KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/01 June) – While members of the government panel were busy watching the Senate verdict on Chief Justice Corona via live streaming at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel here Tuesday afternoon, a historic meeting was unfolding inside one of two holding rooms of the 220-square meter function room — between the five-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel and the governors of the five-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“It was highly educational and informative,” Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali said of the meeting from 3:40 to 5:45 p.m.
The five ARMM governors – Sahali, Basilan’s Jum Akbar, Lanao del Sur’s Mamintal Adiong, Jr., Maguindanao’s Esmael Mangudadatu and Sulu’s Abdusakur Tan are here to attend the peace negotiations as observers and consultants.
In the 38-year talks with the Moro liberation fronts, this is the first time incumbent governors have been invited as observers and afforded the chance, albeit briefly, to get a glimpse of how the negotiations are conducted.
Also, in the 22-year old ARMM, the Tuesday meeting was the first time governors of the ARMM sat down and discussed with the full panel of the MILF.
Sahali said the flow of conversation in the ARMM Governors-MILF meeting was “maganda” (good) and “magtulungan kami” (we’ll help each other). He said he told the MILF, “we’re not here to be an obstacle. We’re here to support the peace process. And to be instruments of unity.”
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan made a similar statement. “Maganda naman ang usapan namin. Matagal na kami pagod sa gyera. Ayaw namin ng gyera” (The discussion was good. We have long been tired of war. We don’t like war), he told MindaNews.
“Hindi kami obstructionists,” (we are not obstructionists), Tan stressed. But he explained that what they want is “kung ano ang legal, kung ano ang constitutional. Kung kailangan legislation” (what is legal, what is constitutional and if it requires legislation).
Tan was referring to the transition from the ARMM to the “new autonomous political entity.”
The two panels signed last month the first major agreement under the Aquino administration: the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012.”
Among the decision points is that the status quo is “unacceptable” and that the two panels “will work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity in place of ARMM.”
Adiong said he hopes the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will be “together.”
Tan said the parliamentary system the MILF proposes for the “new autonomous political entity” is “okay lang yan kung papasa yan. Ile-legislate pa yan” (that’s okay if it passes. That has to be legislated.” Tan was a former representative to Congress.
Tan and Adiong said under the present set-up, the provinces outside the ARMM are “more autonomous.”
“Our powers are clipped,” he said, adding their powers to appoint and transfer officials, among others, is “limited to the capitol employees” because the appointing authority is the regional governor.
Adiong said the matter of choosing provincial directors is also with the regional level.
“Sila ang pinapakinggan kasi sila ang appointing authority,” Tan said.
Tan has been vocal in wanting out of the ARMM.
From “tiger” to “smiling face”
Sahali, who sat with Akbar as observer in the closed door peace negotiations from 11:10 a.m. to 12:20 on Wednesday, found the MILF’s presentation of their wealth-sharing proposal as “maganda” (good).
“Okay naman,” Akbar said.
Sahali repeated “maganda” four times in describing the presentation, done in Powerpoint by MILF senior peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura,
“Nasa mood si Mike” (Mike was in the mood), Sahali said, laughing.
“Smiling face siya nag-present,” (he had a smiling face when he presented), adding, “panay banggit sa amin, tingin sa amin” (he kept mentioning us, looking at us).
“Di na katulad non na para siyang tigre” (unlike before when he was like a tiger), Sahali said, apparently referring to the first encounter between the ARMM governors and some members of the MILF peace panel during the Consolidation for Peace in Mindanao conference in Penang, Malaysia in January.
There was not enough time for the two parties to really sit down and discuss the MILF proposal in Penang but in that conference, the governors, particularly Tan, reacted to Mastura’s raised voice. After the forum, however, Tan and Mastura, former colleagues at the House of Representatives years ago, embraced each other.
“Ngayon okay siya. He’s good He’s improving. Improved a lot,” Sahali said of Mastura.
Sahali said not all questions were answered in Tuesday’s meeting. He said he asked the MILF, “if you really want unity (among Muslims), lay down your cards on the table.”
“They talked about transition. We don’t know yet kung anong gusto nila sa transition,” he said.
Mastura was overheard by those watching the Senate verdict as having said “the totality of relations,” apparently explaining to the governors what they meant by “status quo is unacceptable.”
MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal had repeatedly said the MILF should be in the driver’s seat in the transition because they negotiated the agreement.
In Penang, the governors reacted to this statement, with Tan saying he doesn’t want to be a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone whose skills have not been tested.
Sahali said in Tuesday’s meeting with the full panel of the MLF, that he noticed “parang milder ang kanilang ano ngayon. Hindi na masyado inemphasize nila na sila ang talagang (nasa drivers’ seat)” (their position is milder now. They did not anymore emphasize that they will be on the driver’s seat).
But Sahali said the elections in the ARMM should proceed next year because “kung ang power na hinihingi nila mga six years, seven years matagal ata masyado” (if the power they are asking for will take six to seven years, that’s too long).
Asked if a shorter period is acceptable, Sahali replied:“Just enough for them to follow through their (plans).”
“Wala namang masama doon. Tapos hindi naman sila lahat ang mag kuwan dyan meron ding mga magagandang lalaki na hindi kasali sa MI na pwedeng kasabay kaya nga tawagin natin power sharing” (There’s nothing wrong there. Besides, they’re not the only ones who will govern. There are others who are not part of the MILF who can be part of the transition team. That’s why we call this power-sharing),” Sahali added.
Iqbal in his opening statement on Tuesday said the role of the MILF in the transition government is “very brief and it is not alone in the implementation. In partnership with the government, it sets the house in order and after which, it will be free for all.”
“It is time to test the mettle of the MILF, whether it can rise to the occasion and deliver or it is just another corrupt group that when empowered will do exactly the thing they disdained. The politicians have been in the helm of government ever since and what did they do to improve the lot of our people? The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was installed in power in 1996 and what did they prove? Did they make any difference in the lives of our people? Just look around in the Moro areas and one will get the answers to this question,” Iqbal said.
But he quickly added he cannot fault the politicians and the MNLF. “Perhaps, they can only be faulted for joining a system that they have no chance of correcting. Whoever joins it without a provision for a level playing field of engagement will be subsumed and finds advocating the same corrupt practices. Or they will be cast aside as casualties of the system. For the MILF, a revolutionary Islamic movement, the best way to fight a dysfunctional system is not to enjoy it — but to present an alternative but superior system and assert it until it becomes a reality.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)