What they signed in Malacañang last Monday was not yet the agreement that will finally bring peace to Mindanao after four decades of war. But it is a good start in the long and winding road to peace.
What they signed was only the agreement to a framework, or agenda, or points of discussion, for future negotiations until a final peace accord is reached. It may be a long rough road, or a short paved one, depending on the sincerity of each side, but the deadline they set for themselves is three years—before President Aquino bows out of office. P-Noy obviously wants to present to the Filipino people the final peace agreement as the crowning glory of his administration.
But such a deadline, and such a motive, may put P-Noy’s negotiators at a slight disadvantage. As the deadline approaches, MILF negotiators may become more stubborn and push their more sticky proposals. And P-Noy’s negotiators may be forced to bend backward too far in their desire to present their boss with a trophy as a going-away gift.
There are many difficult issues yet to be discussed. Ex-Ambassador to Egypt Macabangit Lanto, also former representative of Lanao del Norte and Speaker of the ARMM Regional Assembly, as well as Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, explained these difficult issues last Monday at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel.
Among the most difficult is the question of the possession of guns. The members of the MILF want to retain their high-powered firearms with which they have killed many government soldiers; the government wants the national law on the possession of firearms to also apply to the proposed Bangsamoro. This is very difficult because it is said that Muslims would rather give up their wives but not their guns.
Another problematic issue is the desire of the MILF warriors to be integrated into the Philippine National Police. The government is agreeable provided the warriors attend and graduate from the police academy. The question is: What if they have a hard time at the academy and don’t graduate? Will the PNP lower its standards just to accommodate them? If weeded out, won’t the disgruntled flunkers go back to being rebels?
Still another is the plight of the Christians and lumad in the proposed Bangsamoro. The negotiators seem to have forgotten them. Not only does the name, Bangsamoro, give the impression that the region is exclusively for the Muslims (there are about the same number of Christians and lumad as Muslims in the proposed Bangsamoro), its administrative and judicial systems, and especially its police force, will be predominantly Muslim. The Christians and lumad have expressed fears that they may be persecuted by their Muslim “masters.” If the Christians and lumad are persecuted by their Muslim neighbors, who do they run to for help when the police force, the courts and the regional administration are predominantly Muslim?
Then there is the issue of territory. The proposed Bangsamoro will be expanded from the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the addition of more barangays and municipalities. I understand that the final peace agreement, including the Basic Law—which is another name for a constitution—and the new territory will be submitted to the people of the region in a plebiscite. It is not known whether the plebiscite on the new territories will be submitted only to the people of these new territories or to the whole Bangsamoro region.
If it is the latter, then the votes of the people of the new territories, where there are many Christians and lumad, will be buried by the votes of the old ARMM. Christians ask: Shouldn’t this issue of the new territories be voted upon only by us who are directly affected, while the whole issue of the peace agreement is submitted to the whole Bangsamoro region in a plebiscite?
And what is the purpose of submitting that issue to the whole Bangsamoro instead of only to them? they add. If the people in the new territories vote “No,” then it is assumed that they will be excluded from the Bangsamoro homeland. But what about the areas already included in the ARMM? If they vote “No,” will they be allowed to secede from the ARMM or the Bangsamoro?
Then there is the issue of the judicial system. Will the Christians be governed by the Shariah (or Muslim) law, or by Christian laws?
Ambassador Lanto and Congressman Tañada tried to explain these contentious issues but they confessed that they do not have all the answers and that future talks would thresh that out.
On the controversial P80-billion coco levy fund, Tañada said it lost P24 billion when the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which holds the sequestered shares in some private corporations, agreed to the downgrading of the fund shares in San Miguel Corp. from common shares to preferred shares. Common shares generally have higher value than preferred shares, but the PCGG said it wanted to avoid losing more if the value of the common shares drop.
What to do with what is left of the coco levy fund is another sticky issue. (The coconut levy was imposed during the Marcos administration and collected from coconut farmers for every kilo of copra they sold. The levy funds were invested in shares of SMC when the latter was headed by Eduardo Cojuangco, a crony of Marcos.)
Some coconut farmers’ groups want the money to be refunded to them. But some sectors fear that the farmers may only squander the money on nonproductive things. They prefer that the fund be used to improve the ailing coconut industry so that the farmers will earn more, Tañada said. Tañada comes from Quezon province, where the biggest coconut plantations are situated and from where come the biggest number of coconut farmers.