COMMENT: Final Question: When? By Patricio P. Diaz

The negotiation is still going on.  That both the Government and the MILF are optimistic of signing an agreement next year, does not guarantee the bright prospect of a Muslim Mindanao united in peace and in the effort to attain the aspirations of the Bangsamoro nation.  The MILF’s gain will be MNLF’s loss – sending the peace process to a deadlock.

 

Only when the MNLF and the MILF re-unite to reconcile their peace agreements with the Government, agree on the political identity and system of Muslim Mindanao and draft a charter pursuant to their right to self-determination will the prospect brighten.  When will that happen?

 

Best-Case Scenario

If the Arroyo government were to decide, that should happen before June 2008.  Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, has outlined the best-case scenario to make that happen.  (See my last Comment: Best-Case Scenario: ‘Best’ Ba?)

The best way to break the deadlock, according to Dureza, is to let Congress consolidate the 1996 GRP-MNLF FPA and the GRP-MILF Agreement into a law that will be the framework for the MNLF-MILF transition council to follow in drafting the charter for the new political unit — the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity – composed of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and some predominantly Muslim villages contiguous with the ARMM.

That’s easier said than done. Will the MNLF and the MILF allow Congress to consolidate their agreements virtually determining for the Bangsamoro people their system of government? Will they spontaneously reunite?

There are discordant notes. The MILF has made known their resolve not to repeat the MNLF’s experience with Congress.  From his detention cell, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari called the GRP-MILF agreement illegal (MindaNews, November 11) and warned of war; Interim MNLF Vice chairman Hatimil Hassan said it is a violation of the 1996 FPA.

Datu Michael O. Mastura, a lawyer and MILF peace panel member, called the “best-case scenario” a “bad road to peace”.  (MindaNews, November 28) In a recent paper, Updates on the GRP-MILF Peace Negotiations, he cited Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio’s opinion: “It is for the Bangsamoro people to decide by a plebiscite on what political system should govern Muslims in a designated region in Mindanao.”

Two roadblocks are to be overcome – the Moro Fronts’ lack of full confidence in Congress and the 30-year MNLF and MILF estrangement. Overcoming the roadblocks will take time, tact and diplomacy.

Meeting Points

Reuniting the MNLF and the MILF is not impossible. Once they were one fighting to liberate the Bangsamoro people.  After their breakup, they separately struggled for the same cause for the same people. Following the signing of the 1996 FPA, there were gestures for reunification from both sides.

Obviously, both are open for conciliation.  But neither one has taken the first step to formally reconcile. Perhaps, they’re waiting for a third party to conciliate — evidently, though, not the Philippine government.  It’s the Organization of the Islamic Conference through its Secretary-General or its Ministerial Committee of the Eight that can at the right time.   

Last year, during the OIC field visit in Mindanao, delegation head Ambassador Sayed El-Masry, said of the two Moro Fronts, “The best, if not the only course of action, that should be taken” is for them “to reunite again and work hard.”  He also said, “The position of the OIC is to work for reconciliation between them.” (MindaNews, May 20, 2006)

Sticking Points

But there are points; their desire to reunite can get stuck. In reaching out to the MNLF, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said the GRP-MNLF Agreement must be “implemented in full” but those that cannot be implemented, “we are willing to accommodate in our own agreement”. (MindaNews, November 28)

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, ARMM Governor Misuari’s secretary-general and head of the MNLF delegation to the Jeddah Tripartite Meeting, countered stating what, to the MNLF, is the necessary condition of reconciliation:

“There is no need to include in another peace pact [the unimplemented provisions of the FPA].  GRP has to implement a consummated pact.  The MNLF is willing to embrace [their] MILF “brods”.  What is important is to avoid who will be subsumed to whom and what.” (Italics bold supplied – the necessary condition.)

Both Iqbal and Parcasio are stuck in contradiction. If the GRP-MNLF and GRP-MILF pacts are both implemented in full, there is no reconciliation. And, there is no reunification.  In fact, to fully implement two agreements in one political entity of one people is to collide head on.

Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the MILF Committee on Information, said the MILF will clarify to the various factions of the MNLF that the GRP-MILF pact will be better than the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement in all aspects (Luwaran.com, November 24). This implies the MILF thinks that the GRP-MNLF FPA should be subsumed by the GRP-MILF Agreement?

MNLF Status

Pride and feeling of superiority and importance are among the obstacles on the way to the MNLF-MILF reconciliation. At present, Manila is decidedly giving the MILF special attention. But the MNLF is still the recognized sole and legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people in the OIC and in the Muslim and Arab worlds. 

Lawyer Soliman Santos, a peace advocate long been involved in the Mindanao problem, opines that “the OIC must get real about the MNLF” – review this special status it (OIC) has conferred on it (MNLF). The MNLF is no longer what it used to be and the observation that it “continues not to inspire confidence” is not far from the truth.

Even when it was still well organized, it could be asked: “Which Bangsamoro people did it represent?” Did the MILF recognize it as its (MILF) representative?  Did the traditional leaders loyal to the government recognize it as such?

Since the schism caused by the Executive Council of the 15 in April 2001, compounded by Misuari’s detention in 2002, the MNLF has no longer been well organized – if not disorganized. The EC-15 disbanded last year and recognized Misuari as their chairman. Have the members of EC-15 been reinstated to their former positions? How does the Central Committee function with Misuari in detention?

The MNLF delegation to the Jeddah Tripartite Meeting was a revelation? If Hatimil Hassan (vice chairman) and Muslimin Sema (secretary-general) had been reinstated, why did either of them not head the delegation in the absence of Misuari?  If not, why did the current vice chairman or secretary-general not do it? Misuari picked Parcasio, his erstwhile executive secretary and MNLF legal adviser, as the head.

Under the obviously disunited state of the MNLF, how can it effectively reunite with the MILF?  In the unification of the Bangsamoro people, the traditional leaders should not be ignored. In a tripartite unification conference, the OIC-conferred special status to the MNLF could be its handicap rather than an advantage.

Santos was right in suggesting to the OIC to reexamine the MNLF status.  This is especially so if the OIC will work for the reconciliation of the two Fronts. The admission of the traditional leaders at the unification table is imperative.  At present, they as administrators of the ARMM, not the MNLF, represent the Bangsamoro people in the Autonomous Region.    

Reconciliation

MNLF-MILF reconciliation is not just letting bygones be bygones, kissing and making up. It is much more than that — renewing their cause, redefining their aspiration, and agreeing on the means to realize their aspiration.  The OIC may conciliate.  After that, they reconcile their differences – forgetting that they are MN or MI but Bangsamoro, first and foremost, together with the traditional leaders.

In concluding the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Government, the MNLF chose regional autonomy as the means to realize the Bangsamoro aspiration. Primarily relying on Manila to implement the Agreement, it lost control of the Autonomy within ten years, complaining that the FPA has not been fully implemented.

For ten years now, the MILF has been bargaining hard at the negotiation table – opting for self-determination and shared sovereignty instead of autonomy; insisting on the Moro ancestral and historical rights over Mindanao; and convincing the Government that “self-determination” is a right guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and international law like the UN Charter.

As of this writing, the Government has agreed to grant the MILF the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity – a territory having the ARMM as its core together with predominantly Muslim villages contiguous with the ARMM. “Conflict-affected areas” isolated from the ARMM may join later.

The MILF will have the use and control of the economic resources below and on the territorial land and sea of the BJE.  This is what the MNLF failed to get in the FPA; the use of the mineral and other “strategic” resources remained in the full control of Manila.  

What system of government will the BJE have?  As gleaned from Mastura’s “Updates on the GRP-MILF Peace Negotiations”, that will adhere to the principle of “consent of the governed” and the right of the Bangsamoro people to decide in a referendum what political system should govern them.

The traditional leaders have been expertly doing the political balancing to please Manila and not to offend the Moro Fronts.  Through them, Manila has co-opted Muslim Autonomy agreed in Tripoli since 1976. In 1996, they agreed when Manila ceded the ARMM to the MNLF; in 2005, they regained control through the support of Manila.

The issue at the reconciliation table should not be subsumption but what will best attain the Bamgsamoro aspiration? To be reconciled are the MNLF’s FPA, the yet-to-be-signed GRP-MILF Agreement, and the autonomy co-opted by Manila through the traditional leaders.

The challenge is: Can the MNLF, MILF and traditional leaders shed off their identities, loyalties and prejudices and as Bangsamoro, first and foremost, agree which of the MNLF’s FPA, the GRP-MILF pact, and the Manila co-opted autonomy will serve best the Bangsamoro people and attain their aspiration?

The final question: If they can, when can they? 

If not, what? That will be the most 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 [email protected]).

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