Fr. Mercado to GPH peace panel: Abandon the “3 for 1” formula

 COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/01 April) —  The executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG)  here wants the government peace panel  (GPH) to abandon the “3 for 1” formula it proposed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), claiming it is merely a formula to reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“’Three for one’ is not a formula for peace agreement but a formula to reform ARMM,” Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., told a workshop on “Building the Bridge: ARMM to RSD (Right to Self-Determination)”  Thursday afternoon.

Judge Soliman Santos, on the other hand, told a roundtable forum at the Ateneo de Davao University on Wednesday that the GPH panel “should not just think of the current PNoy (President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino) administration and its doables or what it can do up to 2016; it should think also of leaving a more strategic legacy beyond that,” adding, “it is the centuries-old Bangsamoro problem that we are solving here, not just its fate under PNoy.”

Mercado said the GPH’s “3 for 1” peace proposal should be abandoned and given to Mujiv (OIC ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman)” for him to implement because “anyway these are deliverables even without negotiation.”

GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen declined to comment on Mercado’s proposal for them to abandon the formula.

The “3 for one” formula offered by government to the MILF in August last year involves  massive economic development;  political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.

The MILF peace panel, however, rejected the proposal and the Malaysian facilitator of the talks shuttled between the panels in September and October before the panels formally sat down again in December to narrow the gap between what the MILF described in August as “heaven and earth”

Mercado that in abandoning the “3 for 1” formula, the GPH can address the core issues of the MILF “without immediate charter change.”

He said a Bangsamoro Basic Law Commission can be created “wherein stakeholders of the Bangamoro come together and shape the basic law” but added Congress must be “faithful to what is crafted” by the Commission.

Camilo “Bong” Montesa, who served for five years as legal and strategy advisor of the GPH panel, said, “I think the key is guarantee. There must be a device on the table that would assure the MILF that the Philippine government cannot unilaterally undo.”

Santos, who has written several books on the Bangsamoro peace process,  told the roundtable forum in Davao City that GPH  panel is constrained by its mandate to negotiate only within the existing constitutional framework. “It is not allowed to think outside the box to solve the Bangsamoro problem, which is actually contrary to the guidance in the Supreme Court decision on the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain).”

He said what the Supreme Court did not allow was clear: “that the peace panel cannot usurp constituent powers regarding constitutional changes or even legislative changes by promising or commitment to the negotiating partner certain changes in the existing legal frameworks.”

He said the panel should “not just think of the PNoy administration and its doables, or what it can do up to 2016. I think it should also think of leaving a more strategic legacy beyond that because it is the ages-old Bangsamoro problem that we are solving here, not just its fate under PNoy.”

Santos said the MILF on the other hand is in a dilemma on whether to engage or not engage the ARMM reform.

Engaging, he said, would mean ensuring a viable transition, reunity with MNFL and gaining  governance experience. Not engaging, he said, is avoiding cooptation and avoiding legitimization of  the ARMM structure that the MILF has repeatedly said is not the solution to the problem.

But Santos said there are “weightier reasons for MILF to engage rather than not to engage ARMM reform but the premise of this, as part of the convergence, is there is a strategic direction to this, to ARMM reforms, not just simple reforming or improving governance, solving corruption, more delivery of basic services,  but solving the Bangsamoro problem. In the legal, constitutional aspect, addressing the Bangsamoro aspirations for  genuine, better self-rule that right now is being articulated through that sub-state proposal.”

“There are things that can be gained by MILF engagement in the GPH convergence framework such as infusing their own inputs into this convergence especially laying the ground for a viable transition to the longer term sub-state, in the process reunifying with the MNLF, gaining valuable experience,” he said.

He said the short-term, tactical challenges ist he convergence of the three strands – ARMM reform, GPH-MNLF peace pact implementation review and GPH-MILF peace negotiations – whereby all there are served through executive and legislative action. The long-term, strategic challenges, he said, is a “qualitatively higher and better autonomy, ultimately a constitutional amendment.”

Santos said the role for civil society, for lawyers and law students is that they can “assist with their better sense of local (Filipino and Moro) culture and better familiarity with Philippine jurisprudence and peace processes.”

He said these groups “can serve as cultural interpreters” to both panels. “May mga di naintindihan ng GPH sa MILF and vice versa and I think local civil society actors more than international advisors can serve that role of  cultural interpreters.”

Warina Jukuy, a civil society representative from Sulu, likened the peace talks from the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 to the present as an “eternal cha cha. Two steps forward, two steps backward.”

“While waiting for cha cha to end – the national dance should be cha cha – I opt for something vey easy but hard to do: destroy political parties and oligarchs,” adding that for as long as they are around, there will always be a “systemic failure” and “ matuwid na landas will never come to be.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)