The way forward

On June 3, 2010, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had signed a Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation. This was an unequivocal commitment of both Parties to uphold the way of peace in resolving the conflict in Mindanao, amidst uncertainties brought to fore especially after the government under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo failed to honour its obligation to sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008. Today, a similar situation happens, after Congress failed or did not pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), in which case, the Parties should come up with an agreement akin to it.

In essence, the principle that has long been followed by the Parties in their long and harsh negotiation --- and entrenched in this Declaration --- is that where the Parties stopped, as consequence of major obstacles like all-out war or shortness of time of the administration in power like that of President Fidel V. Ramos, they will continue and start from they stopped or forced to discontinue. The principle of “As is, where is” applies. Thus, the negotiation during the Estrada administration proceeded from and built upon the gains of the negotiation during the Ramos administration, so on and so forth up to the Arroyo administration.

However, the situations or status of the peaceful parleys then and today are radically different. Then, the Parties are still negotiating the agreement that would contain the formula to address and solve the so-called Bangsamoro Question. That agreement was already signed by the Parties on March 27, 2014, which is the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). This agreement provided vividly on how to address this problem by creating a truly genuine autonomous Bangsamoro Government in some areas in Mindanao, because this problem is essentially about self-governance which had been deprived of Moros for decades. Mindanao had been regarded and in fact a “foreign territory” where the Moros were sovereign. The Parties, as stated above, found the compromise and the middle way: To establish a genuine autonomous Bangsamoro entity. But the CAB is a political document; it cannot establish that entity legally. That responsibility belongs to the government, which it must comply with by passing the necessary legislation in Congress, which is the BBL.

Strictly speaking, at present, there is no more negotiation; peace process, yes, the Parties are still engaged. But the issues deliberated on are subsidiary matters like serious ceasefire violations, socio-economic interventions, transitional justice, etc.

Currently, the Parties are in implementation stage, mainly the passage of the BBL in Congress, which is a government responsibility. Therefore, when the new administration under President-elect Rodrigo Duterte assumes office on June 30, 2016, the engagement, following established protocols, will start where the Aquino administration left off, which we repeat, to work for the early passage of BBL in Congress. We hope sincerely that the peace team of the new administration would include men and women whose track record, integrity, and commitment are beyond reproach, because an honest-to-goodness negotiation and a problem- solving exercise would require negotiators on both sides to have high regard and trust with each other. If the negotiation between the MILF and GPH had achieved sterling successes during the Aquino administration, it is because the Parties have developed high regards and respect with each other. How we wish that the names we know will find space in the new peace team of the new administration!