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What Went Before: Peace talks with the MILF

/ 03:41 AM January 26, 2014

Moro Islamic Liberation Front. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The killing of 28 Moro Army recruits on Corregidor Island on March 18, 1968, angered the Moro people, leading to an explosion of resentment over years of prejudice, ill treatment and discrimination. Moro consciousness grew and political organizations emerged. One of those groups was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), dedicated to fighting for the establishment of an independent Bangsamoro state in Mindanao.

Differences between MNLF founder Nur Misuari and other leaders of the organization led to a split in 1978, with a faction led by Hashim Salamat falling out to form a “New MNLF.”

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In 1984, the larger group led by Hashim declared itself a separate organization called Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

With the regime change in 1986, the MILF sent a message to the newly installed administration of President Corazon Aquino to say that it was ready to talk peace.

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In August of that year, the MNLF and the MILF agreed in principle to negotiate jointly for peace in Mindanao, with the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Muslim World League mediating the talks.

The talks opened in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in January 1987, centering on autonomy “subject to democratic processes.” The MNLF requested the suspension of the autonomy provisions of the Constitution that was ratified in February. Aquino refused. The MILF launched an offensive, prompting the government panel headed by Aquilino Pimentel Jr. to request a ceasefire to allow the talks to continue.

The talks collapsed when the government enforced the autonomy provisions of the Constitution. A Mindanao Regional Consultative Commission was organized and a new autonomy bill was submitted to Congress. Both the MNLF and the MILF denounced the government’s moves.

Autonomous region

In 1989, Congress passed Republic Act No. 6734, creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Aquino signed the bill into law on Aug. 1. A plebiscite was held on Nov. 19, but the MNLF and the MILF boycotted the balloting. Only four Mindanao provinces—Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi—opted for autonomy. The ARMM was inaugurated on Nov. 6, 1990.

Then President Fidel Ramos called for peace in May 1992 and later formed a National Unification Commission (NUC) to formulate an amnesty program and a negotiation process.

Exploratory talks with the MNLF opened in Tripoli, Libya, in October. The NUC launched the consultations and met with the MILF.

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Peace with MNLF

The government and the MNLF signed a final peace agreement on Sept. 2, 1996. The MILF rejected it, but committed not to stand in the way of peace.

In October that year, the government formed a new negotiating panel for peace talks with the MILF.

After months of fighting, the government and the MILF signed an agreement for the cessation of hostilities on Sept. 12, 1997.

In 1998, Joseph Estrada was elected President and a new government panel for peace talks with the MILF was formed.

The talks opened on Jan. 17, 2000, with Estrada setting a June deadline for the conclusion of a peace agreement with the MILF.

All-out war

Disagreements led to the MILF’s declaration of an “indefinite suspension” of peace negotiations in April, the resumption of fighting, and Estrada’s declaration of an “all-out war” against Hashim’s rebel group.

In September, Estrada issued Proclamation No. 390 granting amnesty to MILF members to clear the way for the resumption of peace talks.

After exploratory talks, the government, then led by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and MILF reopened talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 27, 2003.

A memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, which aimed to expand the ARMM, was proposed after more than a decade of on-and-off peace talks between the government and the MILF.

The agreement, supposed to be signed on Aug. 5, 2008, was met with strong public opposition, with groups claiming that the proposed Bangsamoro homeland could lead to the formation of an independent state.

Officials, lawmakers and interest groups took the issue to the Supreme Court, and the tribunal issued a temporary restraining order stopping the signing of the agreement on Aug. 4.

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court, voting 8-7, declared the agreement unconstitutional, describing the process that led to its formulation as “whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic.” The court affirmed its decision on Nov. 11.

Restarting talks

When President Benigno S. Aquino III assumed office in 2010, he assembled a new negotiating panel to resume peace talks with the MILF, naming Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, chair. Malaysia remained the facilitator of the talks.

On Aug. 4, 2011, President Aquino and MILF chair Murad Ebrahim agreed to hasten the talks during a secret meeting in Tokyo. Following the meeting, the MILF posted an editorial on its website on Aug. 9, insisting on the creation of its proposed Moro substate in Mindanao.

In the same month, exploratory talks between the government and the MILF began, with the government presenting its proposal for “enhanced” autonomy through massive reforms in the ARMM, but the MILF rejected the offer of expanded autonomy and insisted on forming a Moro substate.

On Oct. 18, despite an existing ceasefire, MILF forces clashed with military troops in Al-Barka town, Basilan province, killing 19 soldiers and six rebels. The two sides blamed each other for the attack. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said a Malaysian-led international monitoring team would investigate the incident, and the findings would be discussed at the resumption of peace talks.

Clashes broke out again between the two sides in Zamboanga Sibugay province on Oct. 21 and in Basilan and Lanao de Norte province on Oct. 23.

On Oct. 24, the President declared an “all-out justice” instead of an all-out war for the slain soldiers. The Philippine Air Force started an air and ground operation against MILF “rogue elements” in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay.

The formal peace talks resumed in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 5, with both parties agreeing on basic points that largely centered on defining “genuine autonomy” for the Moro people.

Framework deal

On April 25, 2012, after several rounds of talks, the government and the MILF panels announced an agreement to create a new autonomous political entity to replace the ARMM.

On Oct. 7, Mr. Aquino said a framework agreement had been reached with the MILF to end 40 years of insurgency in Mindanao and build the Bangsamoro region that would replace the ARMM.

The framework agreement was signed on Oct. 15 in Malacañang. But it was just the first step, as the two sides needed to work on the agreement’s four annexes— transitional mechanisms, power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization. The framework document, the annexes and an introductory text constitute the comprehensive agreement.

On Dec. 7, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a member of the government panel and a professor at the UP political science department, took oath as the new chief negotiator of the government panel, replacing Leonen who was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Transition body

On Dec. 17, the President signed and issued Executive Order No. 120 creating the Transition Commission (Transcom) that would draft a proposed law creating the envisioned Bangsamoro autonomous government. Once drafted, the Bangsamoro basic law would be certified urgent by the President and submitted to Congress.

On Feb. 11, 2013, Mr. Aquino paid his first visit to the stronghold of the MILF in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao province, for the launch of Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a social development program for the MILF and Moro communities.

On Feb. 25, Malacañang announced the 15 members of the Transcom composed of eight representatives from the MILF and seven from the government.

Working on annexes

On Feb. 27, the two panels signed the first annex—transitional arrangements and modalities, outlining a transition process consisting of eight components beginning with the creation of the Transcom (which President Aquino had already done) and ending with an exit document terminating the peace negotiations, “if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”

In the April round of exploratory talks, both sides failed to complete another annex, but signed the guidelines for the Sajahatra Bangsamoro.

Eight months after the signing of the framework agreement, the MILF expressed frustration with the slow progress of the peace negotiations, warning that its ground commanders were losing hope that the conflict would be settled soon.

In a June 16 Inquirer report, Iqbal described the status of the negotiations as a “stalemate,” but leaders of the MILF urged their ground commanders to be patient to avoid a resurgence of violence in Mindanao.

The negotiations hit a snag when Malacañang requested a “review” of the wealth-sharing annex already initialed by the peace negotiators.

The negotiations resumed in July but this round had to be extended twice before the contentious wealth-sharing annex was signed.

The government initially bargained for a bigger share of the wealth, arguing that it wanted an agreement that could withstand challenge in the Supreme Court, while the MILF drove for the bigger share, adamantly standing by the sharing annex that both sides initialed in February.

Toward midnight July 13, the sixth day of the July round of talks, the two panels reached an agreement on how to divide income from taxes and natural resources in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region.

Under the annex, 100 percent of the revenue from the exploration, development and use of nonmetallic minerals would go to Bangsamoro. For metallic minerals, 75 percent of the revenue would go to Bangsamoro and 25 percent to the government while earnings from fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium would be divided equally.

Further, Bangasmoro would take 75 percent of national taxes to be collected from the territory, up from the current 70 percent in the ARMM.

On Sept. 9, a faction of the MNLF, which was opposed to separate peace talks between the government and the MILF, attacked Zamboanga City and took around 200 hostages. Fighting between government forces and the rebels lasted for almost three weeks and left more than 200 people dead, hundreds wounded and thousands displaced.

Penultimate annex

On Dec. 8, the government and MILF panels signed the annex on power-sharing, third of the four annexes. It outlined the powers that would be reserved by the national government, those that would be held by the government of the autonomous Bangsamoro region and those that would be shared by both. Inquirer Research

Sources: Inquirer Archives, opapp.gov.ph

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TAGS: Bangsamoro state, Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Hashim Salamat, Joseph Estrada, MILF, Mindanao, Mindanao conflict, MNLF, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari, Peace Talks, Philippine history
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