Bridging Unity in the Peace Talks
Peace Conference on the Bangsamoro Question held
Posted by CenPEG.org
March 26, 2011
Government peace negotiators have expressed optimism with the current peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In the same peace conference on the Bangsamoro question held on March 23 and attended by the government negotiators, the senior member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, expressed concern however that the Government of the Philippines (GPH) panel "has deliberately created…'process deadlocks.'"
Speaking at the morning session of the peace conference, presidential peace adviser and Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles said the peace process under President Benigno S. Aquino III's administration "has never been good" as she talked about integrating the peace talks with development programs to address the roots of the armed conflicts besetting not only Mindanao but the whole country.
The one-day "Peace Conference on the Bangsamoro Question: Bridging Unity between the Government and the MILF, Looking at the Past and Future," was organized by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) in partnership with the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) of the University of the Philippines. Held at the University Hotel, UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City, the conference was also in coordination with the Pilgrims for Peace, InPeace Mindanao, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. It was supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and UP President Alfredo E. Pascual.
More than 150 persons from 50 various groups and institutions including the academe, peace advocates, interfaith sector, NGOs, and Muslim communities attended the one-day conference. Ambassadors and political ministers of different embassies were also present.
The second Aquino administration has since July 2010 resumed peace talks not only with the MILF but also with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) centering on a review of the organic law on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The third talks are being held with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo, Norway.
The presidential peace adviser also revealed that the peace process is also part of the administration's Philippine Development Plan (in place of the traditional Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan or MTPDP), under the "peace and security chapter."
Prof. Marvic MVF Leonen, who chairs the GPH panel in the talks with the MILF, revealed that the government had asked the MILF leadership to deal with a renegade commander, Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, who has reportedly formed a breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Leonen, who is also Dean of the UP College of Law, characterized the first talks with the MILF held over the past two months as "cordial" as he echoed the call of the MILF panel chair, Mohagher Iqbal, "to be soft on the people but hard on the negotiating table." Without divulging its content, the GPH negotiator noted that the MILF's revised comprehensive peace compact, called by the revolutionary group as its proposed final political settlement, requires political decisions.
Leonen said that the MILF proposal suggested a flexibility from "independence and cessation" to one territory and one sovereignty.
Other independent sources observe the MILF revised compact as calling for "an asymmetrical state-substate relationship" and narrowing its historical territorial claim to 7-8 percent of what used to be 98 percent of Moro lands, wealth and resources at the turn of the 20th century.
The GPH negotiator said if the MILF "is principled and pragmatic" then that can be an "opening" for a long-term agreement.
In a paper for the afternoon session, MILF panel senior member Mastura cited as self-serving the GPH panel's "bracketing" of the MILF's revised comprehensive compact draft by among others introducing "Terms of Reference" to the negotiation process instead.
"This is not doing the process to drive the substantive agenda," Mastura, a former congressman of Maguindanao and Cotabato City and former member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, said. "We want to preserve MILF's negotiation effectiveness by holding on to its free choice of means appropriate as a nonstate actor."
As announced this week, the GPH-MILF peace talks will resume on April 27-28 this year in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian government is hosting the talks.
In a discussion paper, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur C. Ocampo shared "some lessons in the peace process in the Philippines." Ocampo, who first chaired the NDFP peace panel in 1986-1987, found the "militarist approach" pursued by past Philippine presidents in their war against Leftist and Moro revolutionaries as "a failure." Circumscribing negotiations and agreements within the bounds of the state constitution has had adverse impacts on peace pacts signed by the MNLF and an obstacle to a comprehensive agreement with the MILF, he also said.
Key discussants and reactors at the conference included Dr. Parouk Hussin, former ARMM governor and former MNLF executive committee member; Dr. Temario C. Rivera, CenPEG Fellow and professor of the International Christian University in Tokyo; Dr. Dante Simbulan (PMA class 1952), former Dean in the Philippine College of Commerce now PUP; Dean Julkipli Wadi of IIS, with its former Dean, Dr. Carmen Abubakar; and Pilgrims for Peace convener Bishop Elmer Bolocon.
Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., who was also former government chief negotiators, UP President Alfredo E. Pascual, and Executive Director Maria Lourdes L. Jacob of the NCCA were special guests.
Giving the conference welcome was CenPEG Board chair and National Artist, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera. Serving as moderator for the whole-day conference was CenPEG Executive Director Evi-ta L. Jimenez. Synthesis and recaps were by Prof. Bobby Tuazon, Prof. Carl Ramota, and Prof. Macrina A. Morados of UP IIS.
The peace conference is the second policy issue forum held this year by CenPEG in partnership with the UP IIS. Last February 9, a forum on the ancestral land as core issue in the GPH-MILF peace talks was held at UP's Asian Center, with two former chairs of the GPH panels, Gen. (ret.) Rodolfo Garcia and Secretary Silvestre Afable, as speakers. The forum coincided with the resumption of exploratory talks between the GPH and MILF in Kuala Lumpur.
The peace conference is also under CenPEG's policy study program on Bangsamoro issues. The program has also seen the publication of The Moro Reader: History and Contemporary Struggles of the Bangsamoro People (August 2008); and Bangsamoro sa Malapitan (Bangsamoro, Up Close) which was launched February 9. CenPEG News