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COMMENT: Bridging the Historic Chasm (7)

III. MILF Dictating Terms


GENERAL  SANTOS CITY, November 28,2012 – In his column, “Analysis: What’s Bangsamoro?” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 26, 2012), Amando Doronila asked two questions: “Under whose terms was the agreement (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) concluded? Who conceded more ground, the government or the MILF?”


Although he answered this outright — “From the documents I have in my hands, no side can claim to be the clear winner in this agreement” — the opening paragraph of his October 30 “Analysis: Trade-offs in the Bangsamoro pact” read: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front swamped the government negotiation panel in the talks over the scope of the autonomy of the Bangsamoro substate, with comprehensive demands on power-sharing, as though the MILF was dictating the terms of the political settlement of peace in Mindanao.” [Bold type supplied]


Not only Doronila must have asked these questions and have had the same impression. The questions bear on what a good agreement must be.  That is, no party dictates; no party is the winner. A good agreement is the honest, sincere and mutually beneficial settlement of the problem. If the agreement fails, both parties are losers; if it succeeds, both are winners.


This should – and must be what the FAB is as it evolves into the Comprehensive Agreement upon the completion of the negotiations on the four annexes. Yet, the following question intrudes to properly appreciate the FAB: As the political settlement of the Bangsamoro Problem, how did Government and MILF draft the FAB?


No Clear Policy


President Aquino III had no clear Mindanao Policy and he was not keen in starting from where the Arroyo government left. This may be inferred from circumstances in the delay for eight months of the resumption of the peace negotiations following his takeover of the reins of government on June 30, 2010.


What Secretary (PAPP) Teresita Quintos-Deles has been touting as Aquino III”s policy is the 14th “commitment to transformational leadership” of his election platform, “A Social Contract with the Filipino People”, which reads: “From a disjointed, short-sighted Mindanao policy that merely reacts to events and incidents to one that seeks a broadly supported just peace and will redress decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao.”


This was just a statement of an intended policy. In his first (2010) State of the Nation Address he merely referred to the Mindanao problem as “situwasyon sa Mindanao” or “Mindanao situation”. The first part of the statement obviously criticizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo referred to how past governments, not just Arroyo’s, had dealt with the Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups. This, in reality, had been the “situwasyon” –and still is — and has not been handled more effectively by the present government.


In fairness to past presidents including Arroyo they had policies in solving the Mindanao or Bangsamoro Problem. Although unfortunately not implemented as expected, these policies were not “disjointed and short-sighted” but were exactly what he seeks and wants to happen. President Corazon C. Aquino had “The Government C

ommitment to Mindanao”, issued on August 20, 1986; President Fidel V. Ramos, “The Six Paths to Peace”, July 1,1993, becoming Section 3 of Executive Order No. 125 of September 15, 1993; and President Arroyo, Executive Order No. 3, February 28, 2001.


Unlike Aquino III’s one-sentence “intended policy”, the above policies – the last two on Government’s national comprehensive peace efforts – are clearly elaborated. E. O. No. 3, s. 2001`reiterated with some modification E. O. No. 125, s. 1993. In reality, the Aquino government is negotiating with MILF in the molds of the Ramos and Arroyo E.Os, more of the latter – the parameters enunciated by the Aquino peace teams are provided in the Ramos and Arroyo E.Os.


Making of the FAB


Government panel member, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, in her article, “The Making of the Framework Agreement” (MindaNews, November 7, 2012 and some national media), capsulized the making of the FAB, thus:

“Much earlier, on February 2011, the MILF handed over to the GPH panel its 40-page Draft Comprehensive Compact. The GPH panel accepted this as a reference, and not necessarily as the document on the negotiating table.

“In turn, the GPH handed a much shorter ‘3-for-1’ proposal in August 2011. (MILF panel chair Mohagher] Iqbal described the gap between the documents as that between ‘heaven and earth.’ A stalemate ensued.

“The deadlock was unhinged when the two parties moved to a negotiation strategy of consensus-building. First, we worked on identifying and crafting into a text the shared points. All contentious issues were set aside.” [Author’s Note: Consensus-building was the principal mode in the more than four years that GRP and MILF negotiated the MOA-AD.]

Ferrer related how “explosive and emotional” moments were diffused through the facilitator’s “call for a break” and how contentious issues were resolved through “informal or executive sessions” of varying compositions attended by the facilitator “to identify bottom-lines and explain their positions more clearly” . By her account, “the combined methods of formal and informal talks” took more than a year to bear its “first fruit” – the April 2012 Decision Points on Principles.

In the next five months, the Parties, following their agreed process and format finished in the first week October “a framework document with the annexes to follow”. These annexes are now in the process of negotiation.

Ferrer described “the negotiation dynamics” that made the agreement happen. “We gave them a draft framework agreement; they gave us another. Knowing how important it was for the MILF to use their own words, we agreed to work on theirs.” [Author’s Note: As we shall discuss later, the negotiators before Aquino III worked on MILF draft proposals.]

Before February 2011

February 2011 was the eighth month of Aquino III’s presidency. What transpired before that concerning the Government-MILF peace talks?

The government peace panel was constituted in July 2010. By the middle of August when Leonen spoke at the Foreign Overseas Correspondents Association of the Philippines, he said his panel had reviewed the “signed agreements”, had “read government’s internal reports” and were “receiving briefings from relevant personalities” and would soon “review the official minutes of the negotiations of the past nine years”.

By that time then, the Leonen panel should have been ready to resume negotiations on the substantive issues. The June 3, 2010 GRP-MILF Declaration of Continuity of Peace Negotiation spelled out how the talks would proceed. MILF was ready with their draft peace agreement.

But the panel hedged despite an earlier assurance that Government would resume the talks without preconditions. Leonen said they were not comfortable with the Malaysian facilitator Datuk Othman bin Razak and the negotiation parameters and portfolio. They wanted changes before reopening the talks.

They asked the Malaysian government to change Othman but through the wrong channel. Any change of parameters and portfolio had to be done by the Parties in formal meetings. By refusing to meet the MILF panel, Government only prolonged the delay.

By December, Government relented. The Parties met in Kuala Lumpur with Othman facilitating and under the same parameters, protocol and mechanism. Eventually, Othman opted out and Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar took over as facilitator. Curiously, the Parties did not take up any change in the negotiation parameters and portfolio.

On February 11, 2011, as Ferrer related, the Philippine panel received the MILF Draft Agreement 2011, the latest version of the reframed MOA-AD. That marked the formal resumption of the talks on substantial issues. Half a year had been wasted.

After February 11

April 2012 was the 13th month after February 11. What could have happened in the interim concerning the draft agreement proposals of the government and the MILF?

According to Ferrer, “The GPH panel accepted [the MILF Draft Agreement] as a reference, and not necessarily as the document on the negotiating table.” Meaning: Government did not intend to negotiate based on the Draft. The next thirteen months would reveal the full meaning of that statement.


We see three stages:


Stage 1: Between February and August 2011, Government panel had two informal sessions with MILF’s to clarify many points in the Draft. That was understandably a wise move. In order to negotiate intelligently, Government negotiators must fully understand the MILF proposals from the MILF negotiators.


Then, that Government panel only accepted the MILF Draft “as a reference” became evident.  As may be seen in the GPH “3 for 1” Proposal or, briefly, Proposal, the panel adopted from the MILF Draft provisions that with inputs from stakeholders blended into the formulation of “Government’s starting … position on the substantive issues”. A comparison of the MILF Draft and “Part Two” of the Proposal on “The Peace Accord” would reveal how the first had been used as “a reference”.


On August 22, 2011, Government handed to MILF its Proposal which included MILF demands Government could accommodate within its parameters and the constitution. Instead of the “state substate” MILF-Central Government relationship, the Proposal provides “a mechanism for continuing partnership between the GPH and the MILF” aimed to:


  • “pave the way for legal and other reforms that will realize Bangsamoro self-governance and development, and
  • “build on prior signed agreements between the GPH and the MILF and other key documents.”

At a glance, the ultimate goal of the proposal — “To attain a just peace in Mindanao through a comprehensive political settlement that enjoys political support, establishes democratic and effective institutions, and delivers economic development” — is similar to that of MILF’s. But on closer examination only the first goal is; the second detracts. The eleven characteristics of the Proposal match those of the Draft.

Clearly, the government proposed not only to revise the prioritization of core issues and talks parameters but also changed the negotiation approach – introducing the “honestly different” approach. [Author’s Note: We discussed these innovative government proposals in our five-part series, “Honestly Different” (MindaNews August 31-October 20, 2011)] Cogently, Leonen explained the new approach through media and Ferrer the revision of priorities and parameters in a commentary “A comprehensive package for autonomy”.

The August 22-24, 2011 exploratory talks ended on the first day when MILF panel chair Iqbal received Government’s Proposal, saw no point in discussing it and curtly rejected it – describing as “heaven and earth” the difference between the Draft and the Proposal. The latter had the unmistakable impression that it should be primarily considered if MILF wanted an agreement signed soon. As Ferrer commented, “A stalemate ensued”.


Understandably, the “transformative approach” of the Proposal was unacceptable to MILF. Having most of its demands for self-governance accommodated but being just a tri-partite partner in the transformation of the ARMM into a “truly enhanced autonomy” via socio-economic reforms would have meant for MILF loss of identity and direction in the pursuit of its right to self-determination rendering its struggle meaningless.


What could have been the proverbial “last nail on the coffin” of Proposal was Ferrer’s final statement: “While it [GPH] understands the vision behind the MILF’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that will allow the creation of a Bangsamoro substate whereby they [MILF] themselves, will craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the GPH is saying that this option is not viable at this time.”  [Emphasis supplied]


Stage 2: Between August 22, 2011 and April 24, 2012 were eight months for the Parties to “unhinge the deadlock” or break the stalemate. In their statements to open and close their sessions, Leonen was ever articulate and optimistic that an agreement would soon be signed if they focused only on the many points they could agree; Iqbal was frank and blunt unflinching from the basic points and direction of the MILF proposal.


Leonen’s and his panel’s resourcefulness and versatility should be appreciated. They removed the ARMM reform package from the Proposal but kept its substantive points that were culled from the Draft and adhered to the principles of their “honestly different” mode of negotiation. That adapted well into consensus-building that yielded the April 2012 Decision Points on Principles.


The Decision contained MILF’s core demands in principle. At the same time Ferrer observed: “Interestingly, the document did not invite hostility after it was made public.  Except for a few negative commentaries, the public was keeping its mind open.” In modifying MILF demands adopted in the Proposal, Government disarmed the anti-MILF or anti-Moro public.


Stage 3: The five months after April 24 saw the crafting of the Decision into the FAB that was signed on October 15, 2012. The task was not easy. The agreement was only on principles. The contentious details had to be made agreeable to Government, MILF and, just as imperatively, to the Moros, all stakeholders and the national leaders


As may be seen in both the Decision and the FAB, all provisions are essentially in the Draft including the transition mechanisms. And so are the annexes. This must be so since the Proposal which was reconciled with the Draft to arrive at the Decision was basically culled from the Draft and the MOA-AD in its original or as reframed. Ferrer said: “We gave them a draft framework agreement; they gave us another. Knowing how important it was for the MILF to use their own words, we agreed to work on theirs.”


Ferrer is referring to drafting of the FAB as well as of the Decision. Quick learners from their mistake in trying to make the Proposal supersede the Draft!


Back to the Questions

(1) Did MILF swamp the government negotiation panel in the talks over the scope of autonomy of the Bangsamoro substate with comprehensive demands on power-sharing as though MILF was dictating the political settlement of peace in Mindanao?

(2) Under whose terms was the agreement concluded?


(3) Who conceded more grounds, the government or the MILF?


As the aggrieved Party, MILF has swamped Government with demands – not just on power-sharing. But this is not “dictating”. The demands are the wrongs to be corrected – the injustices, inequities and ethnic prejudices. They are the bases of the peaceful and just settlement of the Mindanao Problem. Whatever inputs Government brings in from non-Moro stakeholders are to remind the Moros they are not living in isolation and to temper the agreement into universal acceptability.


By consensus, the agreement – the FAB – and others yet to come are mutually agreed.


MILF has conceded more grounds. In fact, Government being obliged to hear and satisfy the complaints of its people has nothing to concede. The negotiations are on the demands of MILF. By continuing policies from President to President, Government is doing an obligation. That is not conceding any grounds. That most of MILF demands can be accommodated in the present constitution is not a concession.  In convincing MILF to be realistic and pragmatic is not conceding.


MILF demands but does not dictate; in justly satisfying the demands, Government does not concede.
(Next: Responses to the FAB)

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