COMMENT: Transparency Questions. By Patricio P. Diaz

On the forum theme, “The Shape of the Forthcoming Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MILF”, Kusog Mindanao secretary-general Rey Magno Teves said, “We want to hear more from our (peace) panelists about the negotiations.”  (MindaNews, Nov. 27)

From the news report, it is clear that Mindanao leaders want to fully know what have been agreed on the critical issues of ancestral domain, self-determination, governance and others.  They feel that they are not being properly informed.

Mindanao Business Council representative Vicente Lao, South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, and Prof. Abhoud Syed M. Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies in Cotabato City will present the issues to be taken up at the forum.

On December 1, Peace Panel Chairs Rodolfo Garcia of GRP and Mohagher Iqbal of MILF will be at the forum to clarify questions.  Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace processes, will also be present.

                                                  Past Lessons

The importance of transparency should never be overlooked or downplayed.  Lessons from the past should not be forgotten. Despite the relative openness in the crafting of Republic Act 6734 starting from the Mindanao Consultative Commission, biases and prejudices still influenced decisively the composition of the original Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Both the GRP and MNLF kept secret the Jakarta negotiation.  It was only in the last few days that agreements were published.  That last-minute gesture at transparency helped little in dispelling the anxieties that had already fueled built-in biases and prejudices.

Of course, the secrecy in the negotiation should be viewed with utmost understanding. Giving the public a blow-by-blow account is not conducive to deliberation.  However, it is expected that after an agreement has been reached, the people concerned should be allowed to know and to give feedbacks. Factoring into the agreement the feedbacks will make it more relevant.

I think the same questions that bothered Christians in the past are bothering them in relation to the GRP-MILF negotiation especially in the inclusion of more villages in the existing ARMM as called for in the resolution of the ancestral domain issue. This issue is popularly contentious.

                                            Transparency

I think the territorial expanse of the Bangasamoro Juridical Entity – the area demanded by the MILF for their ancestral domain – is different from the Area of Autonomy in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement of or in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

BJE is confined to the present ARMM and Muslim villages contiguous with the ARMM.

However, it is these villages that are central to the anxieties of Christians and some political leaders. According to reports, the boundaries of the BJE have already been agreed and will become official in the interim agreement being drafted.

It will help ease anxiety and opposition if before drafting the interim agreement, GRP and MILF will form a joint panel to discuss with the governors and town officials the inclusion of villages in their provinces into the BJE.  And they should meet the people of the villages to be included in the BJE to hear and assuage their fears, anxieties, etc.

Whatever they are able to gather from the governors, town officials and village people will be useful in drafting an agreement that is agreeable not only to the negotiating panels but, most important, to all others concerned. 

That is an indispensable ingredient of the peace process.

                                               Plebiscite

It was also reported, that the MNLF had withdrawn its opposition to a plebiscite as long as they will have no part in it. The government can do what it wants as long as the BJE agreed will be as it has been agreed.

Will the people of the ARMM be asked if they will agree to have autonomy transformed into another form of government consistent with self-determination under the BJE? That will be subject of the plebiscite in the ARMM. Provinces and cities outside of the ARMM will not be involved.

The purpose of including predominantly Muslim villages into the BJE is to give flesh to the Muslim aspiration to reclaim whatever they can of their ancestral domain and determine for themselves the kind of government suited to their political, economic and social well-being according to Islam.

Surely, the MILF will insist that the area agreed must remain intact.To avoid what the MNLF calls “veto of Christian majority," the plebiscite will be held only in the villages concerned.  But this is not a sure-fire assurance of “YES-vote,” especially in villages of 50-50 Muslim-Christian population.  This is where transparency is important before the drafting of the interim agreement.

And, it should be noted that if the governors and mayors of the provinces and towns where the villages are located – Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, Lanao Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zaboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga City – could accept the necessity of BJE to the peace process, their help to convince their constituents concerned to join the BJE will overcome a big obstacle.

                                                FPA Hurdle

A collateral problem that can be a serious hurdle is the FPA.  The present ARMM was set up bilaterally by the Government and the MNLF through the FPA. To avoid derailing the peace process, the ARMM should not be compromised without the consent of the MNLF. This has already been done by the Government by unilaterally conceding it to the MILF.

There was no problem when the Government conceded to the MNLF the original ARMM under RA 6734 because this was unilaterally established by the Aquino government.

The Arroyo government either overlooked or ignored the difference. The MNLF has already registered its objection through detained Chairman Nur Misuari and Interim Vice Chairman Hatimil Hassan.

I think Kusog Mindanao should include this problem in its forum agenda to be discussed and to formulate issues to be posed to the Government, the MILF and the MNLF. This problem, if not handled well, can stonewall the peace process. To some extent, it is a transparency question.

Briefly the problem is: The ARMM is a house given to the MNLF under an internationally recognized contract in 1996.  Within the first year of the contract, the house was promised by the Government to the MILF as a concession for the settlement of their differences. The settlement is imminent. 

Will the MNLF be just driven out of the house when the 1996 contract has not been revoked?

                                            Not a Solution

Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace processes, came up with a solution that can scuttle any GRP-MILF pact – his so-called “best-case scenario” (MindaNews,Nov. 23).

With due respect to my good friend, the secretary, his “best-case scenario” is full of haphazardly-thought—if not thoughtless –ideas, assumptions and presumptions.The “best-case scenario” in brief:

              *       Once the Jeddah Tripartite review of the FPA is completed, “the provisions will be ‘downloaded into a bill to amend the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao law’ (RA 9054).”

                       *      Once the GRP-MILF agreement is signed, this will also be “downloaded” into another bill.

             *   The two bills will be consolidated into one bill to “converge” the GRP-MNLF and the GRP-MILF pacts “into a legal framework for the Bangsamoro [Juridical Entity]."  

Here’s a big “BUT”: The resulting law will have two thrusts: (1) suspend the 2008 ARMM election while keeping the present elective officials on hold-over capacities; (2) provide the “legal framework” for the BJE that – understandably – will be the terms of reference for the MILF-MNLF “transition council … to craft their own charter”.

Carolyn O. Arguillas, MindaNews editor, must have in her mind the Secretary’s impossible assumptions and presumptions when she asked: “But you’re assuming a best-case scenario here. What if the GRP and MNLF do not agree on the review and there are spoilers in the GRP-MILF agreement?”

Dureza’s response to Arguillas revealed a mindset in Malacañang – Dureza being an alter-ego of the President – that poses the biggest obstacle to the peace process. We will discuss this in a separate “Comment”

                                                Proposal

However, may I propose that Kusog Mindanao set a session for Dureza to discuss his “best-case scenario.”  Through no-holds-barred questions, the participants may be able to see with utmost transparency the mindset of Malacañang.

From Dureza’s statements to MindaNews, it appeared that Arroyo’s political agenda have the priority over the peace process.  In his official capacity as peace secretary, Dureza can give light on Arroyo’s top priorities.  The GRP peace panel’s transparency is limited to Arroyo’s.

Both government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels have to be more transparent to the stakeholders in Mindanao about their negotiations, an official of Kusog Mindanaw said.” (MindaNews, Nov. 27) The imperative is a non-issue.

In its quest for transparency, Kusog Mindanaw must also zero in on Malacañang. 

Dureza’s “best-case scenario” suggests a serious question:  After the signing of the final agreement, “What”?

The MNLF-related scenarios should not be overlooked or forgotten. ("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]).

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