OZAMIZ CITY—As government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) negotiators apply the finishing touches to a peace road map in Mindanao, a new struggle to achieve Bangsamoro unity to ensure lasting peace has emerged among Moro revolutionary groups on the island.
“We have a need to address difficult and sensitive issues affecting Bangsamoro unity,” said President Aquino’s adviser on on the peace process, Teresita Quintos-Deles, when she spoke at the “MILF-MNLF Special Session” during the 4th World Peace Forum in Bogor, Indonesia, on Nov. 24, 2012.
The government has formally asked both the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to settle their differences. Both rebel fronts have separately entered into peace processes with the government, basically raising the same issues, including territory.
“What is more difficult is getting everybody on the same boat. On this, only you can make this happen, not the government,” Deles told leaders of the two groups in her “Statement of Hope.” The “government can only support the process and we pledge to do so in every way necessary and possible,” she said.
The Aquino administration has long wanted a convergence of the MILF and MNLF peace tracks because “it is not possible to talk about separate futures for both,” she said.
A faction of the MNLF has welcomed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by government and MILF negotiators on Oct. 15 to lay the basis for a peace settlement but the main wing, led by Nur Misuari, has criticized the document for supposedly negating the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the MNLF and the government.
Misuari’s following has considerably dwindled through the years but he continues to be recognized as the leader of the MNLF. The group holds an observer status in the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Since mid-2010, the OIC has been working with both parties to unify their peace efforts. Misuari has not responded positively while the MILF has acceded to the formation of the OIC-
brokered Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, which should bring all Moro revolutionary formations together.
During its recent meeting in Djibouti, the OIC called on the need to harmonize the FPA and the framework agreement. However, it did not offer any parameters within which this process should be undertaken.
For the government, one manifestation of convergence is the MNLF’s participation in crafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law—the first step in a peace transition envisioned under the framework pact. Saying MNLF involvement will further enrich the peace process with the MILF, Deles has offered its members seats in the Transition Commission, which will draft the Basic Law.
The Basic Law will serve as the charter of the Bangsamoro that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) once the necessary legal processes to entrench it is done. It also offers an opportunity to fulfill the remaining commitments contained in the FPA, including expanding the powers and geographic scope of the autonomous region.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has said Misuari’s impression that the framework accord will negate the MNLF’s 1996 peace deal with the government is wrong. The MILF, Iqbal said, has remained firm that “any meaningful political settlement for the Moro conflict should embody the full implementation of the FPA.”
Viewed from the larger interest of Moro empowerment, the framework pact—along with an eventual comprehensive agreement—is better than the FPA as it elicits more concessions from the government, he said.
“There is no more platform today for achieving this other than the peace process between the government and the MILF,” Iqbal explained.
In March last year, Deles categorically told participants of a tripartite review of the FPA that the government would not open any new negotiations with the MNLF.
The MILF is not giving up in wooing Misuari. It has launched an aggressive drive to win the support of former MNLF comrades on a personal basis. Since early last year, it has been holding meetings, reunions and dialogues with MNLF ground commanders.
In July last year, the MILF held the Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly, which gathered Moro leaders from grass root communities and consolidated them along an eventual peace agreement with the government.
MILF sources noted that Iqbal and another MILF panel member, Maulana Alonto, have been involved in many of the high-level unity meetings with MNLF leaders. This is to send the message that the front is opening up the peace negotiations to accommodate MNLF political demands, the sources said.
Deles noted that the issues facing both rebel groups in relation to empowering the Bangsamoro were similar and “not intractable.”
As stipulated in the framework pact, Bangsamoro self-governance mainly features bigger share in revenue, especially those generated through exploiting strategic natural resources; inclusion of as much Moro-dominated areas into the geographic scope for the autonomous government; an enhanced Shari’ah justice system; and provision of block grants and subsidies to jump-start economic development essential to sustaining peace.
As peace dawns in Mindanao, it is ironic that an unresolved 35-year internal squabble among Moro revolutionaries is creating unwelcome creases.
On Dec. 26, 1977, Salamat Hashim led the ouster of Misuari as MNLF chair for, among others, straying the Moro struggle toward a Marxist-Maoist orientation and making its central committee his own “exclusive preserve,” wrote Salah Jubair in the book, “Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny.”
Although they tried to tackle the matter seriously, the OIC and the Muslim World League has not resolved the issue.
By March 1984, Salamat’s faction split from the MNLF and formed the MILF.