What’s next for the Mindanao GPH-MILF peace process?

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Saturday, February 1, 2014


CAGAYAN DE ORO -- In the middle of the ecstatic conclusion of the 17-year negotiations between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), guns roared in Maguindanao as the Philippine Army began military pursuit against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The BIFF, a small breakaway group of the MILF armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), has been attacking communities in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato since July last year to show its displeasure at the GPH-MILF peace negotiations.

The MILF has admitted to cooperating with government in the military operations although not in the actual combat.

Situations like that of the BIFF will expectedly hound both government and the MILF in the days ahead as both parties proceed to the next phase of the Mindanao peace process: implementing their agreements.

Although the last of the annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) is yet to be forged, the arrangements for normalization will be most relevant to the ground as the parties build the Bangsamoro entity that will soon replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

At present, efforts are underway to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the charter of the new autonomous entity. Work is slated for completion by the end of April. It is expected to be enacted by Congress before the year ends. If so, the plebiscite to ratify the Basic Law will likely occur in early 2015.

Bangsamoro transition

The Bangsamoro transition is all about replacing the Armm with the Bangsamoro. And because the abolition of the Armm will happen before the May 2016 general elections, a transitional body to be called the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will be created by the President to take over the reins of regional governance.

Meanwhile, the parties are to work on building the structures that will oversee normalization activities, which includes a phased decommissioning of the BIAF, the gradual redeployment of government armed forces within the Bangsamoro, and the implementation of an interim security setup while the Bangsamoro police force is yet to be established.

Such interim security setup will be very relevant in containing threats such as that currently posed by the BIFF as well as planning and carrying out steps to disband private armed groups within the Bangsamoro which is a key aspect of the agreed normalization process.

Cooperation

Another challenge in the transition process is the cooperation of the various factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Despite their public posturing of reluctance, the MNLF and other revolutionary groups in the region are provided with equal opportunity as the MILF in pursuing their political aims through peaceful and democratic means.

Actually, the question that these revolutionary groups have to face is not about their supposed ‘revolutionary rivalry.’ It is about how they can cope well against entrenched political clans in the battle for votes during the elections.

Below is a rundown of key events of the government-MILF peace process:

Agenda setting

*Jan. 7, 1997: technical committees on agenda setting met in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. The MILF characterized its talking point into nine issues or concerns, to wit: ancestral domain, displaced and landless Bangsamoro, destruction of properties and war victims, human rights issues, social and cultural discrimination, corruption of the mind and the moral fiber, economic inequities and widespread poverty, exploitation of natural resources, and agrarian related issues.

Buldon ceasefire

*Jan. 27, 1997: parties forged a ceasefire covering Buldon, Maguindanao which is within the vicinity of the MILF’s Camp Abubakar Assidique.

Accord on General Cessation of Hostilities inked in CdO

*July 18, 1997: an accord on general cessation of hostilities inked in Cagayan de Oro City. This was further developed in the years ahead.

All-out war

*March 21, 2000: President Joseph Estrada declared all-out war against the MILF in response to the latter’s occupation of the town hall of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte. The five-month military campaign concluded with the capture of Camp Abubakar.

Resumption of nego

*March 24, 2001: resumption of negotiations. With Estrada ousted, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reopened talks with the MILF, dubbing it her “all-out peace” policy.

Forge 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace

*June 22, 2001: Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 was forged between government and the MILF. This lays down the framework of the incremental character of the negotiations in pursuit of approaches to address the so-called Bangsamoro question. The framework provides for the parties to agree, through exploratory talks, on the issues of security, rehab of war-torn areas, and Bangsamoro ancestral domain. Consensus on the three issues will lead them to formal talks for the purpose of crafting a comprehensive agreement.

Creation of BDA

*May 7, 2002: the parties adopted guidelines on the conduct of humanitarian, rehabilitation and development initiatives in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. This led to the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), the development arm of the MILF.

TOR for IMT

*Sept. 8, 2004: the parties firmed up a terms of reference (TOR) for the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that will oversee implementation of the ceasefire accord. Malaysia leads the IMT, in deference to its role of facilitating the negotiations. The IMT further strengthened the ceasefire mechanism.

Creation of AHJAG

*Dec. 21, 2004: the parties created the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). It is an avenue for cooperation against lawless elements and terrorist activities in rebel stronghold areas.

Ancestral Domain: Most difficult issue

*April 2005: the peace panels started discussions on the most difficult issue of the negotiations: ancestral domain. This culminated in the landmark but controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was initialed by the parties on July 27, 2008. Ready to be signed by the peace panel chairs on Aug5, 2008, the Supreme Court restrained government from doing so.

Aborted MOA-AD signing

*Aug. 18, 2008: war broke out in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Sarangani, in response to the aborted signing of the MOA-AD. As a result, government disbanded its peace panel, and war raged for about a year. By Oct. 2008, the High Court ruled that the MOA-AD is unconstitutional.

Talks resumed

*July 29, 2009: talks resumed in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier, government declared Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO), followed by the MILF’s Suspension of Military Actions (SOMA).

Creation of ICG

*September 15, 2009: the parties created the International Contact Group (ICG) composed of four state and four non-state entities to exert leverage on them to continue with the peace process and honor the commitments each made in the negotiating table. From hereon until the onset of the Aquino administration, not much of substantive consensus-building ensued. During such period, the parties expanded the role of the IMT by creating more components—one on civilian protection, and another on humanitarian, rehabilitation and development.

Declaration of Continuity for Peace

*June 3, 2010: the parties executed a Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations embodying their commitment to honor the incremental consensus forged between the peace panels when the negotiations proceed under a different administration.

Tokyo Meeting

*Aug. 4, 2011: President Benigno Aquino III met MILF chief Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo. This meeting resembles the 1986 Sulu meeting between his mother, President Corazon Aquino, and MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari. The Tokyo meeting heightened the trust and confidence of the parties.

3-for-1 Moro formula

*Aug. 22, 2011: the government peace panel offered to the MILF its so-called “3-for-1 formula” for Moro autonomy. The MILF, which have earlier asked for a substate arrangement, roundly rejected the proposal, leading to a near impasse in the negotiations.

10 Decision Points of Principles

*April 24, 2012: the parties forged the ‘10 Decision Points of Principles’ which was the first ever document signed between them since negotiations resumed under the Aquino administration. The document laid the basis for succeeding consensus, isolating their agreements on principles from their disagreements on details. By this time, the parties apparently decided on breaking down the consensus-building exercise into several components, beginning with a framework agreement.

FAB signing

*Oct. 15, 2012: the FAB signed by then government chief negotiator Mario Victor Leonen (now Supreme Court Associate Justice) and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in Malacañang Palace. President Aquino, MILF chief Murad Ebrahim, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, and OIC Secretary General Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu graced the historic occassion. For the affair, hundreds of MILF commanders set foot on the Palace for the first time.

Overarching architecture

The FAB 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 lays down the principles, processes and mechanisms “that will shape the new relations between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro.”

Transfer of law enforcement

The FAB also enshrines the MILF’s agreeing to “undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use.” In turn, the government agrees to “a phased and gradual” transfer of law enforcement functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to a Bangsamoro police force.

Forging of FAB Annex on TAM

*Feb. 27, 2013: the FAB Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities was forged.

Fab Annex on revenue generation and wealth sharing

*July 13, 2013: the FAB Annex on Revenue Generatoin and Wealth Sharing was forged. The presence of Deles and Lacierda was key in the breakthrough. Throughout that 9-day round of negotiation, the MILF central committee convened in parallel meeting so that it can provide real-time answers to the questions that need to be decided upon by its peace panel in Kuala Lumpur.

Observers from CSOs allowed

*Aug. 21, 2013: for the first time in the history of the negotiations, observers from civil society organizations were allowed in the exploratory meeting.

Power sharing forged

*Dec. 8, 2013: the FAB Annex on Power Sharing was forged. Lacierda and Deles were also around.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 02, 2014.

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