Current State of Peace Negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

The peace negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is almost a success story.

The two parties have already signed the most significant agreement in their 17 years of protracted negotiation, which is the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March 27, 2014. This agreement provides for the negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict and Bangsamoro Question in Mindanao that claimed the lives of about 150,000 lives since 1972. There are no more substantive issues left in the pipeline of the negotiation for the parties to discuss except when new problems, mainly on the implementation aspects, crop up from time to time that require a meeting of the peace panels in Kuala Lumpur.

The good thing in the GPH-MILF peace process, unlike other peace processes especially the GRP-MNLF peace process, is that even after the signing of the CAB, the peace panels are not disbanded and would continue to engage each other when necessary until all the signed agreements are fully implemented and they signed the “exit agreement”. This agreement will mark the termination and end of their formal negotiation, so that in the regular operation of the Bangsamoro Government all problems with the Central Government shall be resolved through the inter-governmental relations mechanisms involving several layers of government.

To date, what remains to be done by the parties to complete the process, aside from the normalization of the previously conflict-affected areas and their transformation into peaceful and progressive communities, is to translate the CAB, which is a political document, into a legal framework to be passed by the Philippine Congress. For this purpose, the two parties have created the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) whose main mandate is to craft the proposed basic law called Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will become the governing law for the future Bangsamoro political entity. However, in order to do it legally feasible and executory on the side of government, President Benigno Aquino III had signed an Executive Order No. 120 creating the BTC, which upon its creation in late 2012, started to work on its mandate immediately so that on April 22, 2014 it had submitted to the Office of the President (OP) the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law for submission to Congress as certified as urgent bill to fast track its enactment into law.

The BTC’s proposed BBL mainly copy-pasted the essential elements of the CAB, pursuant to the provision of the same, to wit: “The mechanisms and modalities for the actual implementation of this Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, including the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law pursuant to Article V. Territory of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, are spelled out herein. The Parties shall mutually take such steps for its full implementation leading to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the regular Bangsamoro Government …” in 2016.

The rationale behind this approach is simple. It is simply to avoid or minimize debates and oppositions especially from the government itself, knowing fully well that not all in the government service are fully on board the peace efforts of President Aquino. Besides, spoilers abound everywhere and ready to spew their venom at the first opportunity that occurs.

Sad to note, however, that only after two months, to be exact 61 days, while I was in Hiroshima, Japan on June 23 that this humble representation, as Chairman of the BTC and the MILF peace panel, had received a copy of the proposed BBL bearing the remarks and comments from the OP, which heavily diluted the original proposal coming from the BTC. A lawyer of the MILF, commenting on the remarks of the OP on the BBL, said that when a law is crafted out of it would be worse than the Republic Act No. 9054 that created the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which in every bit is an administrative arrangement. No less than President called the ARMM as a “failed experiment”.

Now the challenges ahead appear daunting. Unless the Parties and the supporters and friends of the peace process come to the timely rescue and prevent the foreseeable collision of approaches of the two parties, the much-heralded signing of the CAB in Manila, Philippines last March will be over-shadowed by bickering, blaming, and shaming. The direct consequence would be that the BBL will not be submitted to Congress on July 28, in time for the State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress of President Aquino, or the government would proceed to submit the BBL without the concurrence of the MILF.

The position of the MILF on the proposed BBL is very simple and straight forward. All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled.

Be this as it may, but the MILF has been with this kind of situation before and emerged out of it head high. After the breakdown of the ceasefire and the peace negotiation in 2000 at the behest of the Estrada administration, which launched the all-out war against the MILF, the peace negotiation, which was then on a domestic stage, was elevated to the diplomatic stage with the participation of Malaysia, as third party facilitator, upon the invitation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001. In 2003, while the peace negotiation was also moving modestly, the government ordered another all-out war against the MILF under the pretext of running after so-called kidnap-for-ransom groups. After the last bullet was fired, and the Parties reengaged in their peace journey, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) came in to oversee the effective implementation of the ceasefire, thereby creating an atmosphere of tranquility for the peace negotiation to proceed undisturbed. Again, in August 2008, after the government reneged by not signing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), after it was initialed on July 27, 2008, and another full-blown war erupted, the International Contact Group (ICG), early designed to act as “international guarantee”, was organized to help the Parties comply with their obligations. Their exact mandate is to “exert proper leverage to the parties” to make sure that all is well and followed.

Today, we are on the verge of a similar situation. But I don’t think we are in a hopeless situation. I don’t think the parties will allow the situation to degenerate into something we do not like. I still have confidence on both sides’ determination to overcome the perceived hardships ahead of us.  The almost sudden visit of President Aquino to Japan to discuss bilateral issues with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then proceeded to Hiroshima to speak before delegates to a peace forum organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), mostly coming from the MILF including Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and this humble representation is a timely occurrence at the precise moment when many a member of the BTC and the MILF is irritated, if not infuriated, by the almost total disregard of the proposed BBL crafted by the BTC. What is amazing is that the very government office tasked to oversee the conduct of the peace process, on the part of government, that led to the signing of the CAB, instead of defending the essence of this historic document or at least inhibited itself out of delicadeza, virtually led the review team of the OP to overhaul almost the entire proposal of the BTC, tasked by the two parties and by the President himself through his Executive Order No. 120 to craft the BBL. Before he spoke to the delegates, President Aquino met first with Chairman Murad and the undersigned at the Sheraton Hotel, which lasted for about 25 minutes. While I cannot disclosed the details of the meeting, but suffice to say that it was mainly about the way forward vis-à-vis the BBL.

Moreover, the infrastructures of the peace process, especially after the signing of the CAB, are so well-knitted and all-embracing that any sign of fissure can be addressed well and promptly. We have the third party facilitating country, which is Malaysia, we have the International Contact Group (ICG) composed of The United Kingdom, Turkey, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, representing the states, and Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), Conciliation Resources (CR), Muhammadiyah, and Community of Sant’Egidio, representing the international non-government organizations (INGOs), we have the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) headed by a foreign eminent person, which monitors and validates the compliance of the parties, we have the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC), we have the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) headed by an eminent person nominated by Switzerland, the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) composed of Brunei, Norway, Turkey, and two representatives each from government and the MILF, and many more others.

Finally, let me state here that no matter what happens to the BBL, enacted or not by Congress, the MILF will remain focused on pursuing the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination at all cost. The MILF will also leave no stone unturned in exposing the true state of things surrounding the BBL, which must be faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB. Truth must be pursued and error must be shunned. More urgently, the MILF will continue to capacitate our people, including building of institutions, linkages, networks, and alliances, so that they will have greater clout and power in asserting their right to self-determination.

Thank you very much and wassalam.

———————————————————————————————————————
A statement read by Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), during a forum on peace process in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26-27, 2014.

To download a PDF copy, please click this link: Statement of Mohagher Iqbal during a forum on peace process in Istanbul, Turkey