The start of the informal talks in February 2011 between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on peace in Mindanao immediately ran into a deadlock.
The MILF submitted to the government panel a 40-page comprehensive draft agreement. The government, in turn, responded with a much shorter proposal.
Disappointed, the MILF recommended to its central committee the rejection of the government’s proposal. It described the gap between its proposal and that of the government as “heaven and earth.”
Twenty months after, on Oct. 10, the negotiations produced the “peace in our time” framework agreement on the Bangsamoro, carving out an autonomous Moro homeland from the sovereign territory of the Philippine republic.
How this agreement closed that heaven-and-earth gap and what tradeoffs were struck are revealed in an academic paper that narrates the inside story of the negotiations.
The paper, titled “Forging a Peace Settlement for the Bangsamoro: Compromises and Challenges,” a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, was presented by professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer of the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines, at the recent 2012 Philippines Update Conference at Australian National University in Canberra. Ferrer is a member of the Philippine negotiating panel in the talks with the MILF.
The paper concentrates on the core issues outlined by the framework agreement.
One of the core issues: The two parties agreed to create a new political entity, the Bangsamoro, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)), that will have a “ministerial form of government.”
The agreement likewise provides for a transition period within the life of the Aquino administration to establish Bangsamoro and for the passage of a “basic law” that would define the scope of power- and wealth-sharing between the national government and the Bangsamoro.
The agreement also provides for a transition period within the life of the Aquino administration to establish Bangsamoro and for the passage of a “basic law” that would define the scope of power- and wealth-sharing between the national government and the Bangsamoro.
According to the paper, the government panel was laboring under the overhanging specter that the transitional arrangements should be within the constitutional framework. “After all, any culpable violation (of the Constitution) was a ground for impeachment,” the paper said. “Thus, independence was clearly not on the negotiating agenda.”
Constitutional issues persistently assailed the negotiations. The MILF demanded in lieu of the controversial “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” in the scrapped 2008 Memorandum of Agreement (on) Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) a Bangsamoro state, enjoying an “asymmetrical, associative relationship” with the state.
With this demand, the government panel understood that, regardless of terminology, what the “MILF wanted in substance was something akin to a federal state that is vested with wide powers rather than a relationship of subsidiarity with the central government.”
“They wanted the law creating the substate to be made by themselves. Moreover, the law, as they envisaged, should be entrenched in the Constitution as an amendment or appended to [it to protect] it from being tampered with by acts of Congress,” the paper said.
To be met, it said, “[t]he demands would have required constitutional change or amendment.
The 1987 Constitution provides for the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao through an organic act passed by Congress and a favorable vote in a plebiscite in the affected areas. The region shall be under the supervisory powers of the President as is the norm in a presidential, unitary state.”
According to the paper, President Aquino, from the beginning, made clear that changing or amending the Constitution is not his priority, especially not in the first half of his term.
“The President did not budge from this position even though initiatives [through a constitutional assembly] were broached by influential allies … What the President was afraid of [was] that any move would open [a] Pandora’s box for all other contentious agenda and derail this focus on good governance,” the paper said.
And it may be added that ceding sovereign powers to a rebel movement would amount to capitulation and would open the President to charges of treason or impeachment.
No President of the Republic has ever ceded any sovereign power of state or an inch of the national territory to any insurrection force threatening the government.
The paper said the talks were bedeviled at the outset by “the most fundamental matter of how to restructure the relationship between the national government and the Bangsamoro along the lines of a federal substate.”
“It became the main bone of contention [on and off] the negotiating table in the first 18 months under Mr. Aquino, with many civil society groups supporting the call for a Cha-cha (charter change) to meet the Bangsamoro demands for self-determination,” it said.
Constitutionality issues also hounded some core issues related to the powers that the MILF wanted the Bangsamoro to have, the paper said.
“While the current Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao already gives the ARMM the power to expand the Sharia courts, under the Constitution, these regular courts shall still be under the supervision of the Supreme Court,” it said.
“The MILF wanted to have full jurisdiction [over] the judicial system, including banks, budgeting, and creation of taxes and revenues, as well as full control over policing and internal security,” the paper said.
“While many aspects of these powers have been and can still be devolved, they, however, remain subject to the regulatory powers of the relevant national agencies (Central Bank, Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government / Philippine National Police, and the overall supervisory power of the President.” (To be continued)