By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — As the curtain was beginning to fall on 2009, the on-and-off peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed in Kuala Lumpur, with both parties agreeing to begin talks on the drafting of a Comprehensive Peace Compact that would resolve the Moro question.
The year, however, drew to a close without any far-reaching movement in the GRP-MILF peace process.
After the disastrous halt to the 11-year-old peace negotiations in mid-2008, which resulted from the re-escalation of conflict provoked by the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) between the two parties, the entire peace process appeared to be in limbo, with practically no movement except steps toward the resumption of talks. When the talks finally resumed in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 8, 2009, the two parties agreed only to start negotiations on the drafting of a Comprehensive Peace Compact that would resolve the Moro question. The GRP and the MILF also committed to making the most of what may be achievable before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo steps down in 2010.
With this, the Moro people’s dreams of peace in a homeland of their own continue to hang in the balance.
More than 10 years of on-and-off peace negotiations between the GRP and the MILF almost ended in a disaster when the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) between the two parties was aborted on Aug. 4, 2008, following the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order based on a petition filed by North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Piñol and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat.
North Cotabato and Zamboanga City are both covered by the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), the autonomous area that the MILF wants to create, the scope of which would have been subjected to a plebiscite following the signing of the MoA-AD.
The non-signing of the MoA-AD gave rise to a re-escalation of armed confrontations between government troops and the MILF in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Maguindanao — provinces known to be strongholds of the MILF. Following the outbreak of renewed hostilities, the government ordered a manhunt for MILF commanders Abdurahman Macapaar a. k. a. Commander Bravo, Ameril Ombra Cato, and Alim Pangalian who have been dubbed as “rogue MILF commanders” and leaders of “lost commands.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruling late in 2008 declaring the MoA-AD as unconstitutional sent the negotiations back to the drawing board.
The re-escalation of conflict led to the displacements of entire communities in Central Mindanao.
As of April 2009, based on a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, there are some 600,000 people who have been displaced in Central Mindanao since August 2008. This is higher than the numbers for Sudan (550,000), Kenya (500,000), Congo (over 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (more than 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000 as of June 2008), Sri Lanka (230,000), and India (220,000).
On July 29, 2009, chief negotiators Rafael Seguis of the GRP and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF issued a joint statement in which they acknowledged the MoA-AD as “an unsigned and yet initialed document to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement…” This was even as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita had previously said that any agreement to be entered into by the two parties should be in accordance with the Constitution, and that the MILF’s demand for a BJE should pass through Congress as an “ordinary” piece of legislation.
On Sept. 15 last year, the GRP and MILF panels agreed on the formation of an International Contact Group (ICG) that will provide “critical support” to the peace negotiations in the wake of the escalating conflict.
About a month later, during her visit to the Philippines, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her government’s wish that the GRP and the MILF be able to ink a peace pact before Arroyo finishes her term.
“This is a significant statement,” said MILF peace panel member Maulana Bobby Alonto in an interview. “It is an acknowledgement by the US government that the Bangsamoro question is a political problem which requires a political solution. The MILF is a non-state actor. The US is a state actor, and a superpower at that. So that is a significant statement coming from a statesman of the US. But let us see, because we cannot deny the fact that the US has strategic interests in this region.”
On Dec. 3, the two parties announced in a joint statement the establishment of the ICG, with its membership initially composed of Japan, the United Kingdom, and Turkey as member-countries and the Asia Foundation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, and Muhammadiyah as international non-government organization (INGO) members.
When the peace negotiations resumed in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 8, the GRP and the MILF agreed to start talks on drawing up a Comprehensive Peace Compact aiming to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. Both parties aimed for “maximum achievement” in the peace negotiations within the remainder of Arroyo’s term, which is expected to end on June 30 this year.
The GRP-MILF peace process has been going on and off for almost 11 years, and it no doubt still has a long way to go.
The issue of ancestral domain had early on emerged as the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, and for the MILF, the MoA-AD would have been a major accomplishment, or, as Iqbal described in a roundtable discussion with peace advocates in Quezon City, “evidence of accomplishment from more than 10 years of negotiations.” At this point any real movement in the peace process would still have to proceed from a resolution of the ancestral domain question. How both parties can resolve an issue that has remained unresolved after more than a decade is a question that begs to be answered.
Will the formal resumption of their talks eventually bring a peace that is in accordance with the aspirations of the Moro people?
Alonto expressed hope that it will. “I cannot really say whether the peace talks will end up according to the expectations of our people, but we are hoping that we can achieve the aspirations that our people have,” he said. (Bulatlat.com)