COMMENT: MILF View of the Transcom

By | April 18, 2013

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 April) – Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and concurrently of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, meandered awhile emotionally in his welcome remarks at the launching of the Transcom in Pasig City last April 3 then settled down to business: “[L]et me … address the imperatives of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and outline the MILF view of the Transition Commission.”

The “MILF view” together with the “imperatives” of the Commission gives a preview of the Bangsamoro Basic Law the Commission will draft. The guidelines are set in the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and in Executive Order No. 120. These may have identified and defined the imperatives but the views of the Transcom members will shape the specific provisions.

Not New

Iqbal has given notice that he as Transcom chair and the seven MILF members will assert the MILF view of the imperatives and other concerns. This is consistent with his final point in his opening statement at the 37th Exploratory Talks last April 9 restating not a new position but one in continuum from January 7, 1997.

Last April 9, Iqbal recalled: “Finally, let me remind ourselves that our peace negotiation has only one agenda: ‘How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem or more correctly, Bangsamoro Question.’This agenda was decided by the parties at the beginning of the current peace talks in January 1997 and it has guided the parties since then. Therefore, all our efforts and agreements, though sometimes very incremental, are designed to address this problem especially the root causes.” (Emphasis ours)


He stressed the Bangsamoro interest at the core of the solution: “Therefore, to say that the solution that we envision to address this question ‘must be acceptable to all’ must be taken in the context of acceptability by the people that such formula suits a particular group, in this case the Bangsamoro.” (Emphasis ours) “Parties” in the above paragraph means “Government and MILF panels”; “we” means the same.

He clarified what “acceptability” is not and stated the MILF view of the FAB with unmistakable special reference to BBL: “Acceptability does not in any way mean the right of veto power of the majority because the formula does not suit their taste or redound to their direct benefit. A special problem requires special prescription; hence, the asymmetrical arrangement that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) has envisioned.(Emphasis ours)

MILF Views with Imperatives

Iqbal discussed ten views with imperatives concerning the TC and the drafting of the BBL. The discussion is vital to the proper understanding of the direction of the peace process at this stage. There are these MILF views tied to the talking point agreed on the first day of the GRP-MILF negotiation in January 1997. How do they relate now to the views of Government and of the stakeholders?

After Iqbal’s discussion, media should have asked him to elucidate the MILF views. Unfortunately, the Manila media reporters at the press conference immediately after the TC ceremonial program, more interested in the Sabah question than in the Bangsamoro Problem, did not dwell much on Iqbal’s discussion. Whatever might have been asked never saw print.

Iqbal’s discussion:

“First and foremost, the MILF views the Commission as its first initial partnership with the GPH. As such, it shall endeavour to reach consensus with representatives of the government on major decisions in the course of its work. We shall not work against each other but instead work with each other.”

The imperative is working in partnership. “Representatives of the government” are the seven Transcom members nominated by Government; they are Moros. Will the partnership hold if MILF view of Bangsamoro interest conflicts with Government’s?

“Second, the work of the Commission shall be devoted principally into transforming the Agreements of Parties, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), and its Annexes as well as other Agreements of the Parties, into a legislation envisioned to establish a new Bangsamoro Political Entity that embodies the political, economic, social and cultural aspirations of the Bangsamoro.”

The imperative is to draft BBL to establish Bangsamoro as the fulfillment of the “political, economic, social and cultural aspirations” of the Moros. In principle, Government agrees. Will it fully agree with all the specific provisions?

“Third, the TC shall be open, transparent and participative in its approach. While the MILF acknowledges the fact that the major principles has been agreed by the parties in the negotiation, the specific translation of these into mechanisms, institutions shall be open to public participation.”

The imperative is the openness of the TC to public consultation and participation. How much of the inputs from public consultations is TC willing to consider? This can either sweeten or sour public esteem.

“After all what we envision to build are institutions for our people and never solely for the MILF. Beyond this, as an organization, we are open to adopting new and innovative practices born out of principles that we all share, such as cutting edge and innovative ways in government service delivery that uses the latest information technology.”

The imperative: Bangsamoro is not for MILF alone. MILF is receptive to change and innovative. How do other Moro leaders understand this vision? Double-edged, it can either unite or divide.

“Fourth, the institutions we envision to create under the Basic Law shall feature mechanisms for inclusivity and public participation to ensure a dynamic and robust government able to engage with all stakeholders and address the concerns of its constituency. It shall further entrench appropriate measures of transparency and accountability to its people.”

The imperative: Bangsamoro is inclusive, dynamic, robust democracy. The vision is not self-operative. Its fulfillment will depend on how the Moro leaders rule and how the Moro people respond. Are the Moros prepared for the challenge?

“Fifth, the Basic Law shall entrench the new relations between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine government founded on the principles of parity of esteem, mutual respect, self-sufficiency and cooperation and continuing dialogue to further enhance this unique and special relations that both respects and recognizes our unique history but brave enough to face all possibilities in the future.”

The imperative: The BBL will embody principles defining the partnership (new relations) of Philippine Government and Bangsamoro. MILF will specifically define.  Will Government fully abide?

“Sixth, The TC, as the first formal engagement of the MILF with the government, shall mirror some of the features we envision for the new Bangsamoro government such as:

  • A lean but competent bureaucracy;
  • Features of transparency such as an interactive website where people can send their suggestions and recommendations;
  • Constant public consultations to build consensus and embrace divergent views to build a common and shared vision;
  • Consciousness on the need to apply resources where it is most needed; and
  • And more importantly able to partner with other institutions to move forward.”

The imperative: These five features of Bangsamoro the TC will adhere to.

“Seventh, the TC shall envision a government guided by the Quranic principles on religious freedom. Allah says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy, handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]”

The imperative: Religious freedom in Bangsamoro is according to Quranic principles. How can the Quranic passage quoted be reconciled with “worship and belief” in Christianity and other religions?

“Eighth, the TC shall be open for partnership both with local and international actors/organizations. As we commence several transitions, from rebels to governance, from organization to government, from combatants to community builders, we recognize the imperative to see best practices, universal standards, other peoples’ experiences so that  we need not continuously reinvent the wheels. However, we shall always keep in mind the principle that “context is king”.”

The imperative: In drafting the BBL, the TC will consult local and international “actors and organizations” and welcome inputs from them. How much of the inputs will TC consider?

“Ninth, The Basic Law must entrench the Bangsamoro not because it is supreme over the others but because it is an essential and indispensable heritage of this country, nay even of the world.”

In this “view”, Iqbal explains that the “uniqueness of the Bangsamoro is the only meaningful contribution” of the Moros “to the richness of this country or even of the world” and it should “not be a source of conflict but an important piece in our quest for harmony”.

The imperative: Bangsamoro is “an essential and indispensable heritage” of the Philippines; it must be established. This invites lively discussion and criticism.

“Tenth, the Transition Commission can only begin its substantial work when the Annexes are completed. The acts of completion must be undertaken immediately. It is therefore urgent that we complete the Annexes by taking the hard political decisions. The issues remaining in the negotiations have been simplified and the positions of the parties clarified. We must seize the moment now.”

The imperative: Complete the Annexes so the TC can begin drafting the BBL. Will this be done in the May post-election 38th Exploratory Talks after missing the five monthly target dates starting December 2012?

Relating to Annexes?

The Annexes are viewed by MILF as essential and imperative to the drafting of the BBL by the TC. They are at the core of the MILF’s quest for political settlement that has not changed fundamentally in 16 years. But they must be posing policy, legal and other problems that restrict Government’s commitment to satisfy that quest as can be seen in the length of time it is taking Government to study them. The Aquino government can commit only what it can give. Which of the annexes can it commit and give?

MILF will accept only a political settlement that will solve the Bangsamoro Problem. This solution was agreed in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which was only a framework of a Comprehensive Compact. In declaring it unconstitutional, the Supreme Court did not nullify it but ruled it could be reframed as a peace agreement between Government and MILF. That MILF did and presented it complete with annexes in an organic law format to the Aquino peace panel as its proposed draft agreement.

The government panel rejected the draft in its format but after months of negotiation signed the FAB which if closely examined is basically the reframe of the MILF peace draft minus the annexes – the reframe of the reframed MOA-AD. This Government can commit and has given; this MILF has accepted. While MILF is ready to sign the Annexes, Government is not – still deciding what to commit and give.

Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, last April 12, posed critical questions in Kusogmindanaw online discussion loop: “What is happening in the GPH-MILF Peace Talks?” – noting the postponements of the signing of the “Annexes and the Comprehensive Peace Compact” since December 31, 2012 “when they should have been completed” by that date. Then, “What is the real score beyond the motherhood statements that they keep repeating for the nth time? Those statements insult the intelligence of people.

We sent to GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer a copy of our article, “Annexes Shrinking the Time Line” (MindaNews, April 14) where we quoted in part Fr. Mercado. Her response: “We understand the anxiety and share the desire to complete the annexes asap.  But at this stage we believe prudence and flexibility will get us faster to our ultimate goal of solving the complex ‘Bangsamoro problem’ irreversibly.”

GPH Chair Ferrer speaks in paradox.  MILF and TC Chair Iqbal seen in both his April 3 Welcome Remarks and April 9 37th ET Opening Statement enunciates the MILF views and imperatives. In response to Father Mercado’s question, the “real score” can be in the conflict of Government and MILF views and imperatives.

(“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 patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)