Civil society to GPH, MILF peace panels: use both drafts to develop working draft

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 September) – Civil society in Mindanao is asking the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels
to develop a working draft from the two draft proposals currently on the table because “what is lacking in one draft can be filled in by the contents of the other draft.”

“The issue on which draft will be used as a working draft is for us irrelevant and counter-productive.  Why not use both drafts and from there develop the working draft together?  What is lacking in one draft can be filled in by the contents of the other draft and vice-versa,” delegates to the 2nd National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao (NSCM2) on September 8 to 9 said in its conference statement released Wednesday.

“This may sound too simplistic but as it stands now, there are two proposals on the table and both are not diametrically opposed but could actually feed on some gaps that each proposal may be found wanting.  For instance, as the two proposals stand, it cannot simply be a choice between  political solution or socio-economic development.  Both proposals can go together and will be mutually beneficial,” the NSCM2 statement read.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal had earlier described the gap between their proposed peace settlement and the government panel’s as “between heaven and earth” while government (GPH) peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said it was “not too far apart.”

The conference, convened by the Bishops-Ulama Conference, Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, Mindanao Peoples Caucus, Mindanao Solidarity Network, International Alert and Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, tackled the theme, “The GPH-MILF Peace Talks: Finding the Common Ground.”

The NSCM2 statement noted the August 4 agreement between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to fast-track negotiations and urged both parties to “stop posturing or competing with each other’s intellectual prowess and superiority in terms of strategies and tactics in negotiation”  but “lay down the cards on the table, roll the sleeves up and start the work of honest, discerning and determined negotiations” that would consider what they listed as seven peace outcomes.

Peace outcomes

These are: “address the aspiration of the Bangsamoro people for self-governance in accordance with their distinct identity, culture, religion and way of life; correct the imbalance of totality of relationship between Filipinos and Moros; give due recognition and justice to the ancestral homeland of the Moros;  deliver good and effective governance, social services and foster economic development as soon as possible; recognize the Moro aspiration for separate national identity while retaining their Filipino citizenship; demilitarize, rehabilitate and normalize the situation in the conflict-affected areas; Filipinos and Moros share the fruits of peace and become partners in development.”

The delegates said they agree with Murad’s statement that “contentious and divisive issues in the peace negotiations can be resolved if both government and the MILF panels treat each other as partners instead of adversaries.”

They stressed that the peace negotiations have spanned four administrations since President Fidel Ramos and they are confident that both parties “will not squander the long years of past negotiations by starting from scratch.”

“It is prudent and wise that the peace panels build and harness the gains of the negotiations by closely working on the consensus points as building blocks for a negotiated political settlement,” the statement read.

To the government panel, the delegates said they feel that it has “not yet fully laid down its cards” and that it would save a lot of time and energies if it “will be able to respond squarely to the proposals of the MILF.”

“Having described its proposal as the starting point, it will be more productive and honestly different, if GPH lays down its proposal not only from the starting point but also up to the ending point in order to spare the parties from what could be an unnecessary guessing game,” the statement read.

To the MILF panel, the delegates said they feel that “the act of rejecting outright the proposal of the government was not faithful to the mutual understanding of the principals to fast-track the negotiations.” They urged the MILF to “return to the negotiating table without pre-condition, extend the hand of dialogue and move heaven and earth in order to fulfill the political aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.  It is by talking and negotiating that we are able to narrow the gaps of the two proposals at hand.”

Procedural, psychological, substantive

The delegates said finding the common ground to move forward has not been easy for the NSCM2 because both drafts have remained confidential but “we believe that in order to find the common ground, it is imperative for both parties to address some procedural, psychological and substantive issues that impede the way towards the common ground.”

On the psychological aspect, the delegates said it is important to increase confidence-building measures and “cultivate the real essence of partnership that both the GPH and the MILF are proposing.”

“Accusations and counter-accusations will not help the seeming deadlock of positions,” the statement read, adding that the call of the day as suggested by the Bangsamoro civil society is: “Talk to each other instead of talking about each other in the media.”

“This applies also to statements posted on social networking sites which spread like virus and are prone to misinterpretation and agitation,” the statement read.

The delegates also said “pounding the rido problem” on the MILF “like it is a conditio sine qua non to negotiated political settlement does not improve the call to develop genuine partnership.”

The government peace panel has repeatedly mentioned the cases of rido between MILF commanders that have caused mass displacements while there has been no record of skirmishes between government and MILF forces.

“ We believe that the peace mechanisms on the ground such as the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the International Monitoring Team are much more effective and competent to deal with the ground issues while the peace panels focus their attention on bridging the substantive gaps of the proposals at hand,” the statement read.

On the procedural issues, the delegates said the drafts of both panels should be sued to develop the working draft together.

The delegates  reminded the GPH panel to “activate its Advisory Team especially those coming from the House of Congress and Senate and the Judiciary, so that the other branches of government will already be on board and will hopefully cooperate in the eventual legitimatization process of the peace agreement.”

On the substantive issues, the delegates said the government’s proposed Bangsamoro Commission “may be further developed and negotiated to address the task of “legalizing the peace agreement.”

The GPH proposal said the Commission, to be composed of 1/3 MILF, 1/3 government and the remaining third other stakeholders as agreed upon by both is expected to “supervise the implementation of the components of this peace agreement which will include the lobby on Congress of the new organic act that will campaign strengthened autonomy in that area.”

The delegates acknowledged that there are proposals on the table “that cannot pass the test of constitutionality, thus requiring possible amendments of the present constitution” and noted that representation in the Bangsamoro Commission as proposed by the GPH “can be improved by ensuring that it will be led and determined by the Bangsamoro people taking into account participation in terms of gender, ethnic nationalities within Bangsamoro nation and sectoral interests.”

Return to the nego table

The delegates recommended that the parties “immediately return to the negotiating table and tackle the Draft MILF Comprehensive Compact and the GPH Three-for-One Solution with the end in view of bringing together provisions of the two proposals that are mutually acceptable to the parties” and continue the efforts until they arrive at a mutually acceptable working draft.

They also recommended that “instead of debating what will be the name of the governing political entity – whether it will be a substate or a new, improved and reformed ARMM or ‘autonomy  in brackets’ as described by the GPH panel,” the parties should instead focus on “putting flesh and substance to the governance structure that will be suitable and acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.”

“The parties do not have to start from scratch here because the Draft Comprehensive Compact of the MILF has a very concrete proposal which can be further enhanced and reframed in a manner that can be easily understood by the layman,” they said, adding that acknowledging the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples in Mindanao, as proposed by the GPH,” is a very important element for healing and reconciliation.”

The delegates also warned against a repeat of the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement  (MOA-AD) of  2008 which was declared unconstitutional partly because of alleged lack of  consultation, by reiterating the NSCM’s recommendation last year for the setting-up of a  “regular feedback mechanism and public consultations that should be institutionalized in the  local government units, national government agencies, including the legislative and judicial  branches  of government.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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