DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/DateLine Philippines) — The “all out peace” and “primacy of the peace process” policy statements notwithstanding, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ends her nine-year Presidency with peace as elusive as it was under predecessor Joseph Estrada, the man who declared “all out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 21, 2000.
For one who promised “all out peace” in contrast to her predecessor’s “all out war,” and who in her 2005 State of the Nation Address bragged “permanent peace in Mindanao is within reach,” Ms Arroyo has become the only post-Marcos era President with at least two major wars fought against the MILF: in 2003 and 2008 – both avoidable wars, coming as they did, in the midst of peace talks.
The chairs of the peace panels no longer talk about a peace agreement in the remaining days of the Arroyo administration. Instead, they are talking about an “interim agreement” before her administration ends at noon of June 30.
A press statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs on March 5 quoted Foreign Affairs Undersecretary and government peace panel chair Rafael Seguis as saying that a “significant interim agreement can still be realistically pursued” before then.
MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews on the same day that they had ruled out forging a comprehensive compact. “Only interim agreement is possible.”
Ten years from all-out war
Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr, executive director of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG), was a member of the GRP-MILF’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission tasked to look into reported violations of the ceasefire during Estrada’s “all out war” in 2000.
“There is no short cut to peace, no quick fix to our woes,” he said of the war ten years ago.
But Mercado maintains that the “all-out war” is “no solution at all.”
“It only exacerbates the problem,” he said.
Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. (KFI), says ten years have shown us the need for the government to “be consistent in its policy for peace.”
Unfortunately, Alim adds, only Erap (Estrada) is consistent with his peace policy as President in 2000 and as candidate for President in the 2010 polls. Estrada has vowed to continue what he started: “eliminate the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF, wage war to win the peace in Mindanao.”
Fr. Angel Calvo, a Claretian priest who spent years in Basilan in the 1970s and 1980s and convenor of the Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) said he is “afraid we’ll ask similar question in ten years but we’ve learned that we need to find a socio-political solution to our historical problems, not only military. We struggle to find a peaceful formula for all But this is a long process.”
For MILF peace panel chair Iqbal, the major lesson learned in the last 10 years has been that the government is “not serious.”
It is an unfortunate assessment given by the group that government is negotiating peace with, considering the optimism that the Arroyo administration brought to Mindanao, particularly the Bangsamoro, at the onset.
And it did all the supposed right things: for the first time in the history of the peace process, a government peace panel finally acknowledged that the Philippines had committed a historical injustice against the Bangsamoro.
The President also declared Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadhan, as a national holiday.
Also for the first time, the five-person peace panel was composed of all Mindanawons and was headed, for the first time again, not by a retired military general but by a non-combatant: Jesus Dureza, then concurrent Presidential Assistant for Mindanao and chair of the Mindanao Economic Development Council.
Dureza’s panel also had two women – Emily Marohombsar, who was also a member of the peace panel under Estrada and Irene Santiago of the Mindanao Commission on Women – and two government officials: Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema (also then secretary-general of the Moro National Liberation Front Executive Committee) and then ARMM Vice Governor Mahid Mutilan.
Dureza resigned in May 2003, after the Buliok war, purportedly to focus on his role in MEDCo. He was replaced briefly by Eduardo Ermita, a retired general; then Silvestre Afable; briefly Eliseo Mercado, Jr. who was replaced briefly by Acting chair Rudy Rodil; then retired general Rodolfo Garcia whose panel was dissolved on September 3, 2008, following the aborted signing of the already initialled Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
The Seguis panel was set up in December 2008.
Ten years earlier, in late June 2000, Seguis was among Filipino career diplomats then assigned in the Middle East who were brought to Kuala Lumpur by the Philippine government to attend the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as guests of the OIC Committee of the Six headed by Indonesia (it became Committee of the Eight to include Malaysia and Brunei at the end of that conference), to look into the claims of the Moro National Liberation Front and the MILF in the OIC to be able to respond to these in the diplomatic world.
It was the first time the MILF was represented in an OIC meeting.
GRP-MNLF peace pact review
It was under the Arroyo administration when the OIC sent in May 2006 a fact-finding team to look into the progress of implementation of the 1996 peace pact. A Tripartite Review Committee was tasked to do that and it held its first meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in November 2007 where MNLF chair Nur Misuari, in a 15-page speech read for him by Al Tillah, warned the Philippine government from signing a peace agreement with the MILF, citing claims by an American diplomat that a peace pact with the MILF “will be illegal.”
Misuari quoted the diplomat as saying, “It was the consensus of these jurists or legal luminaries, and I fully agree with them, that any peace agreement between the GRP and the MILF is illegal as it will (be) tantamount to an imposition or super-imposition on a pre-existing international peace treaty agreement. Because any such GRP-MILF peace deal could only but involve the same people, the same territory, and the same administrative apparatus. This administrative apparatus can only be a mere autonomy no different in essence and substance with than already committed in the Tripoli Agreement of December 23, 1976 and the Jakarta-Manila Final Peace Agreement of September 2, 1996 to the MNLF!”
The Seguis panel on January 27 this year, handed over to the MILF a draft peace agreement that did not consider the guidelines the two panels had agreed upon in December 2009, but offered instead an “enhanced autonomy” (see Diaz analysis, Part 2) purportedly to enable the “highest form of autonomy” for Muslim Mindanao. The government peace panel had offered “enhanced autonomy” for the third time to the MILF and thrice this was rejected.
The first was in May 2000 and the second, in February 2003, both in the midst of war. The MILF had repeatedly said the autonomous region is an experiment that has failed.
The Seguis panel also committed to “advocate for” executive, legislative and other policy actions and vowed that “within 30 days from the signing of this Agreement, the President shall issue an Executive Order to optimize fiscal autonomy for the ARMM; provide technical support for identifying sources of revenue” among others.
The MILF draft, on the other hand, provides a “political framework for a democratic system of governance, accountability, equality, respect, and justice for all citizens” (see Diaz analysis Part 2).
“In pursuit of self-determination, it is possible to redress the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao and likewise meet their aspirations,” the draft states.
The draft also provides that compact rights entrenchment emanating from the regime of daru-ul-mua’hada or territory under compact and dar-ul-suh or territory under peace agreement “partakes the nature of a treaty device by which a compact of free association will regulate the relations between the Government and the Bangsamoro people.”
Provisions on representation in central government are similar to the provisions on representation under the 1996 peace pact with the MNLF that were not implemented. Wealth-sharing provisions in the MILF draft are an improvement over the MNLF’s peace pact.
The MILF draft also guarantees no disturbance in existing offices by providing a proposed pre-interim period of six months and an interim period of six years that would also serve as the transition period.
At present, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a product of the 1987 Constitutional provision that both the MNLF and MILF objected to, has elected officials serving until September 30, 2011.
UN Decade for a Culture of Peace
The Arroyo years (2001 to 2010) coincided with the United Nations’ International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.
But in the Philippines, the Decade for Peace saw two wars against the Moro by the Arroyo administration — in 2003 and 2008, the first displacing a little over 400,000 persons; the second displacing at least half a million (600,0000).
The 2008 displacement was “the biggest new displacement in the world” out of 4.2 million newly displaced that year, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said in its April 2009 report.
The Phlippine government may not have achieved the goals of the UN Decade for Peace but the Decade saw the expansion of civil society actively engaging in peacebuilding efforts – people’s organizations, Bishops-Ulama, media, youth, the academe, etc…
The latter half of the decade also saw military generals, junior officers and rank and file soldiers participating in peacebuilding sessions that include understanding Mindanao ‘s history, and practising what they learned in the session halls at the field level.
The decade also saw the most number of books – at least 229 from 2000 to 2009 – on Mindanao or written by Mindanawons, mostly on peacebuilding and history. Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews