Peace advocates hopeful about Aquino counter-proposal to MILF substate

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06:38 PM August 14th, 2011

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August 14th, 2011 06:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines—With a week to go before the peace talks resume, negotiators for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are interested to know one thing: Is the Aquino administration willing to compromise over the proposed substate?

Peace advocates, on the other hand, are decrying the public quibbling over the proposed Bangsamoro substate as counter-productive at this crucial stage of the peace negotiations.

Negotiators from the government and the MILF are returning to the table on Monday next week in Malaysia, with the government panel expected to present its counter-proposal to the creation of a substate.

“Is he (President Aquino) willing to cast his political capital for this problem, for this process?’’ MILF senior panel member Michael Mastura said in an interview Thursday.

Mastura believed that the government panel, headed by former UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen, would be ready with its counter-proposal by Monday next week.

“The issues are clear. If they will accede to using our draft as a working draft, that will fast-track everything,’’ Mastura said.

After Aquino’s secret meeting with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo over a week ago, the MILF declared it had dropped its bid for a separate Islamic state and was settling for a substate.

As a substate, it will exercise powers over its political and economic affairs, and enforce security within the Bangsamoro territory, but remains under the Republic of the Philippines.

It would have “asymmetrical relations’’ with the national government, similar to Hong Kong’s relations with China, MILF consultants said.

Raissa Jajurie, member of the MILF’s board of consultants, expressed the rebel group’s hope that the government would meet it halfway and agree to grant the substate status.

“Bangsamoro wants to have its own responsibility in governing Bangsamoro lands. It’s a compromise. Just for the sake of having peace, they’re agreeable to a substate at this point,’’ Ms. Jajurie said.

“They’re hoping that the Philippine government will be ready to compromise their position and grant this to the Moro, given the historical injustice through the years,’’ she added.

The MILF has contended that a provision on the substate could be appended to the 1987 Constitution by legislation, and without going through the politically divisive process of a constitutional convention or constituent assembly.

UP Law Prof. Harry Roque and former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the proposed substate would likely require an amendment to the Philippine Constitution.

The Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), a grassroots network of Christians, Muslims and lumads seeking peace in Mindanao, is just as eager to see how the government panel would respond to the proposed substate.

“We are hoping that this coming August 22, the government will finally submit their counter-proposal so we’ll have an idea where this is headed. After the euphoria, they will go back to the real hard work of negotiation. August 22 is a significant day,’’ its secretary general Mary Ann Arnado said in an interview Sunday.

Ms. Arnado said the MILF has ‘laid down its cards’’ and peace advocates were anticipating “how close or how far’’ the government’s counter-proposal would be to this.

“The peace advocates in Mindanao are eagerly looking forward to a political settlement of the armed conflict. Whatever is the agreement to be reached, we will support that. We don’t want to go back to war,’’ Arnado said.

That was why the quibbling over the proposed substate has upset peace advocacy groups such as MPC and Maradeka.

Arnado chafed at former President Joseph Estrada, who assailed the Aquino-Murad meeting and belittled the proposed substate as a rehash of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity the MILF had sought to establish.

“He has lost the credibility to comment on that. He has waged an all-out war as President, and this was part of his campaign pitch when he ran for President. It’s a far cry from the position of President Aquino, who is looking for a viable formula to the problem,’’ she said of Estrada.

“We’re too quick to criticize. What the President is doing is peacemaking,’’ Arnado added.

Maradeka secretary general Nash Pangadapun also cautioned the public against such premature comments pending the government’s submission of its counter-proposal, and called for sobriety.

“Hyper-reactions can hurt confidence-building measures of both sides, while spoilers are feasting on the recent development,’’ he said in a text message.”Let us make the peace process work.’’

Pangadapun said that it would be premature to comment on the proposed substate since the government has not articulated its counter-proposal.

The more immediate concern has been to bring to the mainstream the group of MILF commander Umbra Kato, who has declared breaking away from the MILF over its frustrations with the peace process, he said.

“We don’t believe that future talks can be possible without the MILF resolving first its internal conflict, and fighting and dislodging Kato and his forces cannot either be the solution,’’ he said.

Maradeka is an alliance of pro-democracy Bangsamoro civil society groups that sat as an official observer in the 2006-2008 talks.

Despite the high-level meeting between Aquino and Murad, there’s still work cut out for both panels, peace advocates conceded.

“This is a breakthrough move. You need something dramatic to show goodwill and sincerity. This move was quite important,’’ Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute executive director Karen Tañada said in an interview.

“It’s still not easy. There are a lot of issues that need to be threshed out – this aspect of the Constitution, the issue on the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), the issue on territory,’’ Ms. Tañada added.

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