Peace seen in ‘not so distant future’By Ryan D. Rosauro
OZAMIZ CITY—With the way things are turning out in the negotiating table, reaching a consensus on a workable peace formula to end over four decades of Moro rebellion in Mindanao is an objective that lies in “not a very distant future” anymore.
At the start of the four-day 31st exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, government was hoping to firm up a “framework agreement” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Sharing the optimism, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said “signing the framework agreement is not a remote possibility.”
“It can happen, perhaps not in a very distant future,” said Iqbal.
According to presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles, the framework agreement will include a road map for replacing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the New Autonomous Political Entity (NAPE) which has far greater political and economic self-governance powers.
NAPE is a crossbreed of the government’s initial offer of enhanced autonomy through a reformed ARMM and the MILF’s substate formula that has roots in the concept of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).
But Deles explained that the BJE concept has long been abandoned in the negotiations because it was associated with the failed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional for, among others, lack of consultations.
“Like you, we have moved from our initial positions,” said chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen at the signing of a 10 Decision Points document last April.
The creation of NAPE was listed in the 10 Decision Points that would guide the crafting of a comprehensive peace formula.
NAPE’s core territory will be the current ARMM. MILF has proposed that six predominantly Moro-populated towns in Lanao del Norte and at least 735 barangays contiguous to the region be included in NAPE subject to a plebiscite.
Deles said “the two parties have not yet agreed on the mode and scope of jurisdiction for the autonomous entity.”
She added that the framework agreement must also spell out measures that should be taken in the transition from ARMM to NAPE.
In an earlier interview, Iqbal said the legal instruments being considered to effect a transition range from an executive order by the President to a congressional act.
“Eventually, we want the political setup entrenched in the Philippine Constitution so that it becomes a permanent feature of the legal system,” said Iqbal.
From its original proposal of seven years, the MILF has agreed to trim down the period of transition to three years so that key portions of any agreement would be implemented within the term of President Aquino.
This adjustment led to a new strategy by the negotiators.
Deles said the framework agreement will be the first in a series of pacts the government and the MILF will sign in the process of establishing and empowering the Moro self-governance entity.
This means that the peace formula will not be contained only in one document.
Deles explained that the framework agreement will contain “an elaboration of the 10 Decision Points” as well as “an enumeration of principles” that will guide the crafting of successive agreements.
She said negotiations for all these agreements must be completed also within the term of Mr. Aquino.
“We want the major commitments that will have a bearing on building peace in Mindanao implemented within this administration,” she said.
“And the conclusion of the negotiations to address the Moro aspiration for self-determination,” she added.
“But of course the task of building lasting peace in Mindanao goes beyond this administration,” Deles stressed.
Within the agreed three-year transition phase, other substantive measures like the enactment of a Bangsamoro Basic Law and normalization will be worked out, Deles further said.
Under the MILF proposal, the basic law will govern the operation of the NAPE just like the charter or Organic Act that created the ARMM.
The proposals of the parties include disposition of firearms and deactivation of the MILF’s armed wing, the dismantling of private armies, policing and degree of presence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines within the self-governance region.
Iqbal said a plebiscite for the expansion of the NAPE’s core territory may also be done within the transition phase.
During Wednesday’s opening rites, Leonen proposed that the recent round of talks conclude with the panels “tak(ing) home to our principals a completed product, a consensus draft, even a very rough draft with some options of a framework agreement for their serious consideration.”
“We do not aim for a perfect agreement. We do not aim for an agreement whose words will immediately solve centuries-old problems,” Leonen said.
“Instead, we aim for an agreement that is viable–one that produces the first platforms that can inspire both sides to build on the trust and confidence that we may now have with each other,” he added.
Deles admits that the current round of talks is the start of the countdown toward finally concluding the 15-year negotiations with MILF.
Optimism for more positive results is founded on the “utmost goodwill that the parties have for each other,” she said.
“But there is also no denying that the issues still on the table will not be easy to settle as in critical details of power- and wealth-sharing, territorial scope, and normalization to include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the MILF’s troops,” she said.
The creation of technical working groups on power-sharing and wealth-sharing last month was aimed to hasten discussions on the two substantive issues.
Earlier, Iqbal said the parties have for a long time been stuck on several points relating to these issues.
For one, Iqbal said, there was no consensus on whether election and energy are exclusive powers of either the central government or the NAPE.
He revealed that the MILF was willing to make it a concurrent power of both entities and the specific terms of sharing such power will be defined in subsequent pacts.
Iqbal described the negotiations as “passing through a defining moment.” And in this, Leonen said the parties are required to invest “a little more patience (and) a little more creativity….”
During the opening rites, Leonen said he was planning to ask for a moment of silence to honor the late Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.
“But then I realized that there may be a better way to honor him as well as those who passed away living lives founded on the belief that there can be better societies that are better governed and therefore more humane,” he added.
“We seek that all guns be silenced permanently. That it is these guns that will become a memory and that our disagreements, our disappointments and perhaps even our anger will never be again channeled to cause deaths in violent confrontation,” Leonen said.
“It is there where we will truly start to honor all of our dead,” he said.
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