GPH, MILF: status quo unacceptable; will work for new political entity to replace ARMM

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/24 April) – Declaring that the “status quo is unacceptable,” the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels today agreed to work for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).

The agreement is contained in the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012” that the two panels signed today at 3:32 p.m. at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel,  their first major agreement in the 14-month peace negotiations under the Aquino administration.

For the first time, too, the Joint Statement usually issued at the end of the talks, described this round as having “ended on a high note.” The talks adjourned at 3:50 p.m. after the signing, the two parties agreeing to meet again in May.

Before the formal signing in the afternoon by peace panel chairs Marvic Leonen of the government (GPH) and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF,  the other panel members from both sides signed the two-page document on the margins of both pages  at 12:47 p.m., before breaking for lunch.

According to the signed document, the ten-point principles agreed upon will “further guide discussions on the substantive agenda of the negotiations,” foremost of which is the recognition of “Bangsamoro identity and the legitimate grievances and claims of the Bangsamoro people.”

The second to the fifth points raised the issue on the “unacceptable” status quo, referring to the 22-year old ARMM, the parties agreeing to work for the creation of the new autonomous political entity which will have a “ministerial form of government.”

The two parties also acknowledged the “need for a transition period and the institution of transitional mechanisms in order to implement the provisions of the agreement.”

In his closing statement, GPH peace panel chair Leonen said the signing of the agreement “marks a significant and concrete step forward by both Parties in their discussions of substantive issues in these negotiations.”

“For the GPH, this document is a preliminary listing of common points, which the Parties have mutually identified, coming from their respective initial positions: the MILF, from their February 2011 Revised Comprehensive Compact, and the GPH, from its 3-for-1 August 2011 proposal,” he said.

Leonen explained that the 10-point principles “are commitments that can be properly accommodated by our current legal and political realities.”

“It is clear that what the Parties are discussing are the parameters of meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro people, under a new autonomous political entity that can replace the current ARMM created under Republic Act No. 9054. The autonomous political entity envisioned is a secular political unit, existing within the Republic of the Philippines, located within its territory and subject to its sovereignty as a State,” he stressed.

“Please do not offer the ARMM”

MILF peace panel chair Iqbal’s opening statement was an appeal to the Philippine government: “please do not offer the ARMM or any similar entity to the MILF again, because we will reject it with the same intensity, as we have done before, in 2000, in 2001, in 2003, and in 2010. It is only a waste of time, energy –- and goodwill.”

“I do not want to say this, keeping in mind that until now out of respect and trust the MILF has never said unkind words to President Benigno Aquino III, but even the 3-for-1 proposal put forward by the government is in the category of an old formula that should not have been put forward if only to fast track the ongoing negotiation, as agreed by President Aquino and Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2011,” he said.

The MILF, he stressed, “cannot slide down anymore lower than our current proposal for the establishment of a substate for our people. To do so is not only to render the MILF irrelevant but would also lose its moral ascendancy to lead our people to live a decent life on the basis of principles of parity of esteem and equality of peoples.”

He said the totality of relationship between the Philippinestate and Moros, which he described as “one-sided against the latter,” must be altered “if we are to see real peace and development in Mindanao.”

He said the MILF “cannot and will never accept a ‘recooked’ ARMM even with all the spices and ingredients to make it palatable to the MILF,” adding the ARMM is “merely an administrative unit of government, weaker than provinces or cities.”

The MILF panel handed over its draft peace agreement in February last year while the government handed its “3 for 1” proposed peace formula on August 22 last year, 18 days after Aquino and Murad agreed to “fast-track” the peace process.

The MILF proposed a “Bangsamoro sub-state” that it defined as “less than independence but more than autonomy,”  or more specifically, more than the present ARMM which it has criticized to be autonomous in name only.

The government’s “3 for one” formula involves “massive economic development; political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.”

The MILF panel rejected the proposal, prompting Leonen to say “we reject your rejection.”

Iqbal said the gap between their proposals was “heaven and earth.”  Leonen said “it depends on who is looking at this gap, and on what prism or what filter to use.. of course from our perspective we think it is very workable. This gap is very workable. In other words, it is not too far apart.”

The talks went on an impasse after that with the two parties resuming talks only in December after the Malaysian facilitator shuttled between the panels to narrow the gap.

The panels had been meeting monthly since December 2011.

Power and wealth-sharing

The sixth point in the list of agreed principles focused on power-sharing and wealth-sharing between the national government and the new political entity, with the following matters reserved for the competence of the national government: defense and external security, foreign policy, coinage and monetary policy, citizenship and naturalization, postal service; common market and global trade although it added a footnote that the power to enter into economic agreements already allowed under RA 9054 “shall be transferred to the new political entity.”

RA 9054 amended RA 6734, the Organic Act that created the ARMM.

The list of reserved powers is “without prejudice to other powers, which the Parties may agree to reserve to the National Government in the course of the negotiation.”

The seventh point is an agreement that wealth creation or revenue generation and sourcing is important and that both parties “also acknowledge the power of the new political entity to create its own sources of revenue, subject to limitations as may be mutually agreed upon by the parties, and to have a just share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development or utilization of natural resources.”

The eight point noted that the parties recognize the need to strengthen the Shari’ah courts and to expand their jurisdiction over cases and that the new political entity shall also have competence over the Shariah justice system.

Under Point 9, the parties agreed to the creation of third party monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, which may utilize competencies already available in existing mechanism such as the International Contact Group (ICG), International Monitoring Team (IMT) and Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

The tenth point notes that in addition to basic rights already enjoyed, the parties listed 12 more rights of all citizens residing in the new political entity that bind the legislature, executive and judiciary as directly enforceable law and are guaranteed.”

These are the rights to life and to inviolability of one’s person and dignity; to freedom and expression of religion and beliefs; to privacy; to freedom of speech; to express political opinion and pursue democratically political aspirations; to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means; the right of women to meaningful political participation, and protection from all forms of violence; the right to freely choose one’s place of residence and the inviolability of the home; to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in social and

economic activity and public service, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity; to  establish cultural and religious associations; to freedom from religious, ethnic and sectarian harassment; and to redress of grievances and due process of law. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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