Briefing on Mindanao: Renegotiating peace

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Fifth in a series about national concerns

THIS report assumes three things happening which would then make this discussion relevant for the next administration.

First, the Bangsamoro Basic Law would not be passed in a form acceptable to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), returning to square one the legislation needed to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed last year.

Second, the next leader and administration would not take hook, line and sinker the CAB and its subsumed Framework Agreement (FA), six annexes and one addendum, leading to renewed negotiations with the MILF.


Third, the rebels would talk with the next government, not launch all-out war and terrorism. Back in March, MILF vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar said war was just one option. The group could also negotiate with the next administration or go to the United Nations. Its chief negotiator Mohamed Iqbal added: “The MILF will not disengage from the peace process no matter what will happen to that Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

He actually preferred that the bill not be enacted, rather than a watered-down version be passed. Then, he explained, “we can engage the next administration for the passage of the BBL.” Of late, even the bill’s biggest fan, President Aquino, echoed statements by Congress leaders that there may not be enough time to pass it.

Review and renegotiate the CAB
Other developments point to renegotiation with the next government. Last year the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front, which forged the 1976 and 1996 autonomy agreements with the government, to harmonize their positions.

That may require further talks to accommodate MNLF views, especially its fear of being sidelined in the Bangsamoro region envisioned to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao created under the MNLF pacts. That fear prompted a faction linked to longtime MNLF chairman and first ARMM governor Nur Misuari, to lay siege to Zamboanga two years ago.

Moreover, the heavily revised Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bills coming out of both chambers of Congress look set to be rejected by the MILF. Fellow columnist Fr. Joel Tabora, president of Ateneo de Davao University, wrote Monday Sept. 14: “The bills proposed to replace the version submitted by the President to Congress are unacceptable. They do not honor the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was a formal Philippine Government commitment.”

Apologies to the esteemed Jesuit priest and educator, but last time we checked, the Constitution does not empower the President to make commitments to the MILF on behalf of the other two co-equal branches of government. So if Congress recasts Malacañang’s BBL draft in ways violating the Bangsamoro pact, or if the Supreme Court thumbs down the accord itself, then the Executive has no recourse but to renegotiate.

Lessons for future peace talks
Thankfully, the MILF seems open to working with the next administration, which hopefully has learned some crucial if painful lessons from the current peace process. These insights would hopefully become guidelines in taking the negotiations forward.

Lesson 1: Get all stakeholders involved.

That should have been learned in the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain aspects of the MILF peace negotiations. The MOA-AD was ruled unconstitutional, partly for failing to undertake adequate public consultations on its provisions, especially which areas would be included in Bangsamoro.

Under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the fast-tracked MILF talks seem to have failed to accommodate major segments of Mindanao to be affected by the pact, as seen both in the MNLF attack on Zamboanga, the exclusion of non-MILF parties from Bangsamoro transition bodies, and the emergence of many groups raising issues in hearings on the BBL conducted by senators and congressmen. The next leader should make sure key players in forging peace can participate.

Lesson 2: Build on past agreements and achievements.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which set the tone and thrust of further negotations leading to the CAB and its annexes and addendum, declared that the status quo was unacceptable. Aquino himself called the ARMM “a failed experiment”.

That sweeping rejection of existing institutions and agreements may have led to the limited participation of major segments of the ARMM body politic, in the Bangsamoro process. Moreover, the view that all is amiss may have also undermined the imperative to take account of both past peace accords and the Constitution itself.

Thus, key provisions of the CAB have been criticized as violating the Constitution. The argument that ambiguous parts should be interpreted in ways consistent with the fundamental law only shows that they can be read in unconstitutional ways. And even the Aquino-appointed Peace Council found provisions in the draft BBL that needed amendment to abide by the Constitution.

Bottom line: Even as there is need to go beyond present parameters in forging lasting peace, prudence and the need for consensus and continuity dictate that established institutions and agreements be seriously taken into account and complied with. Sure, there may be need for amendments, and these are best handled through the legal processes stipulated for fundamental revisions, including charter change.

Lesson 3: Learn from past failings and problems.

The Bangsamoro accord and basic law are aimed at correcting where the ARMM has gone wrong. In reviewing and, if the MILF agree, renegotiating portions of the Bangsamoro pact, the next administration should ponder whether the CAB and the BBL would truly address the main causes of poverty, injustice and underdevelopment in Muslim Mindanao.

Will more funds and powers for the Bangsamoro government, plus its own mechanisms for public service and accountability, reduce or worsen the extensively documented and widely known waste and corruption undermining progress in the ARMM? Or will it make powerful clans and entities, especially the MILF, do as they please with state largesse?

Will the proposed Bangsamoro security force crack down on lawlessness and terrorism, which are also drags on development and investment? Or will longstanding ties among armed groups allow threats to flourish, especially if the military presence is reduced, as stipulated in the Framework Agreement?

And will the rise of Bangsamoro really persuade extremists to let go of demands for secession as well as portions of the Republic allegedly grabbed from the Muslims? Or will the MILF’s gains only embolden the radicals?

In sum, after 44 police commandos died to stop the BBL locomotive, the next President must take a long, careful look at the peace process to ensure that it truly brings harmony, justice, security, and development to Mindanao.

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1 Comment

  1. The priest Tabora behave like a businessman, does he have a business deal should the Malacanang/MILF version of BBL ratified?