It has been two months and 29 days since we met in Kuala Lumpur last April 11 for the 37th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks where we agreed “to exchange notes on the coming days” and “to meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections.” That did not happen.
The peace panels had not met since then, except during a sideline meeting in Oslo, Norway during the Mediators’ Forum sponsored by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Prof. Miriam Ferrer-Coronel, my honorable counterpart, in the presence of Secretary Teresita “Ging” Deles and the Malaysian Facilitator, Excellency Dato Tengku Abd Ghafar bin Mohamed, handed to us their latest paper on wealth sharing.
During this long period of uncertainty in the talks, so much negative speculations have filled the air. It is not good to hear these, but they were all expressed loud and clear.
To many, the impression is that there is an impasse in the peace talks. The truth is that the official explanation of government that they needed time to conduct due diligence on wealth sharing is less discernible because first, the annex on wealth sharing, alongside the annex on power sharing, has been on the agenda since July 2012; and second, members of the two peace panels initialed the annex on wealth sharing on February 27, after both panels agreed on the final text of this annex during several rounds of executive sessions.
But there was a sigh of relief among friends of the peace process after the Malaysian facilitator came to Manila and Camp Darapanan in early June to talk to key government officials and MILF leaders. Both camps declared that their commitment to solve the Moro Problem is as strong as ever and that they are committed to do it sooner than later.
This resolve was made stronger when MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim decided to write President Benigno III reiterating the unwavering commitment of the MILF to resolve the conflict peacefully but also politely informing him of the frustration of the people and some members of the MILF as a result of the delay in the talks.
The problem is that the delay is perceived not from the MILF side but from government. The President responded positively to the letter. But I am so sorry I cannot disclose the content of the letter because I don’t have the mandate to do so. Our chairman did not allow that copies be made except one that is intended for the Facilitator for the record of the Malaysian Secretariat.
In Oslo, Norway, many of the foreign participants described the GPH-MILF peace negotiation as a “success story.” We were so flattered and tempted to accept it, but Brother Bobby Alonto and I have politely made the correction. We told them that the parties have not yet finished the process; in fact, they are still treading the most critical stage of their peace journey. Besides, there are many spoilers who are waiting in ambush.
As a negotiator for more than 10 years, I have learned a lot of hard lessons. My experience tells me that there is no easy part in any real life negotiation. For this reason, I know that the road ahead of the current peace talks is still full of humps and bumps. But these should not cause the failure of these talks.
Sincere and committed partners in the peace process will always find a creative formula to get through any differences. If they don’t find one, this means one of the parties, or both of them, changed policy — from solving the conflict to not solving it.
For the nth time, I must mention here that we are solving the Moro Problem or Question, not the Philippine Problem. Remember that a “historic injustice” has been committed against the Bangsamoro, which must be corrected once and for all to put to rest all future legitimate struggles against the Manila government.
Therefore, any solution requires a major shake up of the status quo. A mere resort to legal remedies not founded on negotiated political settlement will not hold water.
Moreover, it is not symmetry or what is common to all peoples of the Philippines that is the issue; rather, it is what distinguishes the Bangsamoro from the rest of the inhabitants that we must address, and which we can addressed through “asymmetrical relationship.”
More than ARMM, short of independence
This means the parties must find a political solution that is above the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and below independence. If we faithfully subscribe to this formulation, the parties can move the process very fast. There would be no back-and-forth movements like what happened in the last more 4 months.
In plain words, what we are negotiating since 1997 has been clearly for an autonomous political entity. The MILF agreed not to raise the issue of independence and the government not to peg its position on the Constitution and the territorial integrity of the Philippines. This moved the process to new heights, which led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October last year.
That FAB provides the workable conceptual framework for real autonomy and fiscal autonomy. This is the real reason why we have on the table power-sharing and wealth-sharing discussions. Powers and resources must go together to be able to call a political animal autonomous. This is also the reason why we rejected the ARMM because it is not autonomous but an administrative region like the rest of the regions in the Philippines.
To fast-track the process, therefore, the government must not offer anything already granted to the ARMM, especially by RA 9054 or by other forms of legislation. For these are givens that no longer need to be negotiated on.
On the other hand, the MILF must not demand anything reserved for an independent state. In order to aid them, they can learn from other models on state-substate assymetrical relationships that are available around us.
Lastly, we are here today to continue the peace journey and possibly to sign anything we can settle, hopefully the annex on wealth sharing. I don’t think that if we agree on any of the annexes, we will still have to go back to our principals for their final say. I am sure we have the mandate to settle the issues at hand. Besides, I am certain my counterpart and I can call our respective principals when there is a need for it, as we effectively did with then Dean Marvic Leonen during the dying minutes of bargaining on the FAB.
The truth is that too much pressure is building on us, especially on government. The civil society organizations (CSO) back home have already sounded the clarion call that we wake up and finish the process. During the CSO Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Talks in Davao City last July 4, they called on the government and MILF to “sign the peace agreement now” because “time is running out.”
Finally, we express our grave concern over the reported government’s changing policy on our relations with development partners and the GPH’s instruction to these development partners to slow down in their engagements with the MILF.
May we remind our esteemed partners that our engagement with international development partners have been mutually agreed upon by the Parties in 2011 as a result of the Tripoli Accord of Peace of 2001. This is further bolstered when we signed the FAB which said in Section VIII, Nos 10 and 11 to wit: “The Parties agree to intensify development efforts for rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of the Bangsamoro, and institute programs to address the needs of MILF combatants, internally displaced persons, and poverty-stricken communities;” and “The parties recognize the need to attract multi-donor country support, assistance and pledges to the normalization process…”
These engagements are essential. Given the short period of transition for the MILF and the continuing delay in the completion and signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, it becomes even more urgent that the MILF receive technical assistance, capacity development, development planning and resource mobilization to insure that when it takes up the reins of government it is able to deliver and meet the expectations of the Bangsamoro people.
It is our firm conviction that a strong MILF is good for peacemaking in Mindanao, not otherwise. – Rappler.com
(These are slightly edited excerpts from the opening speech of the author, who heads the MILF peace panel, during the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the MILF on Monday, July 8 in Kuala Lumpur)