GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 April 2013) — The signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012 was the poetical “sun always shining” that emerged from “behind the dark clouds”. It generated euphoric hopes banishing fears. Poetically, too, “dark clouds can descend sans warning/ to dim the sun so brightly shining” and “to summon back banished fears”.
This, obviously, is the predicament the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels have to contend with now notwithstanding their avowedly sincere as well as cavalier efforts to project their optimism in official, joint and separate statements. Hard realities cannot just be swept under the rug. To parody the poet Robert Browning, let us count the hard realities, not necessarily in their order of significance.
The FAB stands on former Government panel chair Marvic Leonen’s proposition: The chances of finding an agreement is highest when we opt to focus on what we can agree upon rather than the fundamental differences that we will normally have. Restated: Sign a peace pact now based on what we can agree; negotiate our differences later.
After two years of seemingly fruitless negotiation, it had become imperative for both Parties to show progress to assure all that the Moro Problem will end during the presidency of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III. So, they signed the FAB, the framework of a comprehensive agreement to be fleshed out with four annexes still to be negotiated.
Likened to a formal debate, the negotiation on the FAB was only to identify and agree on the admitted issues; the debate which is on vital issues is now — the negotiation of the annexes. Leonen’s proposition is a shaky formula; that the Bangsamoro envisioned in the framework will be the real solution to the Moro Problem depends on the annexes – their practicability in relation to the Problem.
Too much bending and co-opting – even in the give-and-take spirit — can undermine practicability. From Day One of the GPH-MILF negotiation under President Aquino III [“GRP-MILF” from 1997 to June, 2010 under Presidents Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo] the MILF position has been anchored on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain reframed as suggested in the Supreme Court Decision. In June last year, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said they had already made too many compromises.
More than any group, perhaps including the government, the MILF yearns so much for the political solution of the Moro Problem. They believe President Aquino with his sincerity and political will boosted by his popularity can solve the Moro Problem within his term. But since his term is only for six years, they have to sacrifice some of their hard positions to make the solution happen – hence, the bending and co-optation.
However, as of October 15, 2012 only three years and eight and a half months were left of the six years within which to establish the Bangsamoro following the FAB roadmap – quite a crowded timeframe for a roadmap. A setback in one frame will chain-react to more setback.
The fourteen frames (F) of the roadmap after the FAB signing (F1) will accomplish four stages in the entrenchment of Bangsamoro:
(1) By end of December 2012, the negotiation on the Annexes is completed (F2).
(2) The Transition Commission, formed in December, drafts the Bangsamoro Basic Law. While the roadmap does not specifically provide, it must finish the draft within six months for submission to the First Session of the 16th Congress in July 2013 to allow the Congress the time necessary for deliberation (F3, 4, 5).
(3) The BBL must be enacted during the First Session of the 16th Congress, signed into an organic law, ratified in a plebiscite and promulgated by December 2014 to allow at most one and a half year for the transition proper (F6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
(4) With the BBL ratified and promulgated, the TC is disbanded and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created, abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The BTA sets up the Bangsamoro governmental structures, mechanism and modalities according to the BBL; it governs the Bangsamoro until it is replaced by the regular Bangsamoro government under the officials elected during the 2016 national elections (F13, 14, 15).
The roadmap, except on the negotiation of the annexes and the formation of the TC, does not specify the time to accomplish each frame. However, all have to be done by the time President Aquino steps down on June 30, 2016.
Delays and Set Back
In sequencing the roadmap into four stages and setting the must-time frame for each stage, we want to see how much time there will be for the real transition period if the roadmap suffers no delays and setback. How much? One and a half year – most critical to the practicability of the transition period!
In their original peace draft, the MILF proposed a one-year pre-interim and a six-year interim (transition) period. To suit the time table to Aquino’s six-year term, the MILF reduced the transition period to three years without pre-transition. However, deleting the pre-transition from the proposal does not do away with it for in its very essence, the transition must have two stages — the pre-transition and the transition proper.
In the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro, Stages 1 to 3 in the FAB roadmap constitute the pre-transition covering two years; Stage 4 is the one-and-a-half-year transition proper – one-fourth of the original six years. This is on the assumption that the roadmap suffers no delays and setback. Is this the case now?
The Parties will meet next week to finish their negotiation on the annexes – already a three-month delay. Even if they sign the annexes next week, they still have to constitute the FAB and the Annexes into the Comprehensive Agreement (CA) as the basis of the TC in drafting the BBL. There is the probability that in July the TC would just have started drafting the BBL at the time when it is supposed to submit the draft to the Congress – already a 6-month setback in the time table.
Granting that the CA can be signed in May and the TC can draft the BBL in six months from June, the Congress will probably receive the draft in December and calendar the bill for January 2014. What if TC cannot submit the draft to Congress by December 2013? What if the BBL cannot be promulgated in December 2014? Stage 4 or the transition proper will still shrink — perhaps just one year. How practicable will that much shortened transition period be?
The meeting in Kuala Lumpur in the second week of April is the 37th Exploratory Talk – originally set for the last week of March but was postponed on the request of President Aquino. The peace panels were in Kuala Lumpur on March 25 for a “Special Meeting”; they discussed three items and formally reset the 37th ET. In their Joint Statement, as usual, they affirmed that the meeting “ended with a firm commitment of the two parties to continue the talks in an expeditious manner”.
Related reports, before and after the postponement, reveal more than “firm commitment of the two parties”. The questions they elicit lead to intriguing answers.
The request of Government, according to the Luwaran editorial (Sense of Urgency, March 24, 2013) was not just “to postpone the peace negotiation” but also “to change the venue”. Has Government become uncomfortable with Kuala Lumpur because of the “Sabah standoff”?
The OPAPP (Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) said the President had requested for postponement “to have more time for review and consultations on the draft annexes”. Quite a lame excuse! That would have been better done after the full negotiation of the annexes which the Parties could have achieved last March 25 -27.
Did the government peace team not review official reports on the annexes after the 36th ET adjourned on February 27? Or, is the President directly taking over?
Citing some dangerous consequences, Luwaran said the MILF Panel objected to the request to no avail. The editorial emphasized the “urgency of concluding the peace talks” warning against “any dilly-dallying” and of the “truth … that if we cannot close this negotiation successfully during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, we do not know what lies ahead in 2016” and that “more seriously, it can be a menu for more violence and fighting in Mindanao”.
The editorial acknowledged: “Without doubt, President Aquino possesses this feeling of urgency too … more than anyone else … for many reasons…” Then as a reminder: “This urgency also relates directly to the tasks and term of office of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC)” which, obviously referring to the delay in its formation, “only has one year and nine months remaining in its two-year lifespan … to write the Basic Law … to secure its undiluted passage by Congress, as well as its ratification …”
Considering that Luwaran is the official online organ of the office of the Chairman for Information of the MILF Central Committee, its editorial appeal is that of MILF: “It is on this premise that we call everyone including the international community to urge all parties to expedite the talks in a deliberate and sure manner. Time is ticking away; once it has passed, we cannot go back anymore. We also call upon them to journey with us until the conclusion of these negotiations.”
This is the latest of the several occasions that MILF, in sternly expressing displeasure over perceived Government lapses in the peace process, disassociates President Aquino III from the lapses. Can Government be faulty and the President faultless?
The Manila Times reported on March 25 the postponement with “no specific reason” coming from the OPAPP and on March 26 picked up the Luwaran editorial to report “MILF warns of More Violence”. This was replicated by the Malaysian Insider in Kuala Lumpur and the Gulf Times in Doha, the capital of Qatar Emirate.
On March 27, Luwaran reported that “civil society organizations in Mindanao headed by the United Youth for Peace and Development” protested in peace rallies in Cotabato City, Davao City and Manila the postponement of the 37th ET and warned the MILF and Government peace panels of “spoilers”.
That President Aquino, his government, MILF and the Moro people want Bangsamoro to be established as agreed in the FAB, should not be doubted. But the Moros as well as the MILF as seen in the Luwaran editorial and report of “nationwide simultaneous rally (sic) for peace” should not be faulted for entertaining fears about the final outcome of the FAB. That only reflects how much the FAB has fanned their hope to realize at last their aspiration.
Much more than the Aquino government, MILF with the cooperation of Mindanao civil societies and peace groups has intensively and extensively informed the Moro people in the ARMM and neighboring provinces and cities about Bangsamoro as agreed in the FAB. As the Moros have hailed the FAB, their expectations of Bangsamoro are high. Aborting such expectations would be most regrettable.
Can Government and MILF finalize the Annexes during their 37th ET in the second week of this month and in May seal the Comprehensive Agreement so that the TC can start drafting the BBL in June? Any more delays we will surely heighten fears behind hope. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)