March 29, 2012


If peace could be won through press releases and other public announcements, the Bangsamoro should be exercising their right to self-determination and enjoying genuine autonomy by now.

The Government of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) 26th formal exploratory peace talks ended last March 21 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Joint Statement did not say much except that the two sides continued to discuss “substantive issues” and had agreed to an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) representative to sit as an observer in the talks.

Contrary to perceptions that the GPH-MILF talks are moving forward (fanned by government propaganda claiming “peace” is in the offing) it has not gone anywhere far with Aquino going on two years in office. In fact it is lagging far behind the government’s self-imposed deadline of March 2012 for signing a “comprehensive settlement” with the Moro liberation movement.

The much-publicized meeting between GPH President Aquino and MILF Chair Murad boosted hopes that the resolution of the armed conflict is at hand with statements signifying common understanding of the roots of the conflict, capped with the agreement and resolve to fast-track the negotiations.

Eight months and several exploratory talks later, GPH announces that talks are now on substantive issues, with procedural ones settled. This may sound positive and upbeat to the uninformed but senseless at best and even deceptive to those who are closely following the developments in this front.

GPH statements appear oblivious to substantive talks and agreements inked under previous administrations. Unfortunately this amnesia extends to GPH proposals and counterproposals to the MILF draft “Comprehensive Compact Proposal” proffered as early as February 2011.

The “3-in-1” moniker for the GPH proposal in response to the MILF draft essentially offers the following “doables”: (1) a joint committee to oversee socio-economic development; (2) 9-person Bangsa-Moro Commission - 3 from GPH, 3 from MILF and 3 jointly nominated - termed the "convergence" formula and (3) joint rewriting of Moro history to correct historical injustices.

In review, after the disastrous “all-out war” policy of the Estrada administration, the GPH-MILF peace negotiations were resumed under the Arroyo regime. In the landmark 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace, the substantive agenda of the talks was agreed upon, specifying three key issues termed “aspects”: Security, Rehabilitation and Ancestral Domain.

Agreements were ironed out on the first two aspects resulting in a ceasefire and mechanisms for implementing this (although this did not prevent continuing armed clashes between the armed forces of the two parties) and the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Authority.

The Ancestral Domain aspect was divided during subsequent negotiations into what was termed four “strands” -- Concepts and Principles, Territory, Resources and Governance. Negotiations on this last remaining “aspect” of the substantive agenda culminated in the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Contrary to its official pronouncements and posturing, GPH is currently attempting to nullify on the negotiating table previously-inked agreements with the MILF – including what constitutes the substantive agenda -- and totally ignores the spirit and substance of MOA-AD which the Arroyo government reneged on at the eve of its signing.

In truth and in fact, the Ancestral Domain Aspect is the core of the political settlement past Philippine governments and the MILF had agreed to negotiate to end the armed conflict. In this the Bangsamoro people determine their own political set-up, i.e. government.

The MILF has gone to great lengths to find a formula for self-rule short of secession and independence, one that essentially and substantially grants them their right to self determination through a negotiated political settlement.

From the concept of a Bangsamoro Juridical Authority which the GPH unceremoniously torpedoed along with the MOA-AD already initialled by the chief negotiators of both panels, the MILF shifted to a “substate” in a so-called “asymmetrical relationship” which would appear to give a more explicit recognition of being still part of and subordinate to the central GPH state but exercising genuine autonomy.

But even this is unacceptable to the GPH, which for all intents and purposes is adamant over asserting central governance over whatever Bangsamoro entity may be formed. Instead of the "substate", GPH proposes a "reformed ARMM" in “partnership” with GPH and other concerned sectors (including remnants of the moribund MNLF) that is basically a cooptation of the MILF.

The official and legal excuse for the backtracking is that the GPH is bound by its Constitution in its duty to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words the GPH is sticking rigidly to its constitution as the framework for the peace negotiations.

GPH feigns ignorance of the historical fact that the MILF arose out of the dispute within the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari on whether to accept the 1976 Tripoli peace agreement with the GRP (the old term for GPH) framed upon the GRP Constitution.

After Hashim Salamat and others bolted out of the MNLF and formed the MILF, Misuari subsequently agreed to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and became the first governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that was a far cry from the self-determination the Moro people had been clamoring for. The ARMM has also been adjudged by independent quarters and even by the GPH as a failure no matter how one looks at it.

On the other hand, MILF strength grew by leaps and bounds as former MNLF Vice Chair then MILF Chair Hashim Salamat was proven correct in his refusal to subsume the Moro liberation movement to the constitutional and legal framework of the government it had been waging war against for decades.

The 1976 and 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreements dismally failed to bring peace to the Moro people precisely because these continued to deny them their right to self-determination, the very root of the armed conflict. It is apparent that the GPH with Aquino at its helm is trying to lure the MILF into a repeat of the mistakes of the MNLF in the 80s and 90s.

To paraphrase one MILF senior official who put it bluntly, the MILF is not naive, nor is it ignorant about the lessons of history. Neither are its leaders interested in elective or appointive positions in a “reformed ARMM” that are being dangled to them as bait. In this light, the GPH proposal to jointly rewrite Moro history "to correct historical injustices" is laughable and ridiculous, if it were not so insensitive and callous.

The MILF is negotiating in earnest to solve the Bangsamoro problem, i.e. to attain the aspirations for self-determination of a people who it lays legitimate claim to representing because it has led them in armed struggle to achieve those aims. It is not about to surrender either on the negotiating table or in the battlefield.

In sum, as MILF Chief Negotiator Iqbal pointed out, “The GPH draft (counter-proposal) has no meeting point with the MILF peace panel draft; hence, will not fast track the negotiation....(It) is not solving the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao but it is a formula to prolong it.”

So much for the Aquino government’s much ballyhooed claims to being near the achievement of “peace” in Muslim Mindanao, much less a just and lasting peace.

Published in Business World
30 March- 31 March 2012


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