A signed ‘framework agreement doesn’t mean fight is over’

The two peace panels still have to agree to at least three remaining contentious points that should have been part of the signed framework agreement. Now these would have to be annexed to the signed agreement.

Read also: Groups question sincerity of Aquino gov’t in announcing agreement with MILF


MANILA – “We have the title to the land, but we don’t own the land yet 100-percent.” That is how Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), described the prospect of the Bangsamoro after they signed with the Philippine government a framework agreement last Oct 16.

The signing has been welcomed by various governments abroad and organizations in the Philippines. Some local progressive organizations congratulated the MILF but also warned it against the ‘doubtful’ sincerity of the Aquino government. They cited as bases for disquiet some contents of the framework agreement itself, the discouraging history of agreements between fighters of the Moro people and leaders of Philippine government, and the track record of the Aquino government.

In a discussion with the Moro-Christian Peoples’ Alliance, members of the MILF peace panel led by Iqbal shared that the signing of the said agreement “doesn’t mean the fight is now over.”

Unfinished annexes to framework agreement

Iqbal said talks in their latest negotiation (32nd) were so intense that they were arguing even about commas and periods.

The two peace panels still have to agree to at least three remaining contentious points that should have been part of the signed framework agreement. Now these would have to be annexed to the signed agreement.

These annexes, he said, will also “complete the later agreement still to be hammered out by the two parties – the comprehensive agreement.”

The three contentious points up for further negotiations by the two peace panels are power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization. The two panels, Iqbal said, hope to finish all three annexes before yearend.

Of these soon-to-be annexes to the framework agreement, the most contentious according to the MILF peace panel are the issues of policing (No. 6 under ‘Normalization) and elections.

“The Government of the Philippines (GPH) doesn’t want to relinquish … they want only one Philippine National Police. For our part, we want the Bangsamoro to exercise some control,” Iqbal said.

Because they have not yet agreed on it, “its formulation in the framework agreement is still in general terms,” Iqbal added.

As for elections in the Bangsamoro entity, the GPH wants the current National Election Code to remain as the framework. “But we’re creating a new state with asymmetrical relations to the national government, so we should craft election rules suited to that,” Iqbal said in Filipino.

The MILF peace panel said there is a need to implement election reforms. At present, they noted that “elections are dominated by those with money, arms and contacts, so even if there’s democracy, it is a democracy just for the elite.”

“We want the Election Code changed… so the framework agreement is still a bit general about it,” Iqbal told the members of MCPA.

As if these three still-to-be-written annexes to the framework agreement are not contentious enough, “what comes after would also necessitate a tremendous struggle,” Iqbal said.

More struggles amidst further negotiations

The framework agreement outlines a new Bangsamoro entity in Mindanao, but before it could start to happen, a Transition Committee has to be formed, to be composed of 15 members (8 to be named by the MILF, 7 by the GPH). Just to form it would take another series of negotiations, Iqbal said.

Once the Transition Committee was formed, another intense struggle would likely ensue as it sets out to write the basic law detailing or fleshing out the framework agreement, Iqbal said.

After the Basic Law is written, further struggles await the Moro and the other people in and out of the coverage of the aimed for Bangsamoro entity. According to the MILF peace panel, the crafted basic law would have to be voted upon in a plebiscite by the citizens of the would-be Bangsamoro entity.

Will the citizens elect to join the new entity? The members of the MILF peace panels are confident the people would join them once they hear about the changes they would bring with the new Bangsamoro entity. That is, whether they are Moro, lumad or settlers.

Another struggle also awaits the Basic Law, said Iqbal, because it would have to be reflected in the Philippine Constitution, as prescribed by the signed framework agreement. Considering what the crafting of the basic law would have endured along the way (it is projected to be done in two years), the MILF peace panel wants it to be approved as a whole by the GPH legislative body.

The MILF peace panel commented that the required charter amendments might be as simple as adding short passages in the current Charter to legalize the formation of a Bangsamoro entity.

But it is this part of the framework agreement that spooks many progressive organizations.

In separate statements, the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, Migrante and Kilusang Mayo Uno praised the efforts of the MILF to uplift the plight of the Moro people, but they warned that this part of the framework agreement might be the Aquino government’s “Trojan Horse” that would bring in their desired charter change at last.

Opponents to proposed charter change in the Philippines fear that the remaining provisions that protect national patrimony in the Charter would be deleted through chacha.

What happens to MILF now?

As “a safeguard” while the Transition Committee is writing the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro entity, the current MILF peace panel will remain, this time as part of the Monitoring Team, with international actors, Iqbal said.

Iqbal added they will “not allow the words integration or amnesty to appear in the agreements.” The peace panel maintained that they are not doing anything wrong that would call for amnesty.

“We will not surrender our arms but instead treat it as ‘beyond use,’” said Iqbal. It means they will not hand it over to another entity but they will not be using it. At the same time, the MILF wants also a “gradual phase-out of Armed Forces of the Philippines (gradual reduction of deployed) in the area until such time that most of them are gone.

As of this writing, Suara Bangsamoro noted that there are increasing buildups of military deployment in various parts of Mindanao. The Katribu Partylist, in another statement, praised the determination of the MILF “to further the Moro peoples’ aspirations for self-determination and just peace.” But it also cautioned the MILF as it noted that the Aquino government uses the framework agreement to entice big foreign investments, which, they say, have long plundered the land and resources of Mindanao.

At the discussion with MCPA, Iqbal explained two tacks of the MILF, coming from “The ‘MILF concept.’ It says that “if the situation is normal, the method must be peaceful; if abnormal (with oppression, human rights violations, killings), we will be in the armed struggle.”

Aside from the MILF which has arms but currently in a ceasefire with the GPH forces, a breakaway unit continues to launch armed offensives against GPH soldiers deployed in Mindanao. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) is an emerging revolutionary movement taking up the torch for Bangsamoro independence, the Initiatives for Peace (InPeace) in Mindanao noted in a statement.

Bishop Felixberto Calang, spokesman of InPeace in Mindanao, said the framework agreement shall be put to test in the Bangsamoro social setting where, even as the said agreement was being signed, “the guns will not be silenced, as the BIFM armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Ameril Umbra Kato, has vowed to continue to seek the resolution of the Moro problem.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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