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Talking peace with the MILF

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Can the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front still end in failure? We got a reminder in recent weeks that peace with the MILF remains very much a work-in-progress—and that progress is never guaranteed.

MILF officials aired their frustrations over the delay in the resumption of what are officially still called exploratory talks; when the 38th round finally pushed through, in Kuala Lumpur, the negotiations seemed to have teetered on the brink. It took an unusual extension before the government and MILF could agree on the final language of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing.

The official joint statement of the negotiating parties struck an even tone: “In a show of true commitment, the Parties extended the meeting, originally scheduled for four days to six days to be able to overcome their concerns and reach an agreement on the Annex.”

But on their own, each party described the latest round of negotiations as difficult indeed. Chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told reporters: “It was one of the toughest rounds that we have been through since we signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October last year. It was a close call.”

A July 18 editorial in Luwaran, the official MILF website, noted that: “MILF negotiators have confessed that the recent peace talk, which lasted for six days and six hours, is the toughest of all. The negotiation for the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) lasted only for five days.”

It may be possible to trace which provisions in the Annex (the second of a total of four deemed integral to the FAB) gave rise to the most difficulty, by tracking the safety-valve phrases which serve to give the Annex the necessary breathing room.

In the first section, on the Bangsamoro’s powers of taxation, we read the following: “The Bangsamoro Basic Law may provide that the twenty-five percent (25%) due the Central Government will be remitted to the Bangsamoro for a limited period of time.”

Elsewhere in the Annex, however, we find that the negotiators agreed on the limited waiver of government entitlements; the recourse to the still-to-be drafted Basic Law, then, suggests that the negotiators had failed to agree on the specifics of this particular waiver, and decided to delegate the problematic issue to the Transition Commission, which will draft the bill, and to the members of Congress, who will deliberate on it.

There is another punt, so to speak, in the same tax section: “Where all taxable elements are not situated entirely within the Bangsamoro, the intergovernmental fiscal policy board shall address problems relating to implementation.”

Instead of a recourse to the language of the Basic law, we find that the crucial issue (I understand this passage to refer to such “taxable elements” as, say, inheritance located partly in the Bangsamoro and partly outside it) has been pushed down to an intergovernmental board which the Annex itself defines.

(The definition includes a safety valve too: “To address revenue imbalances and fluctuations in regional financial needs and revenue-raising  capacity of the Bangsamoro, the Board shall undertake periodic review of the taxing powers, tax base and rate of the Bangsamoro Government, wealth-sharing arrangements, sources of revenues, vis–à–vis the development needs of the Bangsamoro.”)

In her first press briefing after the signing of the second Annex, Ferrer called the provision on the automatic budget appropriation for the Bangsamoro the document’s “jewel in the crown.” But the jewel comes with an intricate setting.

“The Central Government shall provide a block grant to the Bangsamoro. The Bangsamoro block grant shall be based on a formula provided in the Bangsamoro Basic Law which in no case shall be less than the last budget received by the ARMM immediately before the establishment of the Bansamoro Transition Authority.”

In a document flush with formulas, the cautionary tone of the language on the block grant (“based on a formula provided in the Bangsamoro Basic Law”) should strike the close reader as unusual. Perhaps it was impossible, even in six days of intense negotiation, to agree on the right formula.

One more use of safety-valve phrasing, this time on the controversial subject of natural resources:

“With respect to fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium, the same shall be shared equally between the Central and Bangsamoro governments. Both parties shall endeavor to provide for a review mechanism in the Basic Law with regard to this sharing arrangement.”

A review mechanism, provided in the law, to address problems in implementation: We should expect language like this in the last two Annexes, especially the one on normalization.

The Luwaran editorial seems to brace itself for that very possibility: “However, there is no hurdle that … willing and dedicated peace partners cannot find a way out. There is always that formula of compromise.”

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President Aquino’s lengthy State of the Nation Address yesterday devoted at least four paragraphs to the ongoing negotiations with the MILF, and marked two deadlines: a call to Congress to pass the Basic Law “before the end of 2014,” and the hope that the Bangsamoro will take official shape by 2016.

But the passage that leapt out at me was a simple commitment the President made, to the members of the MILF: “each line” of the peace-agreement-in-the-making, he said, “should be capable of being etched in stone.” To meet that ideal, a delay of a few months is a small price to pay.

* * *

jnery@inquirer.com.ph/johnnery.wordpress.com

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  • bgcorg

    The Moro problem, I think is not confined to the MILF alone. What is the place of the MNLF, the Bangsa Moro fighters, and other fractious Moro groups in Bangsa Moro? What is the relation of the Bangsa Moro to Sulu and North Borneo? Will the agreement with the MILF also solve the MNLF aspirations earlier contained in the Libya agreement? Real peace can be achieved only if all come to the meeting table with wholehearted sincerity not to divide this nation despite our plurality of beliefs, traditions, and cultural differences.

    • magiting78

      Agree!!!! my suggestion is stop this talk and get rid off all of these rebels if they don’t want to obey our government…there should be only one arm forces in our country…

    • Alex Alvarez

      No such word as Bangsa Moro, moro was coined by the spanish to our muslim brothers in the south.

      NO TO BANGSA MORO, YES TO SULTANATE OF SULU!

  • carlcid

    Unfortunately, the government panel seems to be in a “Stockholm Syndrome” with regard to the MILF. The government’s own negotiators have swallowed, unquestioningly, premises such as the “historic injustice” against the Muslims and that Muslims are entitled to retribution from the Philippine government. Muslim atrocities, acts of piracy, smuggling and slave trading were not taken into account. Instead, the “legitimate struggle” of the Muslims against the government in Manila was recognized.

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