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Framework pact with PH gov’t the ‘best’ since 1997—MILF

/ 10:37 PM October 14, 2012

Murad Ibrahim. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Just one month away from turning 40 years, the Moro rebellion in Mindanao takes a decisive turn for peace as the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign on Monday a preliminary agreement on the setting up of a new Bangsamoro autonomous entity.

While the Moro revolution was galvanized following the infamous Jabidah Massacre on Corregidor Island on March 17, 1968, it was not until Nov. 14, 1972, that “the guns of the Moro National  Liberation Front (MNLF) started to speak,” wrote Salah Jubair in the  book “Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny.”

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The first assault was in Jolo, Sulu.

In all, the Moro rebellion is estimated to have claimed some 120,000 lives and underpinned continuous underdevelopment in Mindanao.

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The preliminary pact provides the “overarching architecture” for the process of addressing the so-called Bangsamoro question, defining the powers and structures of a new self-governance entity that will replace and have far greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It also laid down the principles, processes and mechanisms “that will shape the new relations between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro.”

Although the modalities and timeframe for laying down their arms are yet to be defined, the agreement enshrined the MILF’s agreeing to “undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use.”

In turn, government also agreed to “a phased and gradual” transfer of law enforcement functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to a Bangsamoro police force, which is also set to be defined further.

Chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen had said the decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing, “can keep apace within the period of transition” from ARMM to Bangsamoro. This means within the next two years.

By mid-2016, the first set of elected Bangsamoro leaders, to rule under a ministerial government, is expected to assume powers.

“The agreement heralds a change of status of the parties vis-a-vis each other, from enemies to partners,” Leonen said.

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With an estimated 12,000-strong army, the MILF is the remaining Moro revolutionary group in Mindanao that enjoyed international legitimacy.

The self-styled Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), a band of some 300 armed men led by erstwhile BIAF ground commander Ameril Umra Kato, has been relegated by authorities as “a lawless group” that will be subjected to joint law enforcement efforts by the government and the MILF later.

Although still posturing as a revolutionary movement, the MNLF has disintegrated into various factions after it signed a Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with government on Sept. 2, 1996.

The MILF itself split from the MNLF in 1977 over differences in strategy and political outlook.

National Democratic Front (NDF) chief Luis Jalandoni expressed apprehension on the over-dependence on legal and constitutional processes for entrenching the Bangsamoro.

But MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has said they are confident government will fulfill its commitments especially in the face of a very high international interest on the Mindanao peace process.

MILF chief Murad Ebrahim has praised President Aquino for his “unflinching commitment to justice and reforms,” which is “amply manifested by the exercise of his resolute political will to resolve the Bangsamoro Question on the negotiating table.”

As articulated, the Bangsamoro question refers to the assertion of the Moro people’s “collective right… to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

In a statement, the MILF said the framework agreement “is a template for real self-rule for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.”

“It is a solid document, (although) short of the ideal option providing for an independent state,” it added.

“Of course, it is not a perfect agreement, especially for those who wish for a better one. But for those who have been in the negotiation since 1997, especially negotiators of the MILF, the agreement is the best,” the MILF stressed.

“There could never be another like it, because so much blood, sweat, and tears have been invested in it and there would have been no time in the past and perhaps in the future that such Agreement will ever be possible,” the group added.

“The two parties have given their best and for them, this is the best compromise. Pushing them for more concessions is like pushing them to go to war,” the MILF further said.

Leonen also acknowledged that “the language in this agreement may be far from what is ideal for either of the parties that negotiated it.”

He explained that this was natural because the document was “a product of sincere negotiations and candid exchanges of substantive positions and concerns.”

“Yet the point of coming up with this agreed text is not to craft the perfect agreement but one that best reflects the approaches, principles and mechanisms agreed on by the parties as they have embarked on a problem-solving endeavor,” Leonen pointed out.

When signed, the MILF expects to see “a new engagement” between the MILF and the government to emerge.

“If in the past, their relationship had been characterized by mistrust, animosity and confrontation, this time it will gradually undergo dramatic changes for a more collaborative approach,” the MILF said.

Setting out to establish an independent state for the Moro people, the MNLF eventually succumbed to pressure from Muslim countries to drop this bid in favor of a strong political autonomy. When the MILF started negotiating with government under the facilitation of Malaysia in 2001, it also grudgingly abandoned the quest but vowed to build on the political concessions already gained by the peace negotiations the MNLF had with government.

On Monday, outside of completing the negotiations, the ensuing political partnership between government and the MILF will kickstart through the 15-member Transition Commission (Transcom), which will be created after signing the framework agreement.

The Transcom will be led by the MILF, which will appoint eight members including the chair while government appoints seven. Its most important role is drafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will serve as constitution of the new autonomous entity.

But the partnership faces several ground challenges.

Von Al-Haq, MILF military spokesperson, said their troops would continue to be on guard against possible adverse actions of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which Iqbal earlier said could make moves to shame the peace process.

Leonen said government troops have been pursuing the BIFF.

“Government’s commitment with the MILF includes complying with its commitments with the MNLF. There are various ways that the MNLF can cooperate with the current peace process with the MILF,” Leonen had stressed.

Apart from offering seats in the Transcom to its members, Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles said the drafting of the Basic Law would be an opportunity for the MNLF to help design the appropriate governance structure and processes within the Bangsamoro.

“Instead of just amending Republic Act No. 9054, here you will craft an entirely new law,” Deles pointed out.

RA 9054 is the revised Organic Act for the ARMM, which was enacted as part of government’s commitment in the 1996 FPA.

The date of the historic signing of the preliminary accord is replete with symbolisms that mirror the Aquino administration’s effort of overturning the greatest setback in the Mindanao peace process.

On Monday, it will be a little over a year after President Aquino and Murad held a secret meeting in Tokyo on Oct. 4, 2011, during which they agreed to speed up the process of coming up with a negotiated political settlement to the Moro conflict.

The Aquino-Murad meeting was exactly three years after the Supreme Court barred government negotiators from inking the landmark but controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

The signing also comes exactly four years after the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the MOA-AD on Oct. 14, 2008, saying its crafting was “whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic.”

The thrashing of the MOA-AD led to a yearlong war in central Mindanao that displaced at least 300,000 people and plunged the peace process into its lowest period.

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TAGS: Marvic Leonen, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front, peace negotiations, peace process, Peace Talks, Philippine Government, Philippines
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