No ceasefire yet; death toll rises to 53-A A +A
Sunday, September 15, 2013
AS OF 1 p.m. on Saturday, volleys of gunfire have not ebbed in this part of the country despite the announcement of a ceasefire plan close to midnight Friday and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari showed his uncharacteristic self in the siege of Zamboanga City: shunning the limelight.
On the sixth day of the standoff, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said no ceasefire has been implemented yet.
Gazmin added that the ceasefire will not take effect if MNLF rebels would not stop firing at government forces securing Zamboanga City.
Vice President JejomarBinay talked to NurMisuari over the phone late Friday where he accepted a ceasefire to allow talks on ending a five-day hostage crisis. The Vice President relayed the news to Gazmin, who has been helping deal with the crisis in Zamboanga City.
As of 12 p.m. Friday, the death toll in the ongoing standoff rose to 53.
The fatalities include three soldiers, three policemen, four civilians and 43 MNLF members, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
At least 35 soldiers were wounded, six policemen, 20 civilians and nine MNLF rebels, it added.
The number of internally displaced persons has swelled to more than 60,000 individuals as of Saturday. They are being sheltered by tents pitched inside the sports center of Zamboanga City.
Misuari shunning limelight
Since the start of the crisis on September 9, Misuari has not publicly come out to either stoke fervor to his loyal forces to fight on, or ordered them to stand down on account of the safety of civilians in the six villages they have been occupying.
But even as Misuari’s hand could not be directly identified in the Zamboanga attacks, his recent actuations and pronouncements most likely inspired the staging of a political drama by his loyal supporters that led to the fresh outbreak of hostilities.
For almost two years now, Misuari has shown gestures of distaste to government’s peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that started as an MNLF breakaway faction in 1977 and was only formalized as a separate revolutionary organization in 1984.
For Misuari, peace in Mindanao, especially in the Moro homeland, can only be achieved through him, hence, he is seeking fresh negotiations with government under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal described Misuari’s stance as a way of asserting his or the MNLF’s “franchise” for solving the so-called Bangsamoro question.
“For the MILF, solving the Bangsamoro Question is not about franchise. Whoever will be able to address it, we support it,” said Iqbal.
Only during the Aquino administration has government made explicit a policy that doused cold water on Misuari’s personal aspirations.
In March 2012, during an OIC-convened meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles told the respective leaderships of the MNLF factions that while government is committed to solve issues related to the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA), it will not reopen fresh negotiations.
Instead, Deles outlined a government strategy to find ways for the results of the two peace processes to converge. Last year, with the signing of the preliminary Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between government and the MILF, Deles thought the convergence can come through the drafting of a Basic Law that will govern the new autonomous entity.
OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, along with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, graced the signing rites in Malaca?ang on Oct. 15, 2012.
It was also during this time that Misuari shifted high gears in criticizing government’s peace process with the MILF. He dubbed the FAB as “a recipe for another big, big war in Mindanao.”
A week after the FAB signing, Misuari led a rally in Davao City where he was introduced as president of the Bangsamoro republic.
By November that year, the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers lauded the MILF and government for the FAB breakthrough. At the same time, it also urged both the MNLF and MILF to increase efforts to unify on their goals and seek ways to achieve convergence of their respective peace processes with government through the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF).
Lacking Misuari’s participation, the BCF failed to take off.
Lahad Datu standoff
The crisis in Sabah starting mid-February owing to the incursion of armed men belonging to the so-called royal army of the Sulu sultanate provided Misuari a new platform to pitch for his personal aspiration.
The incident happened two weeks prior to an exploratory meeting between government and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur. Misuari himself has admitted that some of his men figured in the Lahad Datu incursion.
Interviewed by Al-Jazeera television at the height of the standoff, Misuari said his faction of the MNLF “cannot support the GPH-MILF talks because it will be counterproductive on our part.”
“The MILF is organized as a spoiler to derail our struggle,” he said.
But he clarified that he is willing to go back to the negotiating table for talks in Jakarta under OIC auspices.
Misuari even used the highly divided opinion of Filipinos that time regarding the role of Malaysia as facilitator of the peace negotiations between government and the MILF, and how this is harming Philippine claim over the territory that once fell under the sovereign control of the Sulu sultanate.
“Malaysia does not want to budge an inch from our land, our sacred land of Sabah and Sarawak,” he said. “They have chosen to abandon the path of peace through us.”
The interview also saw Misuari dropped interesting hints about his real intent.
“... It’s useless for the Malaysians to deal with the MILF if their interest is to preserve their stay in Sabah and Sarawak. The best thing for them is to deal with us, the MNLF, particularly with Nur Misuari and, perhaps, to a certain extent with the sultanate (of Sulu),” he told Al-Jazeera reporter Veronica Pedrosa.
Gaining no traction for his political stunts, like a sorry loss in the election for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Misuari hogged the limelight again with a declaration of Bangsamoro independence in August this year.
Misuari claimed that he was forced to do the action because of government’s move to put “closure to the 1996 FPA.”
Deles denied this claim. She explained that government was seeking the completion of the OIC-facilitated Tripartite Review of the Implementation of the 1996 FPA that began in 2007 but the implementation of the pact continues.
The review is participated by government, the MNLF factions led by Misuari and Muslimin Sema, and the OIC. Indonesia chairs the meetings, in its capacity as chair of the OIC’s Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP).
According to chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, among the outcomes of the review process are “common understandings on the matter of strategic minerals and 42 consensus points that, as agreed, shall be pursued.”
“Some of these of items require legislative reform to the current ARMM law – that is, Republic Act 9054. Some do not really need amendments, only further legislative action on the part of the ARMM Regional Assembly, or executive action on the part of ARMM Governor,” Ferrer said.
“Many of these items are similar to what we are discussing now under the Power-sharing Annex. As example, there is that matter on the expansion of the Shari’ah courts as part of the administration of justice system in the Bangsamoro; greater participation of the regional government in the management of mineral resources; and a host of other items on education and economic reforms,” Ferrer added.
Former MNLF lawyer Dalidig Sumndad said that upon examination, he agrees with government that convergence of the results of both peace processes is possible.
“Kung baga sa pagkain, pinapasarap lang ng upcoming Comprehensive Peace Agreement ang FPA,” he said.
For Ferrer, the issues in both processes are conjoined.
“The subject matters and the territorial application overlap. The constituency – the Bangsamoro – are the same,” she explained.
“They will have to meet where they are best addressed – notably, in Congress, for those aspects that will require legislative reform; in the forthcoming plebiscite, where the people themselves will give their imprimatur to the law and to their inclusion in the new political entity that will be instituted; and in the 2016 election, where Bangsamoro political parties of all shapes and hues may contest the election and govern, if so voted into power by their own people,” Ferrer added.
“Details may differ – there may be peculiarities here and there that are more in tune with contemporary realities as when they were negotiated in the 1990s. But the sum total effectively builds on what the MNLF achieved, or did not achieve, for one reason or another,” she further said.
When the tripartite review process began, Misuari has mainly raised three issues that he said are not yet fully addressed by government as part of its FPA commitments: ARMM expansion, setup of transitional government, and sharing on strategic minerals.
Deles said that the issue on strategic minerals has been part of the consensus on co-management already reached by both sides and, in addition, treated in the negotiations with the MILF.
ARMM expansion, according to Deles, was also addressed as the provinces and cities identified in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement as the area of autonomy underwent plebiscite in 2001 under Republic Act No. 9054.
From only four provinces in 1989, the ARMM expanded to include Basilan (minus Isabela City) and Marawi City. Under the FAB, the future Bangsamoro will have the ARMM as core territory plus adjacent areas which are predominantly Moro-populated.
On transitional government, Deles said the FPA did not provide for any such structure. What the FPA provides is a transitional mechanism which was addressed through the creation of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) that Misuari chaired from 1996 until it was disbanded in 2001.
In the negotiation for the FPA in 1996, Misuari abandoned the Tripoli Agreement provision on having a “provisional government” covering 13 provinces and nine cities in favor of what would later be the SPCPD due to pressure from Libya, observed author Soliman Santos in his book The Moro Islamic Challenge.
“We regret that what some leaders cannot get through reason, they twist through misinformation. What they cannot achieve with circumspect and consistency, they attempt to wrestle through force and endless demands. Positions that they cannot win in elections, they coerce on the table, or on the streets, taking with them hostages,” said Coronel-Ferrer.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 15, 2013.