October 11, 2012

Promising Agreement?

If one were to believe President Noynoy Aquino, an era of peace and prosperity is dawning in Muslim Mindanao, with the Bangsa Moro finally enjoying full autonomy under the sovereignty of the Philippine government (GPH) and within the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

“This agreement creates a new political entity,” Mr. Aquino declared at the announcement of the formal signing of the Joint GPH-MILF Framework Agreement, “and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.”

The ink had hardly dried on the Joint GPH-MILF Framework Agreement when other government personalities and spokespersons hailed the end of civil strife in the southern islands, especially in the areas conceded to be MILF strongholds, augured not so much by the silencing of the guns and the realization of Bangsa Moro self-determination but by the purported rush of foreign investments ready to pour into these areas ostensibly for the economic development that the Bangsa Moro have for so long been deprived.

While both GPH and MILF hail the Framework Agreement as a major breakthrough and substantial advance in the talks, MILF statements have been relatively more guarded.  The latter stress the fact that while the Framework Agreement  sets mutually acceptable general parameters for negotiating a final political settlement, further and no less difficult negotiations must be made to flesh out the details of principles which appear on paper to be commonly held and to resolve contentious issues that have for the moment been set aside.

The MILF, in the editorial of its official Central Committee website, describes the Framework Agreement as “a template for real self-rule for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao. It is a solid document, short of the ideal option providing for an independent state…   As a consequence of the signing of this Agreement, a new engagement between the MILF and the GPH will emerge.  If in the past, their relationship had been characterized by mistrust, animosity, and confrontation, this time it will gradually undergo dramatic changes for a more collaborative approach. The progress might not be too fast because it is tied up with how they comply with the provisions of their Agreement and how they settle the remaining issues which will be contained in annexes.”

Perhaps a more realistic appraisal of what the Framework Agreement represents and who, from the GPH viewpoint,  really gained more from the agreement is the GPH chief negotiator’s reported statement that, “They (MILF) changed their positions; we conceded a lot of language.”

This is not an idle boast or off-guard remark reflecting government’s euphoria over the feat, but a clear message to all and sundry, especially to those who benefit from and are protective of the status quo, that the Framework Agreement will not, repeat, will not, grant to the Bangsa Moro a state or substate, or the kind of autonomy in whatever form that the MILF had initially and over the last 15 years demanded and negotiated for.

Recall that the MILF had, from the beginning of peace negotiations with the GPH in 1997, bent backwards in good faith by agreeing to set aside their call for independence and secession and work instead for some "new model" of autonomy that would allow the Bangsamoro to exercise their right to self determination short of establishing a new state.

In 2008 the Philippine Supreme Court shot down the Bangsa Moro Juridical Authority (BJA) as the new autonomous political entity that would govern the Bangsa Moro, along with the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-Ad) as “unconstitutional”.  The MILF, undaunted, persisted in crafting a proposal for a "substate" in an “asymmetrical” relationship with the “central government” which the GPH might be persuaded to agree to albeit would certainly require amendments to the GPH Constitution.

Why is the MILF insistent on a “substate” related to the central government “asymmetrically”, in a “federal” and not a “unitary” system of government and with a parliamentary or “ministerial” system?  Is it because the MILF has done its homework and it knows from the experience of other people’s fighting for their right to self-determination that this arrangement is the only assurance that the autonomy the Bangsa Moro will enjoy will be authentic.  That is, the new autonomous entity will not be a dependency of the Manila government subject to its arbitrary and unilateral decisions, as well as to the vagaries of changes in administration, nor prey to the impositions of the economic, political and socio-cultural forces controlling such a government?

In the Framework Agreement there is a clear-cut rejection of the “status quo” with the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to be replaced by the new entity, the Bangsamoro.  There is agreement that the form of government will be “ministerial” and that this will have an “asymmetric” relationship with the “central government” but the details or implications of what this means is unelaborated.  There is no mention of a “substate”.

Here we see an example of conceding language but not essence: the GPH’s apparent retreat from its former position of retaining, building on and improving the ARMM as the form of Bangsamoro self-government.  Aquino himself piously admits in his speech heralding the Framework Agreement that the ARMM is a “failed experiment”.

What is swept under the rug is the long-held MILF position that the basic and fatal flaw of the ARMM is that it was initially created and run totally in accordance with the GPH’s constitutional and legal processes, and remained under the control of the GPH, even as it was eventually “transformed” as a result of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Accord, into the Bangsa Moro’s “genuinely” autonomous government.

Then MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat observed after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement: “The agreement considered side issues only and never touched the core of the Bangsamoro problem which is the illegal and immoral usurpation of their ancestral homeland and the barbarous usurpation of their legitimate rights to freedom and self-determination... (Moroever) the agreement is devoid of justice and freedom for the Bangsamoro people and peace without justice and freedom for the aggrieved party is another form of colonial suppression.”

Succeeding events proved Mr. Salamat correct.  It was not Misuari that caused the failure of ARMM and the 1996 FPA; rather, the 1996 FPA and ARMM doomed Misuari and the MNLF to fail.  Guided by and firmly adhering to this view, the MILF has consistently steered away from this constitutional framework trap in peace negotiations with the GRP/GPH since 1997.

Unfortunately, under the Framework Agreement there is little ambiguity in the requirement that Congress shall legislate the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro in order to pave the way for a plebiscite that will ratify it.  In fact the draft of that law is still to be negotiated in the Transition Commission that will be created by the GPH president, with only a slim majority of eight out of fifteen members to be designated by the MILF.

A possibly more crucial example of where the MILF had adjusted its position while the GPH merely adjusted its language is on "normalization" where the GPH has successfully incorporated its program for DDR (disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation or reintegration) sans the controversial term into the Framework Agreement.

GPH Chief negotiator Leonen minces no words when he underscores that all of the above required steps have to be in full accord with GPH constitution and legal processes.  How the MILF seeks to overcome these obstacles, repeatedly proven in the past to be formidable and fatal to the Bangsa Moro aspirations for self determination, remains a big puzzle to many observers.

 In any case, both Parties are certainly stating the truth when they say a final negotiated settlement is still a long way off, with crucial details still to be fleshed out and likely fought over. #

Published in Business World
12-13 October 2012


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