There is no doubt the current peace negotiation is passing through a very difficult situation. Almost two years into the Aquino administration, the two parties have barely moved from where they left off in 2010. The parties’ commitment for the continuity of the peace process has not moved them forward substantially. In fact, during our meeting in Kuala Lumpur last March 19-21, we almost went home empty-handed, except for the agreement of the parties to agree to invite and grant observer seat to OIC Secretary General, His Excellency Ihsanoglu Tevetoglu, to the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiations. Although this is a tremendous huge plus factor in our continuing efforts to solve the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao, the most substantive part of this negotiation leading to the signing of the comprehensive compact is practically untouched. Personally, I attribute this to several factors.
First, from President Manuel Quezon in 1935 until President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine policy and thinking about the Moros have not basically changed. It is all about incorporating them into the national body politic, treating them as an integral part thereof, and sending the full force of the armed forces when they become restive or unruly. We have yet to see that under the Aquino administration things will start to shape differently and for the better. We still want to see that under his matuwid na daan (straight path) policy, he would agree to do away with the paralyzing effects of the status quo or the unitary system where subnational units are created and abolished and their powers may be broadened and narrowed, by the central government.
Although political power in unitary states may be delegated through devolution to local government by statute, the central government remains supreme; it may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers. This well explained the cycle of abolition of offices from the Moro Province, Department of Mindanao and Sulu, Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, Commissioner for Mindanao, Commission on National Integration, Ministry of Muslim Affairs, Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities, Office of Muslim Affairs, and now National Commission for Muslim Filipinos. Will the abolition stop here? The answer is no, because it is inherent in the unitary system that the units are under the mercy of the central authority.
Therefore, a shift to the asymmetrical arrangement inherent in a federal system is much desired, wherein a group of members are bound together by covenant, with a governing representative head, which provided further that sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces).
The Moros are the aggrieved party, who are deprived of their rights or interests as a result of the annexation of Mindanao to the Philippines in 1946. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo once remarked that the Philippine government committed three historic injustices against the Moros in Mindanao: a) injustice to Moro identity, b) injustice to Moro political sovereignty, and c) injustice to Moro integral development. He concluded that it is the what and how of this just and fundamental Moro aspiration for freedom within the context of circumstances that have superseded some facts of history, which must be at the heart of all political negotiation for lasting peace in Mindanao.
Thus, the Manila government, as the successor in interest or beneficiary of Moros’ loss of their homeland, even assuming that prior to 1935 or 1946 they were not the ones calling the shots and they too were also victims of some American “excesses”, should and must be magnanimous in giving a substantial restoration of Moro rights especially in governing themselves under the aegis of defined relationship with the Central government. Without this magnanimity and political will to grant substantial powers to Moros, the Moro Question and the armed conflict will stay with us forever. Never mind the economic aid to them, this can wait; in truth if not handled carefully well it would only complicate matters, because only the elites in Moro society will snare the lion-share to the almost exclusion of the ordinary people. The government must learn to stay out of its comfort zone and dare offer to the Moros a political package that is not empty and hollow; an offer that does not add insult to injury. The days of bogus autonomy has gone! It is time for government to be serious; it is time for it to solve the internal problems, in the face of the crisis in the China Sea. China is already in the fringes of Philippine territory.
Second, there seems to be no unanimity in the approaches of the parties that seriously prevented them to put their acts together and bear clear fruits. For the MILF peace panel, we want to see a process where we agree first on basic principles, concepts, frameworks, and parameters, then the elements, and then the parts or details. Obviously unknown to some, much has been achieved already in this regard. The basic principles and frameworks and the essential elements of the future Moro entity have been settled and agreed by the parties in many past documents, among which are: The General Framework of Intent Between the GRP and the MILF (August 27, 1998), Agreement on the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks (March 24, 2001), Tripoli Agreement of 2001 (June 22, 2001), Consensus Points on the Strand of Concept, Territory, Resources, and Governance at TWG level (April 20, 2005), Consensus Points on the Strand on Governance of the Ancestral Domain (September 16, 2005), Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation between the GPH and the MILF (June 3, 2010). Surely, it is important for both parties to look back from 1997 in order to understand the current situation and move to the future with greater confidence and speed. More importantly, they would be guided properly and conduct the negotiation as faithful as possible; and consequently the much desired mutual trust and confidence between the parties which is vital in moving forward will be achieved.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the state-substate asymmetrical arrangement proposal of the MILF, which in every respect is a template for a federal system of government, did not come from out of the blue ocean. It was borne out of a difficult moment in the talks. Datuk Othman Bin Abdulrazak, then the Malaysian facilitator, frankly told not just the MILF peace panel but its Central Committee, during one of his visits to Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, that he cannot continue facilitating the talks with a secessionist agenda of the MILF in the negotiating table. Either the MILF mellows down its stance to autonomy with no option to secede or the Malaysian government ceases its facilitation. It was indeed a difficult situation on the part of the MILF to drop the option, in view of its firm belief that the ultimate solution to the Moro Question is for the Moro country to become fully independent. What the MILF did to get out of the fix was to call for series of consultation involving the Moros in Mindanao, on whose behalf the MILF got its mandate and legitimacy including negotiation with the government to articulate their aspirations. These consultations culminated on May 29-31, 2005 where more than a million people responded and gathered in Darapanan, which resulted in the renewal of the “blanket authority” of the MILF Central Committee to continue negotiating peace with the government. Teresita “Ging” Deles-Quintos, then also the Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), accompanied by Prof. Rudy Rodil, member of the government peace panel, and Director Ryan Sullivan, head of the government peace panel secretariat, graced the historic occasion. Secretary Silvestre Afable Jr., then government chief negotiator, was unable to come. However, sometimes later, in the presence of Datuk Othman, he also met with Chairman Murad in Darapanan.
At this juncture, please be reminded that healthy interpersonal relationships between the peace panels during Afable’s stint was passed on to the time of Secretary Rodolfo Garcia, who was a former military man but imbued with skills in negotiation, for which reason, the talks made strides upon strides until that historic document known as the “Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was shot down by the Supreme Court by declaring it as unconstitutional on October 14, 2008. But nevertheless, the Supreme Court rendered little but big justice to the MOA-AD by noting that it can be renegotiated or another one will be drawn up to carry out the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, in another or in any form, which could contain similar or significantly drastic provisions.” This decision in effect conferred upon the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, considered the mother of all agreements between the government and MILF, that validity and binding effect on the government. This agreement served as the main guiding post for all subsequent agreements, most especially that hoped-for “new formula” contained in the proposed comprehensive compact. This is the reason why the MILF peace panel starts and situates its core position in this negotiation on this framework agreement.
In addition, the MILF stance is firmly anchored on the principle of right to self-determination of people; and by virtue of that, they have the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. This is embodied in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations and in the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States adopted b the UN General Assembly in 1970, the Helsinki Final Act adopted by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in 1975, the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights of 1981, the CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe adopted in 1990, and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993. As a matter of fact, the Philippine government has tacitly agreed to this option when it signed with the MILF the Tripoli Agreement on June 22, 2001, to wit:
“The observance of International humanitarian Law and respect for internationally recognized human rights instrument and the protection of evacuees and displaced persons in the conduct of their relations reinforce the Bangsamoro people’s fundamental right to determine their own future and political status” (highlights supplied).
On the basis of this same agreement, the parties also agreed that the political solution to the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao must be in purview of a new formula:
“The negotiation and peaceful resolution of the conflict must involve consultations with the Bangsamoro people free of any imposition in order to provide chances of success and open new formulas that permanently respond to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for freedom.”
Again on June 3, 2010, the parties signed the Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation, which firmly affirmed this solemn commitment:
“The ultimate goal of the talks is to consider new modalities to end the armed hostilities with responsibility to protect and for human security, in addition to resolve the legitimate grievances and claims for the people of Moro ancestry and origin.”
In brief, the position of the MILF is not only consistent that has basis on signed agreements but also faithful to the intention and commitment of the parties to “pursue the peace negotiations on the substantive issues as soon as possible, resolutely continue the negotiation until the parties reach a negotiated political settlement” (Agreement on Intent, August 27, 1998).
I do not want to say this, keeping in mind that until now out of respect and trust the MILF has never said unkind words to President Benigno Aquino III, but even the 3-for-1 proposal put forward by the government is in the category of an old formula that should not have been put forward if only to fast track the ongoing negotiation, as agreed by President Aquino and Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2011.
To tell you very frankly, the MILF cannot slide down anymore lower than our current proposal for the establishment of a substate for our people. To do so is not only to render the MILF irrelevant but would also lose its moral ascendancy to lead our people to live a decent life on the basis of principles of parity of esteem and equality of peoples. The totality of relationship between the Philippine state and Moros, which is so one-sided against the latter, must be altered, if we are to see real peace and development in Mindanao. The MILF cannot and will never accept a “recooked ARMM even with all the spices and ingredients to make it palatable to the MILF”. The ARMM, despite its billing as autonomous, is merely an administrative unit of government, weaker than provinces or cities. No less than the Supreme Court of the Philippine, in its final decision on the law postponing the ARMM election to allow for synchronization with the national elections in 2013, had decided with finality that it is not autonomous. So, therefore, we appeal to the government, please do not offer the ARMM or any similar entity to the MILF again, because we will reject it with the same intensity, as we have done before, in 2000, in 2001, in 2003, and in 2010. It is only a waste of time, energy –- and goodwill.
And the third reason is, there is no rejoinder of issues. The parties are speaking on dissimilar or irregular wavelengths and measures. The MILF proposes a comprehensive compact, which is what that declaration of continuity document, obliges the parties to undertake while the government puts forward a three-part proposal. The best template, as what the Afable’s and Garcia’s peace panels did with the MILF in relation to the MOA-AD, was to agree first on the basic principles and then on strands of the Ancestral Domain as Aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001. They separately developed their proposals using the same template, which they in turn jointly put into a matrix, deliberate them one by one, and then indicate where they agreed and where they disagreed. Those where they agreed, they immediately wrote them in agreed text, and thereafter proceeded to where they had disagreement. This meticulous procedure was pursued patiently and objectively until they initialed the MOA-AD on July 27, 2008. Of course, it was not easy matter; in truth, they have negotiated the MOA-AD for three years and eight months. But the collaborative efforts of the parties, notwithstanding the impasses, non-appearances, and walkouts, cemented the mutual respect with each other that Afable or Garcia can call on their counterparts from the MILF even at short notice. Although nothing is personal in negotiation, but the personal cultivation of trust and confidence amongst negotiators is, in no small way helps bolster the productiveness of the parties. This is not to say, however, that I do not have high respect for our current counterparts in the government. I must confess that of the five government chief peace negotiators that I have faced, I find my current counterpart from the government, former Dean Marvic Leonen, as the most articulate. Pardon me for making this comparison.
As a parting statement, let me say here that the current GPH-MILF peace negotiation is not doomed; it is still a living exercise, although it is limping. I still have trust in the commitment of President Benigno Aquino III to deliver his promise to solve the problem in Mindanao during his term in office and not allow it to be inherited by the next president in the Malacanan Palace. I have strong faith in the Malaysian government led by His Excellency Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najeeb bin Tun Abdulrazak, and also in the current Malaysian facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Ab’Gaafar bin Mohammed, ably supported by the Malaysian Secretariat. I have faith in the creativity,
resourcefulness, and dedication of the members of the International Contact Group (ICG) particularly the United Kingdom, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC), and the Conciliation Resources (CR) in seeing to it that parties stay engaged and continue the peace negotiation. I hope and pray that the presence of the OIC Secretary General or his official representative will provide renewed inspiration and political will to the parties in order to surmount and parry all obstacles along the pathway to peace in Mindanao.
Thank you very much!
Opening statement of Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, during the 27th GPH-MILF Exploratory Peace Talks in Kuala Lumpur on April 24-26, 2012.