

 

The MNLF has a set of complaints and the OIC has the findings of its Fact-Finding Mission. Why not focus on these using the “OIC Matrix” for the “Review of Peace Agreement Implementation”? (See: Kalinaw Mindanaw, B.R. Rodil, pp. 206 ff)

 

Adopting the OIC Matrix, (1) those complaints and findings should be stated; (2) the GRP and MNLF panels make their respective positions; (3) a Tripartite Arbitration Committee, by consensus, resolves the problems.

 

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, father of the 1996 FPA, put it very simply: If the problem is RA 9054, the law that the MNLF claims did not follow the peace agreement, the solution is to amend the law (MindaNews, Sept. 3, 2006).

 

And there is no need for the five joint working groups to compare the 1996 FPA and RA 9054. The MNLF has already itemized the alleged errors, has submitted these to the OIC and as noted by Ramos (MindaNews, Sept. 2, 2006), the MNLF raised the issue at the recent (June 19-21, 2006) Baku, Asserbaijan meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries.

 

It follows that if the problem concerns RA 9054, the Tripartite Committee recommends its amendment by Congress; if it is non-compliance of agreed financial assistance, the Committee recommends compliance by the Government of the Philippines or by the OIC; and so on depending on the problems. In their political and economic complaints, the MNLF may be as remiss in doing their part as the GRP.

 

The review is being made complicated – ignoring the simple Ihsanoglu-Jenie formula which is adaptable to the already tested OIC Matrix, used pursuant to Section 12 of the 1996 FPA. (See: Footnote) The five joint- working-group approach can lead to problems that will delay – or even circumvent — the resolutions of the MNLF complaints well into – or even beyond – 2008.

 

Note well: The five joint working groups are tasked principally to review how the Agreement was legislated into RA 9054. New problems may surface. How the specific complaints of the MNLF and the findings of the OIC Fact-Finding Mission will tackled is not clear.

 

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NOTE:  Section 12 states: “The OIC shall be requested to continue to extend its assistance and good offices in monitoring the full implementation of this agreement during the transitional period until the regular autonomous government is firmly established ….”

If this provision is strictly followed, the OIC has no more right to monitor the implementation of the 1996 FPA. After the ratification of RA 9054 and the first regional election under the new Organic Act, “the regular autonomous government” was deemed “firmly established”. The MILF complaints are internal problems of the country.

 

In reality, the Arroyo government – to jealously protect national sovereignty — should have just formed a body to review the implementation of the 1996 FPA.  The MNLF, through the ARMM Regional Assembly, could have RA 9054 amended to remedy errors relative to the 1996 FPA and submit the amendments to Congress, as provided in Article XVII, Section 2 of RA 9050.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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