Even in ordinary, everyday life, missed deadlines are no trifling matter. When something is not done or delivered or paid for at the agreed-upon time, there are consequences. A student who turns in a late assignment runs the risk of a failing grade. A bounced check can land its issuer in court for estafa. A business supplier unable to produce the required goods under contract faces legal liabilities. And employees habitually tardy at completing their tasks may find themselves out of work sooner or later.
Missed deadlines are at the heart of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s recent warning that the peace talks between itself and the Philippine government are in peril. In its message sent to Malacañang through Malaysian facilitator Abdul Ghafar, the group said it “is frustrated about what is happening to the peace talks and … is very, very much concerned about what is going on.”
The Framework Agreement signed by the two parties on Oct. 15, 2012, billed by the government as a preliminary peace agreement with the separatist MILF that would establish a new autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was in fact a bare-bones road map with—at the time of signing—virtually nothing yet on the four major issues to be resolved in a final peace accord: power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities.
These four “annexes,” as they were called, came with deadlines, following talks between the parties that should have immediately commenced after the signing of the Framework Agreement to flesh out the annexes in concrete detail. The original timetable was for a comprehensive agreement to be signed two months after. But six months later, only one annex—on transitional arrangements and modalities (TAM)—has been completed.
President Aquino has complied partly with one of eight TAM components by forming a 15-member Transition Commission whose main responsibilities include drafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law covering the proposed new region made up of five Muslim provinces in Mindanao, and proposing constitutional amendments, if necessary, to codify the peace agreement in the Constitution. Under the TAM, the newly-constituted Bangsamoro will replace the ARMM by 2015, with a full set of elected officials assuming office by July 1, 2016.
What has deadlocked the talks are the three other annexes. While wealth-sharing is said to have early on been approved and initialed by the two parties, the government has walked back its assent by saying it would seek more changes to the document—a delay the MILF has complained about bitterly. Its vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, said it was only recently that it had received the government’s proposed amendments, necessitating further delay as it makes its own study of the proposals.
No formal talks are happening at present. After the government requested a reset of the talks last March, ostensibly to allow it to do a “diligence review” of its commitments so far, the two panels agreed to resume negotiations in Kuala Lumpur after the May midterm elections. But so far no schedule has been set up.
Malacañang says the delay is an unintended but necessary consequence of being careful, and also learning from the experience of the ill-fated Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain under the Arroyo administration, which was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. “Many of the items have generational and very broad implications. Thus, P-Noy is exercising due care and utmost diligence on these matters,” said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Fine. But it must also be asked: Why did Malacañang agree to a cramped timetable in the first place? The series of deadlines it has missed is valid cause for worry, not least on the part of the MILF which, if it is to stay at the peace table, has to bank on the commitment and reliability of the Aquino administration to follow through on its promises. Also, as the nongovernment organization Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus has pointed out, “Given the very limited [time for the] transition roadmap between now and 2016, any delay in the signing of the Annexes will cause irreversible consequences on the viability of the transition period itself.”
There is still time to salvage the talks, but it’s fast running out. Given what Malacañang has promised the nation with this endeavor—a just and lasting peace, finally, for Mindanao—it cannot afford now to drop the ball.