With Due Respect

Pushing for peace in Mindanao


“When guns speak, laws are silent,” so it has been said. This is true in wars among sovereign nations. It is also true with civil strife within states, like in France, the United States, China, Vietnam and Serbia. Or more recently, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. Human casualties, injuries, hunger, atrocities and deprivations have been the sad consequences of these bloody conflicts.

Colored revolutions. The Philippines is lucky that the recent uprisings to change our political leaders have been peaceful and contained. In fact, our country is known for staging bloodless colored revolutions starting with yellow in 1986. Following our lead were several former Soviet republics, like the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the orange in Ukraine in 2004, and the tulip in Kyrgyzstan in 2005.

Contrasting with our successful peaceful revolutions are two bloody confrontations: the prolonged rebellion by the New People’s Army (NPA) and the persistent separatist movements in Mindanao, spearheaded by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In both cases, the government, in as many years since its independence from the United States in 1946, has shifted and shuttled from military warfare to peace negotiations and vice versa. To deal with these armed insurrections, all our presidents, from Quezon to Osmeña, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, Cory Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, have used these tactical shifts in varying intensities.

For centuries, our southern brethren have resisted the Spanish conquistadores, American colonizers, Japanese invaders and now even the independent government of the republic. The Zamboanga caper by a faction of the MNLF during the past weeks is a grim reminder of the bloody struggle.

MNLF and Misuari. Aiming originally to establish an independent Bangsamoro homeland, the MNLF was organized in 1969 with Nur Misuari as founding chair. It was officially recognized by the worldwide Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1974.

The following year, 1975, a Philippine government (GPH) panel held meetings with the MNLF in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 outlining the autonomy—no longer independence—aspirations of the MNLF.

In 1977, a leadership rivalry divided the MNLF with the formation of the MILF led by Hashim Salamat. Since then, the Philippine government has had to tiptoe through separate peace negotiations with the two groups. But both were united in denouncing the 1987 Constitution ordained under President Cory Aquino and Republic Act 6734, which established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1989.

President Fidel Ramos passionately pursued peace. Under his term, on Sept. 2, 1996, the GPH and the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) envisioned in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. In the same month, Misuari was elected ARMM governor.

Many thought the FPA and Misuari’s election ended the secessionist movement, especially because various laws and meetings were held to implement the other provisions of the FPA, including the creation of Shariah courts and the integration of the MNLF fighters into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

However, on Nov. 26, 2001, after Ramos’ term, Parouk Hussein succeeded Misuari as ARMM governor, resulting in the sidelining of the MNLF founding leader. Despite changes in the MNLF and ARMM leadership over the years up to the present, the government continuously tended the ARMM area through “tripartite meetings” of the GPH, OIC and MNLF.

The current Aquino administration, with the active participation of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, followed through the FPA via meetings in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Djibouti, working on the implementation of the FPA details, including “42 consensus points to amend RA 9054” and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund.

Peace with the MILF. While tending the Tripoli Agreement, our government did not neglect the MILF, the MNLF’s chief rival, which continued its armed struggle despite the FPA. After long and arduous negotiations and several failed attempts, the GPH and the MILF finally signed the epochal Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on Oct. 15, 2012.

Since then, the GPH and MILF panels have worked extra hard to produce two of the annexes to the FAB: the very important (1) Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, signed on July 13, 2013, and (2) Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, signed on Feb. 27, 2013. Consistent with the FAB, President Aquino issued Executive Order 120 on Dec. 17, 2012, creating the transition commission tasked to draft the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

It has become obvious that both the GPH and MILF are inexorably headed to stable peace before the end of President Aquino’s term in 2016, inevitably ushering in the MILF’s leadership of the Bangsamoro people. Experts say, not without reason that Misuari and his MNLF faction of less than 200 fighters attempted to block this inevitability by staging the attack on Zamboanga City.

Despite the momentary diversion created by the Zamboanga caper, I hope Secretary Deles and her team will persevere in navigating the stormy river to peace and fix their gaze on their destination of prosperity and wellbeing for all. Truly, lasting peace is the ultimate goal.

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  • Eustaquio Joven

    We cannot have peace in Mindanao for as long as we allow foreign intervention
    or mediation; for as long as we employ professional negotiators like utak Deles
    and company; for as long as we negotiate with armed groups; for as long as we
    deal with Muslims as Muslims, not as Pilipinos; for as long as we ignore existing
    government systems or structures and elected local officials; and for as long
    as we pursue the Framework Agreement with the MILF.

    Every nook and corner of our country is covered by local government units. Each of them was designed to cope with its own unique challenges and opportunities. So, why not use them in our push for peace in Mindanao and even in all other places in our country? Who can best negotiate with their constituents than the elected governors and mayors themselves? They have a stake in the outcome of the process, unlike the professional negotiators. Under this scheme, dialogues can be made more often and more open. Action on agreements can be more immediate and direct. This means special treatment for each tribe regardless of their number or lack of arms to force their demands.

    The national government may only come in for support. Security concerns shall as much as possible be contained within provincial boundaries. Divide and rule. The Mindanao unrest is economic in nature, not religious. Therefore, the LGUs must be empowered to meet this concern. Funding should not be a problem. Congress has only to rectify the anomaly of giving so much funds to the DA and the DSWD when Agriculture and Social Welfare was already devolved to the local government units. If such funds are devolved accordingly, the LGUs would be more effective in promoting peace and prosperity not only in Mindanao but throughout the country.

    What about ancestral domain? We have an existing law on this. All it needs is earnest implementation, with the cooperation of LGUs concerned. Yes, let’s push for peace in Mindanao by pushing for the kind of local autonomy enshrined in our constitution – self-reliant and accountable LGUs.

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