The precarious road to peace and genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro people

Since the Moro Islamic Liberation Front submitted its draft comprehensive compact in February, the government’s counter-proposal has been highly anticipated, because putting the drafts on the table is expected “to lead to substantive talks,” said the MILF.

Interview with MILF’s Iqbal on the current MILF-GPH ceasefire, peace talks


MANILA — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) draft comprehensive compact, submitted to the Philippine government peace panel four months ago, has as its main thrust the establishment of “a state-and-substate arrangement of governance in the future Bangsamoro state,” said MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in a press conference in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Feb 5. Murad told reporters “The only way to realize the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination is for them to have their own state.” He explained that it would involve “the setting up of our own state but still within the Philippines.”

After formally submitting their revised draft compact that February to the Philippine government, the MILF peace panel held consultations around Mindanao and even in Makati City in Metro Manila. In one of these consultations with leaders of non-Moro civil society from Lanao provinces and Northern Mindanao facilitated by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), its chair Bae Liza Saway reportedly noted that “in the spirit of dialogue and in response to the call for inclusiveness and participation” in the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF, the MILF peace panel led by Mohagher Iqbal “seeks to engage leaders of non-Moro civil society organizations, church, business, international organizations, and academic institutions in order to discuss with them the MILF’s draft Peace Agreement.”

Since then, the government’s counter-proposal has been highly anticipated, because putting the drafts on the table is expected “to lead to substantive talks,” as members of the MILF put it.

The MILF’s proposed Bangsamoro State is a departure from the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity or BJE that the MILF used to talk about in the initialed, yet abandoned by the Arroyo government, Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008. It is not a proposal for secession, either, as even the government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen noted.

The MILF website said that in consultations held by members of MILF peace panel, civil society, indigenous people’s leaders, the religious and the business sector signified support for the proposed Bangsamoro state in the MILF draft, after it was clarified to them.

“Asymmetrical/Associative relationship”

The peace panel of MILF composed of chair Mohagher Iqbal, senior panel member Datu Michael Mastura, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga and B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc, alternate panel member, had explained the content and intent of their proposed compact through talks with Mindanao bishops, business groups and Lumads since March.

From reports of what transpired in these consultations, the MILF is now calling the parts of Mindanao they want to delineate for Moros as a “Bangsamoro State”—a state to be clearly distinct from those of Filipinos – but it will still remain as part of the Philippines, and as such, it would only be a “sub-state.”

The relationship of the Bangsamoro State, or sub-state with the Philippine government would be like that of, say Massachusetts to the USA or Queensland to Australia, except that the rest of the Philippines dislikes a federal system of government, said Mastura, in a March discussion with Mindanao business groups reported in MindaNews. This Bangsamoro State can also be like Kelantan or Sabah or Sarawak of Malaysia, he said. The MILF, Mastura clarified, is not asking for parity rights but “parity of esteem.”

MILF peace panel member Prof. Linga also said they are not claiming the whole of Mindanao.

The Moro under the MILF’s draft compact now asks only to “have a modest share and taste of the remaining lands, wealth and resources of what used to be 98-percent at the end of the last century,” Prof. Linga told the business sector of Mindanao when he assured them that the MILF draft compact shall respect “vested and proprietary rights.”

“If you have land which you own, this will be respected. There will be no confiscatory element here,” Linga reportedly told Mindanao businessmen.

The MILF claims for the Bangsamoro sub-state would cover only a small area of the island, Linga said. Talking to Mindanao businessmen, he said “You have the big part.”

It is just seven to nine-percent of their historical claims, Leonen told MindaNews in a separate report after the government panel received the MILF draft compact in February. MindaNews quoted him as saying “This is the starting position of the MILF,” and “It’s not that radical and it looks like it’s going for a win-win and principled agreement.”

Later in May, in an unprecedented meeting with 70 business executives and leaders of various groups in Makati, MILF peace panel chairman Iqbal was quoted by Jesus Dureza as saying that “Clearly we are not seeking for an independent state but something that the Moros can effectively govern themselves with little interference from the central government”.

Like Mastura who explained the “asymmetrical relationship” to business groups in Mindanao, Iqbal explained the asymmetrical or associative relationship they are seeking to have vis-à-vis the national government. Jesus Dureza quoted Iqbal as saying it is associative “because of the assumption that only Mindanao or a part of it may wish to adopt this new mode while Visayas and Luzon may prefer to remain with the present unitary and centralized setup.”

Making autonomy real

According to MILF peace panel member Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, their proposed compact is a “formula of peace” to solve a homegrown sovereignty based conflict in a way that “perfectly blends” modern day democratic principles (about sovereignty residing in the people) and the ingredients of Islamic principles of shura (consultation).

The MILF reportedly told Nur Misuari of MNLF that they are “not abrogating” the said peace settlement. In fact, they said, they are negotiating “to supplement the MNLF peace agreement” with the Philippine government, even as Nur Misuari of MNLF has also been negotiating for the “full implementation” of their 1996 Peace Agreement.

Critics blamed the Philippine government’s continued failure to implement the 1996 Peace Agreement with the MNLF for the present problems in the ARMM. Eleven of these problems, which critics attribute to the non-implementation of the 1996 agreement, were listed by participants to the two-day ARMM Peace Summit called for by the Aquino government September last year in Cotabato City.

In a MindaNews report, these include: “leadership crisis; electoral system not suitable to ARMM situation; poor access to and control over the exploitation and utilization of strategic resources; weak fiscal autonomy; low agricultural and industrial productivity; land conflict; poor delivery and access to basic services and facilities; non-adherence to EO 125 and other existing laws over Official Development Assistance Management; unstable peace and order; inadequate representation of ARMM to the national government; insincerity of the GRP to implement the letter and spirit of the 1996 FPA (Final Peace Agreement).” A woman Moro leader was also quoted as saying human rights should have been listed as well in ARMM’s biggest problems.

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