Preliminary gov’t-MILF agreement draws positive reactions

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines—For a change, reactions to the 10-point agreement signed by the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front panels in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday have been generally positive even though the scope of the new entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has yet to be defined.

In Cotabato City, Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema, leader of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, expressed support for the outcome of the negotiations, saying the points agreed upon by both camps reflect the aspirations of the Moro people in their decades-old struggle for self-determination.

“In spirit, I see that glittering light illuminating in the just agreed upon points of discussion that appears to embody the Bangsamoro aspirations of long ago,”  Sema said.

He reminded the government, however, to attend to the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement entered into between the MNLF of Nur Misuari and the government under President Fidel Ramos.

“Although it appears that these dormant provisions  have been included in the enumerated discussion points, we might as well cross our fingers that both panels would end up signing an official peace document that the Bangsamoro people could be proud of,” Sema said.

“Replacing the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the new political Bangsamoro entity should be an autonomous government not only in name but of a state-within-a-state kind of set-up where the inhabitants are truly autonomous,” he added.

Last Tuesday, the government and MILF negotiating panels signed a document embodying “10 decision points on principles” that will serve as “general directions of the substantive negotiations” still ahead in the search for a political settlement to end over four decades of the Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

Among other things, the document spelled out the parties’ commitment to create “a new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM,” premised on their admission that the status quo is unacceptable.

Nur Misuari, who led the MNLF that concluded the peace accord with the Ramos administration and now leads another faction, declined to issue a statement on the latest developments in the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

The peace talks broke down in 2008 after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that had been hammered out by the two sides but was n widely criticized for lack of consultations with affected communities over  expanded area covered by and the powers granted to the so-called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

Various local government leaders reacted generally positively to the new preliminary agreement.

Zamboanga del Sur Governor Antonio Cerilles said there was “nothing to be bothered about the agreement.’’“I am sure people will be consulted,” Cerilles said.

“(Marvic) Leonen is a good lawyer and he’ll make sure any peace deal will be acceptable to all sides, so we must not preempt any effort being undertaken because for sure everyone will be consulted,” Cerilles added, referring to the head of the government negotiating panel.

Basilan Representative Jim Hataman said if a new autonomous government was in the offing, “there will be a plebiscite on that and new laws will have to be created.”

Hataman said the ultimate goal was to “achieve a peace agreement where everyone is fully consulted, not just the Muslims but also the indigenous peoples and the Christian communities.”

Zamboanga Sibugay Governor Rommel Jalosjos said: “We will give our full support for as long as Sibugay is not going to be part of its sub-state.”

But South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy cautioned the government over the latest agreement with the MILF, saying it might create trouble in the future.

“We need to know the sentiments of the people, not just of the rebel group” he said.

Jesus Dureza, former presidential adviser for Mindanao, said negotiating peace was not and should not be the exclusive task of the two sides but a communal effort of all stakeholders.

“It’s a virtual watershed. How to make it cascade is crucial. It’s also a roadmap that everyone must traverse together. How the other stakeholders will come around and converge will determine the final trajectory,” Dureza said in statement sent to the Inquirer.

“Despite the euphoria it truly deserves, the framework agreement is still a long way off from the final peace agreement. But believe me, it can be done. More than ever, the government and MILF panels now need everyone’s support to make it happen,” he added.

Leonen had characterized the future ARMM replacement as “a secular political unit existing within the Republic of the Philippines, located within its territory (and) subject to its sovereignty as a state.”

The recent consensus, which was actually reached last December and formalized into a document last February, is the sixth time the flesh-and-bones of political autonomy are being firmed up in an effort to address the roots of the Moro rebellion.

But it was only the second time for such process to be done within the context of peace negotiations.

The first was through the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 facilitated by Libya and the Organization of the Islamic Conference as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was then known.

At that time, the Moro National Liberation Front  bowed to pressure from Muslim countries to drop its independence bid and settle for self-governance over historically Moro-dominated areas.

But the MNLF and government took 20 years to agree on the modality of implementing the 1976 pact.

In a plebiscite in 1989, only the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi joined the ARMM. Cotabato City, where its seat of government is located, voted to be excluded from the regional unit.

Marawi City and Basilan province, minus Lamitan City, voted to join the ARMM during a plebiscite in 2001 in a bid to expand the ARMM as part of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF.

Chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said a century of being governed under a unitary political system, what used to be a predominantly Moro-populated Moro Province, is the home of “minoritized” natives ruled by migrants.

“We also lost most of our ancestral lands…. Through legalized landgrabbing, only around 12 to 15 percent of our original landholdings remain in our hands, all the rest were lost forever,” Iqbal said.

But Iqbal said that the MILF proposal for a comprehensive compact does not grant the future Moro self-governance entity confiscatory powers over property.

“Rather, it will recognize and respect vested property rights,  although, rights obtained through fraudulent schemes will certainly be dealt with through the appropriate judicial processes,” he added.

“We are only aiming to protect what remained with us now,” Iqbal  said.

The MILF’s proposed sub-state covers the current ARMM as the core territory. Add to this the six Lanao del Norte towns whose voters opted to be part of the regional government in 1989; and 735 adjacent barangays with predominantly Moro population, subject to the  residents’ consent through a plebiscite.

Last year, the government panel said the proposed territory would account for just 17 percent of Mindanao’s total area.

Leonen said the recently signed document was a “preliminary listing of common points, which the parties have mutually identified, coming from their respective initial positions.”

The MILF’s original proposal was embodied in its February 2011 Revised Comprehensive Compact, although Leonen noted several points in their discussions when the rebel group’s position already went beyond the document.

Government’s initial position was embodied in its so-called 3-for-1 formula as laid down in August 2011.Leonen said the commitments of the government spelled out in the decision points “can be properly accommodated by our current legal and political realities.’’

Reports from Ryan D. Rosauro, Charlie C. Señase, Julie S. Alipala, and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

Retrieved from Philippine Daily Inquirer