COMMENT: Best-case scenario: ‘Best’ ba? by Patricio P. Diaz

The Philippine government knotted the problem when it offered a separate peace negotiation with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in October 1996 just a month after signing with the Moro National Liberation Front the Final Peace Agreement. Since the MILF had rejected the FPA, peace with the Muslims still had to be made whole.
 
Formula for Conflict

The imperative was clear.  But the Government’s successive and separate peace negotiations with the MNLF and the MILF was a formula for conflict.  Did the Ramos government see its way out of the inevitable trouble? The Arroyo government must have a way out.

The MNLF and MILF are locked in the same territory of Muslim Mindanao.  While the two Fronts have distinct followers, the areas under their commands inter-lap and are inter-lapping, too, with the areas controlled by the traditional leaders who are known to be submissive to the national government.

Muslim Mindanao was given as a concession to the MNLF during the 1993-1996 Jakarta peace talk.  Inevitably, the same territory and people would be handed – in fact it has already been handed — as a concession to the MILF in the ongoing GRP-MILF peace talk.  

While the traditional leaders, then in control of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, meekly bowed to Manila’s decision to cede the ARMM to the MNLF, the same should not be expected of the MNLF – who, while out of power now, still have their big ego and maratabat (badge of honor) and are the professed zealous guardians of the 1996 FPA.

Now that the signing of the GRP-MILF agreement is nearing, the MNLF have sounded their objection and warning.  Obviously, Manila has already realized the knotty problem ahead that will snarl the peace process.  It must unknot the problem.

Dureza, as cabinet secretary and presidential adviser for the peace process, has enunciated an official line suggesting President Arroyo’s thinking even if he would later qualify his press statements as his “personal opinion.” His “best-case scenario” can make the knot more knotty.

The Scenario

At present, the 1996 FPA is under review by the GRP-MNLF joint working groups created at the Tripartite Meeting in Jeddah with the Organization of the Islamic Conference as the third party moderating.  The Meeting that opened last November 10-12 will convene again on January 14 next year to deliberate on the reports of the joint working groups.

Dureza said that once the tripartite review of the 1996 FPA is completed, the provisions will be “downloaded into a bill to amend [RA 9054]”. The GRP-MILF agreement will also be enacted into a law. He expects both to happen by March 2008. (MindaNews, November 23).

Congress, then, will consolidate the amended RA 9054 and the law enacted from the GRP-MILF agreement into a law providing the framework for the joint MNLF-MILF transition council to craft the charter or organic law for the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity – the new political unit encompassing the ARMM and contiguous villages with predominantly Muslim population. This has to happen before June 2008, the start of the campaign for the August 2008 ARMM election.

The consolidated law, superseding RA 9054, will suspend the August 2008 ARMM election.  Another law will allow the incumbent ARMM elective officials to hold-over in office until after the election of the BJE officials.

The primary objective to make the MNLF and MILF unite in BJE under a charter they will write jointly is most laudable – the first step in the fulfillment of Moro self-determination. But this “best-case scenario” rests on shaky assumptions and presumptions.

Ignoring Reality

Dureza was adamant and hard-lining, when 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?”

Allowing no other option, he said: “There is no other way. … It’s their own call, eh.  Whether they [MNLF and MILF] like it or not, the convergence will take place in Congress” — hopefully, by March.  (MindaNews, November 23)

Dureza ignored realities.  Is this the mindset of President Arroyo and Malacañang?

First: The presumption is that the MNLF and MILF will agree that Congress will merge their separate agreements with the Government. And if they don’t, they will not object to Congress going ahead with the legislating of the framework to follow in their jointly drawing the BJE Charter. This is a bad dream – the best-case scenario to scuttle the peace agreements.

This also presumes that the MNLF and MILF will reunite. What has failed to happen in 30 years will happen only if one agrees to be subsumed by the other.  Will the MNLF agree that the GRP-MILF Agreement is the superior pact and the 1996 FPA will only complement it?

Second:  The presumption is that the tripartite review of the 1996 FPA and GRP-MILF pact will be finished in February 2008. The five GRP-MNLF working groups have 60 days until January 14 to finish the review. Expect them to ask for an extension.  The GRP-MILF exploratory talk on December 4-6 has been postponed. MILF panel chair Mohagner Iqbal is expecting “more obstacles ahead”. (luwaran.com, November 17)

Third: The presumption is that if the tripartite review and the GRP-MILF agreement are done in February, Congress can amend RA 9054, enact into a law the agreement, and consolidate the two laws into another law in three months from March until June.  It took Congress five years to enact RA 9054.

Arroyo’s Say-So

Dureza has not said it; but, his “best-case scenario” is President Arroyo’s say-so. A number of times, she has said in the press that peace in Mindanao will be one of her legacies. Peace will be signed with the MILF; the Abu Sayyaf must be defeated. She has 30 months left to do all these.

Dureza knows that his “best-case scenario” is racing against time. The August 8, 2008 ARMM election must be BJE election. Otherwise, an ARMM election will delay the installation of BJE until 2011.  Then Arroyo will miss her “legacy”.

The ARMM election can be postponed with the present officials continuing in office in hold-over capacity once the MNLF-MILF transition council starts framing the BJE Charter.  But Congress goes on Christmas, Holy Week and summer recesses and will resume sessions in the third week of July 2008.  

Even if the improbable completion of the tripartite review of the implementation of the FPA happens in January and the more improbable signing of the GRP-MILF agreement takes place before March, it is impossible for Congress to enact the three necessary laws to prevent the staging of the ARMM election in June.

Like the Others

Dureza says he is a “great optimist” (“Optimist ra ko kayo.”) and he admits his “best-case scenario” is “very difficult” to accomplish. Was it optimism or desperation when he said that due to time constraint, the best-case scenario “entails a huge marketing work … for Congress, for the stakeholders to make it happen”. But this has to happen.

Just like the other say-so of President Arroyo, “huge marketing work” – meaning, glowing rhetoric and propaganda – has been and is being used to make them happen imaginatively: the Strong Republic, the Philippines as a First World Country in 2020, eradication of poverty, etc.  They have to happen so because President Arroyo wishes them to happen.  

Dureza admits that time constraint is the reason why the best-case scenario “entails a huge marketing work … for Congress, for the stakeholders to make it happen”.  By “huge marketing work,” does he also mean intervention or wishful thinking by the Palace and President Arroyo?

Only a miracle can make the “best-case scenario” happen within its March-June 2008 time frame. Only a miracle can make the GRP and the MILF sign a peace agreement by March 2008. It will be a miracle if the MNLF agrees to be subsumed by the MILF.  Dureza is not a miracle worker; neither is President Arroyo, who in fact has done disasters but not miracles.

Who will bet?  If the Arroyo government forces through the “best-case scenario” as a “no other way,” as a “whether they like it or not” option to peace in Mindanao, we can kiss good-bye to all our hopes.

Thinking of it in your most sober moments, is the “best-case scenario” the “best” – the best ba talaga (really the best)?

Are Dureza and the Arroyo government serious about the “best-case scenario”?  That is another disturbing question. ("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 patpdiaz@mindanews.com).

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