Trust and confidence in peace process

Motives in entering into peace negotiations can be varied, from purely tactical in character such as buying time or the need to be viewed as peace-loving to real problem-solving exercises. At one time or another, the GPH-MILF peace process had assumed all of these characterizations. However, for the most part, it was government which resorted to these dirty tricks notably the paikot (running around) that clearly manifested in many moments during the Arroyo administration. But as time went by, the negotiations gathered momentum and evolved into one of problem-solving engagement. Trust and confidence had been patiently built over the years and they peaked during the Aquino administration. The test of its durability was measured when the Mamasapano tragic incident happened on January 25, 2015 where 44 Special Police Forces, 17 MILF combatants, and five civilians were killed, as well as scores of others wounded. The incident almost exploded into high intensity conflict.

Very fortunately, confidence-building measures (CBMs) during Aquino dispensation started early when he and MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo, Japan in August 2011. The meeting gave the peace talks “a shot in the arm” and showed support from the “highest level.” However, in many ways, the current administration under President Rodrigo Duterte clearly has other edges. In 2011, the MILF would only agree to meet President Aquino in a venue outside of the country; the meeting between Chairman Murad and President Duterte took place right in Davao City, a domestic venue. Thanks to his closeness to the Moros in Mindanao! The other reason, aside from the trust and confidence built over the years during the Aquino administration, is the fact that strictly speaking real negotiations have been consummated already with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The CAB contained the political solution to the Bangsamoro Problem or Question.

Improving or creating mutual confidence and trust in the peace process can create more effective CBMs. In this regard, even small steps are useful and necessary to foster an improved political climate, before more elaborate steps are taken. This is especially true during the early stage of the negotiations between the MILF and the government or when new administrations assumed powers. In transitions, the way forward especially by newcomers is usually blurred. Perhaps the only smooth transition that can be cited was during the administration of President Joseph Estrada after President Fidel Ramos exited from office. In fact, there were at least two “firsts” achieved during the period. The first formal talks happened during his administration; and second, the seven major camps of the MILF were acknowledged during his time. This is not to mention the third first: the all-out war policy of government (against the MILF) was declared during his administration.

Comparatively, the status of the peace process under the current administration is much better. As stated, there is no more serious negotiations, but the peace panels will continue to stay to provide strategic directions to the peace process. They will only cease to exist upon the signing of the Exit Agreement when all the agreements of the Parties are implemented. At present, the main responsibility of the Parties is to implement their agreements. One track is a national process and unilateral to the government which is the passage and enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) compliant to the CAB. The only participation of the MILF is that more than one half of the membership of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the proposed BBL were nominated by the MILF but they were still appointed by President Aquino. The other track is a bilateral responsibility of the two Parties with the participation of the international community. This is the normalization process which includes the decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants.

Another added value is that the architectural mechanisms of the GPH-MILF Peace Process are very comprehensive and elaborate. They are also time-tested and sturdy. They are built over the years, 17 years to be precise. They are designed both as the consequences of new situations cropping up on the ground from time to time and from lessons learned or imitated (with some improvements to suit local requirements) from best practices in other conflict situations around the world. These mechanisms are already in place and are functioning smoothly.

The most logical steps of the Parties especially government is to pursue the current practices --- and make use to the hilt these mechanisms. If the government and MILF had reached this far in their search for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao, the real reason is that they especially the latter pursues institutional engagements. Consistency and fidelity to signed agreements are keys to successful problem-solving exercises. While the informal tracks can be helpful in some ways but in no way they can replace the formal tracks