April 20, 2015

The peace talks fallout after Mamasapano

Things haven’t been looking good on the peace front after the Mamasapano fiasco.  The GPH-MILF peace process suffered a direct hit and now the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is floundering in Congress.   The same is true for the GPH-NDFP negotiations.  While formal talks have been stalled since the middle of 2011, a breakthrough was in the offing early this year.  That is, until the January 25 firefight between the Special Action Forces (SAF) and the armed wing of the MILF (as well as the latter’s breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters or BIFF) dashed all hopes for some positive development in the peace negotiations for the remainder of the Aquino presidency.

The holding of the “National Peace Summit” last week by a network of four of the most consistent and persistent peace advocates’ alliances was thus a hopeful sign in an otherwise bleak horizon.  The Citizens Alliance for Just Peace (CAJP) brings together the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the Pilgrims for Peace, Sulong CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law) and Waging Peace.  CAJP is  distinctive for having brought together groups from varied political persuasions.  While specifically geared towards giving moral and political support for earnest negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP, CAJP’s individual organizations have also been closely monitoring and supporting the GPH-MILF talks. 

In their summit statement, the group deplored the “outburst of anti-Moro bias” and rejected the call for “all-out war” in the wake of the Mamasapano incident.  They appealed to all concerned to learn important lessons from the fallout, surmount obstacles, set the process back on track and pursue the peace process with even greater resolve.

CAJP asserted, “Both the GPH-MILF & the GPH-NDFP peace talks can only lead to genuine and lasting peace if they lead to reforms that  address the root causes of the armed conflict. In the GPH-MILF process this means upholding the Bangsamoro right to self-determination and rectifying and giving redress to the centuries-old oppression & exploitation of the Moro people."

In truth, the GPH-MILF peace process is at its lowest point today even when compared to 2008 when the  GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was scuttled due to the Supreme Court decision that is unconstitutional.   Adverse public opinion then was largely informed by the deep anti-Moro prejudice among the majority Christian population and fanned by economic and political vested interests in Mindanao opposed to a Bangsamoro homeland. 

The MOA-AD negotiated by the MILF with the GPH under the Arroyo administration was unsalvageable because of the degree of political isolation suffered by the Arroyo regime.  President Gloria Arroyo was widely suspected of riding on the call for amendments to the Philippine Constitution as a consequence of the MOA-AD in order to sneak in an amendment that would allow her to extend her term of office.  

It was further complicated by the US role in shepherding the MOA-AD and taking an inordinate role in the GPH-MILF peace talks leading some quarters to accuse the US of wanting to bring about the pacification in Muslim Mindanao in order to push its economic and politico-military agenda unimpeded. 

The dooming of the MOA-AD led to a split in the MILF camp with the more militant forces emerging under the umbrella of the BIFF The BIFF undertook  military offensives versus the Armed Forces of the Philippines that led to hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the renewed fighting.

In the wake of the Mamasapano debacle of the Aquino administration, the situation is far worse for the GPH-MILF peace process.   Anti-Moro prejudice has been unleashed by the huge numbers of SAF commandoes killed (never mind that many Moro fighters and civilians were also killed).  Charges of MILF brutality and violations of International Humanitarian Law are rife in light of videos showing the seeming execution of wounded SAF unable to fight back and the stripping of the SAF men’s uniforms and personal effects apart from their weapons. 

There is the mistaken notion drummed in by some vocal legislators and amplified by other opinion makers equally biased or ignorant (or both) that the ceasefire between the GPH and the MILF together with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is tantamount to the end of hostilities between the two.  There is the wrong expectation that the MILF, in effect, has already demobilized.

But what really have helped put the peace process in extreme jeopardy are these: the obfuscation of the fact that the GPH had indeed violated the ceasefire and had provoked the firefight with the Moro fighters;  the obfuscation of the fact that the ill-fated Marwan operation was also due to the lack of necessary coordination with the AFP for back-up and the apparent command to restrain use of AFP artillery fire leading to greater casualties on GPH side; the propensity to blame the MILF for the bloody firefight in order to shield President Aquino from accountability and blunt calls for his resignation.

The Aquino regime was supposed to be in the last stages of the peace process with the MILF. But Aquino’s vastly diminished political capital (despite his intact presidential pork barrel to be given to cooperative members of Congress) is no longer enough to get Congress to pass Malacanang BBL without drastic changes. 

Widespread anti-Moro sentiments have become the political platform of hard-line anti-Moro, anti-MILF and anti-BBL forces to bring about the rejection of the Aquino diluted version of the BBL or, with the acquiescence of erstwhile pro-BBL Aquino allies,  the passage of far more diluted version of the BBL that will be no better than the old ARMM that Aquino declared to be a “failed experiment”.  Aquino is amenable to “any BBL” and he gambles the MILF will go along with him.

The BBL has come under scrutiny revealing not just constitutional infirmities but what critics claim are unwarranted accommodations such as tens of billions of GPH funding support for the Bangsamoro entity and a larger sharing agreement on income from natural resources than what the ARMM had enjoyed. 

There are also legitimate concerns from pro-people and nationalist quarters that the BBL will only facilitate the unbridled exploitation of resources in Muslim Mindanao;  further facilitate the entry of US troops, war materiel and overt and covert operations; and, due to the big role of Malaysia in brokering the talks, the further abandonment of the country’s legitimate claim to Sabah.

On the other hand, the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, after a seemingly auspicious beginning when resumed in February 2011, sputtered over the issue of the release of NDFP consultants covered by safety guarantees.  It finally ground to a halt in April 2013 with GPH Panel head Padilla and OPAPP Chief Deles announcing that the GPH would no longer pursue either the “regular” or “special” tracks of the talks.

Only extraordinary efforts by some government emissaries to jumpstart the talks in 2014 resulted to the possibility of formal resumption the first quarter of 2015.  But with the political crisis generated by the Mamasapano disaster, it has come to pass that the much anticipated breakthrough in the GPH-NDFP peace talks is once again stillborn.  #

Published in Business World
20 April 2015


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