Deles on implementation of ’96 peace pact with MNLF: “It stops with us”

PENANG, Malaysia (MindaNews/24 February) – As representatives of the  Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  peace panels shared their optimism on the ongoing peace process with peacebuilders from Aceh and Patani at the three-day Consolidation for Peace seminar here, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,  Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, vowed at the opening February 22 of the two-day Tripartite Meeting on the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that the Aquino administration “do(es) not want to turn over another unfinished business to the next administration. It stops with us.”

“There is much work to be done, with due diligence to be applied on all issues.  The Philippine Government, under the leadership of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, does not want to sign any agreement or statement that it cannot uphold and implement.  Thus, we have brought the full force of government, from national to regional to local government levels, to show the seriousness in our intent to bring proper closure to a process that has gone on for too long,” Deles said.

Deles led a delegation of 21 officials and civil society representatives to the 4th GPH-MNLF-OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) Tripartite Meeting, among them Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronaldo Llamas, National Security Council deputy director-general Zenonida Brosas, Justice Undersecretary Leah Armamento, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos commissioner Edilwassif Baddiri, ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo, ARMM Social Welfare Secretary Pombaen Kader, ARMM treasurer Kanggo Umal, Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, and civil society representatives Fatmawati Salapuddin, Bainon Karon and Yasmin Busaran-Lao.

“The intention of the current Aquino administration is to move this process from dialogue on the table to implementation on the ground, so that we can use the remaining period of our term to ensure that commitments are delivered especially to the communities which have carried the heaviest burden of this conflict.  We do not want to turn over another unfinished business to the next administration.  It stops with us,” she said in a statement released to media by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The GPH and MNLF signed a peace agreement – the Tripoli Agreement — brokered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)  nearly 35 years ago,  on December 23, 1976. The peace pact provided for autonomy over 13 provinces and nine cities in Mindanao and Palawan but the agreement was not successfully implemented. The MNLF complained that the agreement contemplated a single autonomous region not the two regional autonomous governments that then President Ferdinand Marcos set up. The Marcos administration, then ruling under martial law, claimed the two regional governments were agreed upon by voters in the proposed areas of autonomy during a plebiscite.

By the late 1970s, what is now the MILF broke away from the MNLF, forming what was known then as the “new MNLF” but which was renamed MILF by the early 1980s.

When Corazon Aquino, the incumbent President’s mother, took over as President following the February “People Power” revolt in 1986, among the first things she did was to meet with MNLF chair Nur Misuari in Jolo, Sulu to offer the hand of peace, despite protests from her security advisers. She also sent her Local Governments Secretary to talk with the MILF.

No peace agreement was signed under the first Aquino administration but it was within her term when the 1987 Constitution, drafted by a Constitutional Commission, provided for the creation of regional autonomous governments in “Muslim Mindanao” and the Cordillera.  The MNLF and MILF boycotted the plebiscite ratifying the 1987 Constitution.

It was also during her term when the Regional Consultative Commission was set up, purportedly to draft the Organic Act for what would be the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but what was approved by Congress was what the drafters claimed was a “watered down” version.

From a supposed 13-province, nine-city autonomous region under the Tripoli Agreement, only four provinces voted for inclusion in the ARMM  in the November 1989 plebiscite: Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. Basilan and Marawi City would join the supposed expanded ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite.

The Final Peace Agreement (FPA), supposedly to implement the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, was negotiated and forged under the Ramos administration that succeeded the first Aquino administration. It was signed on September 2, 1996.

That Misuari would sign the agreement was expected. A month before signing it, Misuari had agreed to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of the ARMM. A full week after the signing of the agreement, Misuari, backed by the administration party, was elected governor. He ran unopposed.

Congress, however, took long in passing a law that would have incorporated the provisions of the 1996 peace agreement that required legislation, including expansion of the autonomous region, so Misuari continued to sit as governor on a holdover capacity, beyond his supposed three-year term that  would have ended on September 30, 1999.

Misuari stayed on holdover capacity until his arrest off Sabah in Malaysia a few days before the ARMM elections of November 2001, for alleged illegal entry. He left  for Sabah amid allegations he led a rebellion in Sulu and in Cabatangan, Zamboanga City. He was fetched in Malaysia by then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza, concurrent government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF, in January 2002.

In May 2006, shortly before the 10th anniversary of the peace agreement, the OIC sent a team to look into the implementation of the peace agreement. By then, what was the OIC’s Committee of the Four (countries) tasked to look into the “Southern Philippines Question” in the 1970s had expanded to Committee of the Six, then of the Eight by June 2000 to include Malaysia and Brunei, and to 11 countries in what is now known as Peace Commission for Southern Philippines.

The first tripartite meeting of the GPH, MNLF and OIC was held in November 2007 in Jeddah.
Last month, the GPH and MNLF drafted an amendatory bill for Republic Act 9054, “to make the ARMM law more reflective of the Moro sentiments,” the OPAPP press release said in January.

The OPAPP report said the joint legal panel headed by Nur Misuari for the MNLF and Justice Undersecretary Leah Armamento for the GPH, was able to “resolve majority of the 32 issues that surfaced, with only three items in which both sides have not reached common grounds. These include issues regarding area of autonomy; sharing of revenues between central government and regional government in strategic minerals; and transitional mechanism.”

The three items are also the subject of negotiation in the GPH-MILF peace process.
“We owe it to the people of Mindanao, and especially the Bangsamoro, to make up for the time lost on protracted processes by coming to terms with a more certain future – one that speaks about the interests at stake in less ambiguous terms, so that we can move forward once and for all.  I am praying for a dialogue that will be real – not just one that will make us feel good, but one where we can all be forthright in asking the hard questions.  And one such hard question is: If we are all so committed to peace as we declare ourselves to be, if we truly uphold the welfare of our people above our own personal interests as we say we do, then why are we still in the position where we are now?  The answer will be made by all of us in the next two days.  Needless to say, the future rests on our shoulders.  It is a heavy load to carry but it is part of our duty to be hopeful because, if we aren’t, then why are we still here?” Deles said.

MindaNews sought the OPAPP Media and the MNLF camp for a copy of Misuari’s opening statement but no copy has been made available.

“Let us continue to stand up and insist on staying the course, persist in drawing lessons for the future, in affirming capacities and hope, in celebrating faith and fortitude.  We come here with the trust of knowing that, in each of our hearts, peace has won,” Deles said.

She said the 1996 Final Peace Agreement ushered in “an era of hope.”

“Let us make that hope a reality,” she added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)