We do not know how many people were able to view President Benigno Aquino III’s dramatic Sunday afternoon announcement of the peace breakthrough, but there was one set of viewers in particular who watched the broadcast with the keenest attention: The peace negotiators of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, gathered in one room in Kuala Lumpur.
We understand, from the accounts of witnesses present, that everyone in the room felt deeply moved by the President’s unveiling of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro—the representatives of the MILF included. In truth, there was something evocative, a plain-speaking simplicity approaching timelessness, at the heart of President Aquino’s straightforward declaration: “This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.”
An entire history is contained in the hard-earned clarity of that second sentence. How we reached that turning point, four years after the debacle of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, a dozen years after President Joseph Estrada declared all-out war on the MILF, 16 years after the national government forged a Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, a generation after the sacking of Jolo, over 40 years since the Jabidah Massacre, is a compelling story that must someday be told. We realize that the narrative “that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao” in fact goes back hundreds of years, but let us, at this juncture, dwell on two relatively recent milestones.
The comprehensive peace deal the Ramos administration reached with Nur Misuari’s MNLF in 1996 was hailed as a genuine breakthrough at the time, but the overwhelming consensus today is that the Misuari leadership was a crashing disappointment, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao he once led and whose dominant culture he both symbolized and entrenched is—in President Aquino’s own words, “a failed experiment.”
The radical MOA-AD of 2008 sought to advance the peace agenda in a dramatic matter, but the Supreme Court rightly ruled it unconstitutional, for committing the government’s peace negotiators to guaranteed constitutional amendments and for failing to consult the most affected stakeholders of the peace process.
A close reading of the 13-page Framework Agreement shows that the political document is a careful and deliberate reaction to both the disappointment of the MNLF peace deal and the failure of the MOA-AD. Indeed, that may be the best way to understand the preliminary agreement that will be signed in Malacañang on Oct. 15. It is designed to reach a negotiated political settlement with the MILF that will be informed by the lessons in governance and administration learned from the ARMM experiment, through a process marked by the constitutional, legal and political lessons learned from the MOA-AD debacle.
The proposed new entity, Bangsamoro, will be governed by the principle of transitional justice in a way that Misuari’s MNLF failed to heed.
The process that will lead to the proposed new entity, as outlined clearly in the agreement, is resolutely constitutional and appropriately political. As chief government negotiator Dean Marvic Leonen has explained more than once, the peace compact with the MILF and the creation of the Bangsamoro do not need a change in the Constitution; both depend on possibilities offered by the Constitution itself. And every single player in the Philippine political process has a chance to be involved: in the drafting of the proposed Basic Law, in the deliberations in Congress, in the continuing effort to win support in the affected areas in the eventual plebiscite, in the government’s I Am For Peace campaign, even in the outreach to the members of Misuari’s MNLF.
Much remains to be done, much can still go wrong, but this much is clear: the Framework Agreement gives the country, and especially the valiant citizens of Mindanao, the best chance of peace.