GPH, MILF pact ‘opens new chapter in Mindanao history’

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014


A COMPLETED book.

This is how Moro activist Salic Ibrahim, co-chair of the nongovernment group Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), described the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) forged between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The CAB was signed Thursday before a grand ceremony in the Palace grounds attended by no less than President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Razak.

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“It’s no ordinary book. It’s a masterpiece that took 17 years of work and draws from the four-decade lessons of the Moro revolution,” Ibrahim said.

“We expect the contents of this book to open a new chapter in the history of Mindanao,” he added.

The CAB puts together the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its annexes and addendum, the 1997 ceasefire accord, the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 that sets the agenda of the negotiations, and the Declaration of Continuity of Negotiations inked by the parties June 2010, just before President Aquino assumed office.

Beginning with the breakthrough on the FAB, which was signed Oct. 15, 2012, its Annexes on transitional modalities, wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization, and the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters were completed during the last 18 months.

During the formal rites, the chairs of the negotiating panels—Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal—signed the CAB. The Malaysian Facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, signed as witness.

The panel members were also expected to ink their signatures in the historic document. For the MILF, these are Datu Michael Mastura, Maulana “Bobby” Alonto, Abhoud Syed Lingga, Abdulla Camlian and Datu Antonio Kinoc.

For government, Senen Bacani, Yasmin Busran-Lao and Mehol Sadain, and panel consultants Zenonida Brosas and Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon.

The peace process, or more exactly, the pace of negotiations has been described in so many ways.

Tengku first used the book metaphor to describe the consensus-building exercise.

Reading a book

Speaking before the Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly last July 7, 2012 inside the MILF administrative base Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao, Tengku likened the negotiations to reading a book.

Tengku said that in 2011, the two panels were “not only reading different chapters; they were reading different books.”

Tengku assumed the role of facilitator April 2011.

By July 2012, Tengku said the panels “are now reading the same chapter,” hoping that “by end of July, they would be reading the same paragraph.”

When the panels met in Kuala Lumpur later that month, then government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen said: “We are at the door of an agreement.”

More than two months after, the parties forged the FAB, although it was not a dash towards completing the annexes. Tengku has said that “each of the annexes is an agreement by itself.”

The changing language used by the negotiators provided clues to the real score of the negotiations or their mood towards it at particular moments.

Most unforgettable was the usual rhetoric that they maintain “guarded optimism” about its outcome.

Heaven and earth

Expectations that a peace pact is around the corner rose when President Aquino and MILF chief Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo Aug. 4, 2011.

However, the mood was dampened when the panels met two weeks later. The MLF panel roundly rejected the government’s so-called “3-for-1” proposal that principally constituted an offer to reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a measure to address the Moro people’s aspiration for self-rule.

The MILF saw this as way too short of its demand for a Moro sub-state, which will require an overhaul of the institutional attributes of the ARMM and of its relationship with the central government.

This was contained in the proposed comprehensive compact that it tendered to government when the negotiations resumed under the Aquino administration Feb. 2011.

Iqbal described the gap between their respective formulations as that of “heaven and Earth.”

In the course of the deliberations when Iqbal told the government panel of their rejection, Leonen was said to have uttered: “we reject your rejection.”

Through the efforts of the International Contact Group (ICG), an impending impasse was arrested and the negotiation was back on track.

At first, it was said to be “inching forward.” And soon, it “moved a few feet” until its momentum became unstoppable.

Devils and angels

The first breakthrough in the negotiations under Aquino happened when the parties forged the 10 Decision Points of Principles. Iqbal acknowledged that this was the “mother of all breakthroughs.”

The consensus document contained an agreement on the need to replace the ARMM with a new entity imbued with far greater political and economic governance powers.

While buoyant after signing the document, Leonen revealed that the parties’ respective formulations of the administrative territory of the new entity were still “poles apart.”

In its original proposal, the MILF sought the Armm plus six Lanao del Norte towns as the core territory and some 737 predominantly Moro-populated barangays in various Mindanao provinces, especially those bounding the Armm.

When the parties returned to Kuala Lumpur to work on the FAB annexes towards the end of 2012, they dealt with ‘devils’ and ‘angels.’

The devil is in the details, so said Iqbal. But Leonen would like to see ‘angels’ among the details.

It took until Feb. 2013 to finish the first FAB annex, that on transitional arrangements and modalities (TAM) which define the roadmap to the establishment of Bangsamoro.

After that round of exploratory meeting, Coronel-Ferrer, by then the government’s chief negotiator, likened the negotiations to the crucial stretch, called the Heartbreak Hill, of the famous Boston Marathon.

“So we’re halfway through that Heartbreak Hill and soon we will finish the marathon,” she said then.

Hard nuts

David Gorman, at that time outgoing country representative of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, which is part of the ICG, described the parties as “just so close to the finish line.”

Gorman said then that the parties “crossed Heartbreak Hill” when they agreed on the TAM.

That homestretch took another year to trudge.

This was so because the substantive issues the negotiators dealt with, according to Iqbal, turned out to be really “hard nuts to crack.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 01, 2014.

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