President Duterte’s oft-repeated avowal is to accomplish before the end of his six-year term, in 2022, a shift in the form of government from the present unitary to a federal system. That accomplished, he has declared, he will volunteer to resign as President.
And he has kept saying that only such a shift to federalism will satisfy the Bangsamoro – the name by which both the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) refer to the Muslim people in southern Philippines – and bring peace in Mindanao as it will correct the historical injustice committed against them.
Now it appears the leaders of both liberation groups don’t think along the same line. While not expressing outright opposition to federalism, they have expressed parallel concerns that, under the still not-clearly defined concept and structure of a Federal Republic of the Philippines (or whatever it may be called), the protracted Bangsamoro struggle for their right to self-determination, identity, and institutions may not be given justice.
Both the MILF and MNLF prefer to have the final peace agreements they had separately forged and signed with the GRP implemented ahead of the formation of a federal system of government.
Meantime, in light of the mutually-acknowledged unprecedented progress in the first three rounds of formal negotiations in the GRP-NDFP peace talks under the Duterte government (held in Europe in August and October 2016, and in January 2017), the NDFP has manifested its readiness to support and be a partner in the establishment of a Federal Republic of the Philippines.
However, such support and partnership can be effective, the NDFP emphasizes, if there are guarantees for political and economic sovereignty, people’s democracy, respect for human rights, social justice, patriotic culture, independent foreign policy, and an uncompromising fight against foreign dominance, dynasticism, warlordism, and other forms of local reaction.
These guarantees are essential elements of the substantive negotiations on social, economic, political, and constitutional reforms in the GRP-NDFP peace talks.
Thus, if President Duterte envisions the shift to federalism as a means for attaining just and lasting peace not only in Mindanao but in the entire Philippines, he ought to ensure that the peace processes with the Left revolutionary movement and the Bangsamoro liberation movement are completed, with the comprehensive agreements initially palpably implemented to the satisfaction of the people who are the principal beneficiaries. Let’s look into each case.
Both the MILF and MNLF are pushing for the implementation of their separate final peace agreements with the GRP: On the part of the MNLF (then led undisputedly by Nur Misuari, who now leads just a faction of it) there’s the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) of 1998 and, on the part of the MILF (which broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s), the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). These peace accords embody, in general and specific provisions, the essential and, in some aspects, modified modes of exercising their right to self-determination.
Although it’s bound by constitutional limitations, both groups are pushing for the passage into law of a revised draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is essentially derived from the CAB and includes certain parts of the FPA. (The 16th Congress under President Aquino thoroughly overhauled but failed to pass the first BBL, drafted by a Bangsamoro Transition Commission with 8 members from the MILF and 7 from the GRP, all Muslims.)
In November 2016 President Duterte appointed a revived/expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (with MNLF members added in January), to work out a new draft BBL. The body recently approved the revised draft, but its presentation to the President set yesterday was postponed indefinitely. After the Office of the President shall have reviewed the draft, Duterte would submit it to Congress for approval.
But the MILF, according to an authoritative source, found it confusing that President Duterte announced the creation of a Consultative Commission mandated, within six months, to recommend changes in the 1987 Constitution. With its fate still up in the air, the MILF fears, the hoped-for passage of the BBL in toto could be adversely affected by the proposed constitutional changes. After all, the President had assured them last April that the commission would be formed only after the draft BBL’s submission to Congress.
It’s now a tense waiting game for the Bangsamoro. The diminishing expectation of the MILF is articulated in this remark by Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair: “We [had] better secure 10 centavos already in the basket than having to gamble for a peso [that] is still in the wilderness.”
The GRP-NDFP peace talks still have to produce concrete results – 10 centavos? – as far as agreement on the substantive issues of social and economic reforms are concerned. Starting in the fourth round of formal negotiations in April, an air of unease and cautiousness has crept into the initial optimism that pervaded the earlier rounds. And the next, or fifth, round, scheduled in May, didn’t push through after the GRP panel announced it would not participate. Back-channel talks have succeeded in getting the process back on track, and the fifth round will proceed in August or September.
What has soured the atmosphere of the talks is the insistence by the Duterte Cabinet’s security cluster on the primacy of a ceasefire – ahead of negotiations and signing of comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms. The NDFP interprets this as a means to force its “capitulation and pacification” and to scuttle any comprehensive agreement on fundamental reforms beneficial to the people. In that case, it’s doubtful if it would still be willing to support Duterte’s federalism project.
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Published in The Philippine Star
July 1, 2017