AIDE MEMOIRE ON THE MINDANAO PEACE TALKS (1968-2013)

(This Aide Memoire is part of the forthcoming book by the author. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013)

 

I.  The 1976 ‘Tripoli Agreement’: The Mother of All Agreements

 1968

In March 1968, at least 28 Moro army recruits were massacred in Corregidor Island. Later known as the Jabidah Massacre, the incident unleashed widespread Muslim indignation, drawing sentiments engendered by conflicts of past centuries. Moro students in Manila held a week long protest vigil over an empty coffin marked ‘Jabidah’ in front of the presidential palace.

In Mindanao, land conflicts escalated. Paramilitary groups proliferated, some attached to Christian and Muslim politicians, and some to loggers. Hundreds of young Moros were sent to Malaysia for military training. Sabah became a sanctuary and communication centre for Moro rebels. Towards 1971, the Constabulary took control of many towns due to escalating violence. Schools were closed, farms abandoned, commerce stagnated, and refugees increased. A Christian-led Ilaga paramilitary group attacked a mosque in Manili and massacred 65 men, women and children. The massacre drew the attention of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi via a BBC radio report. On July 21, 1971, leaders from all sectors of Moro society published a manifesto demanding that the government take action to stop the assault which the government dismissed as a mere threat. In August, the army launched a weeklong artillery bombardment against the residents of Buldon following the killing of some Christian loggers. By September, the cycle of reprisals was uncontrollable. In October, fighting ensued between government troops and a Muslim-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Barracudas’ which left hundreds of casualties on both sides. In November, 40 Muslims from the Maranao tribe were summarily executed at a military checkpoint in Tacub. Muslims lambasted and accused the government of genocide.

The period 1968 to 1971 characterized the revival of Moro student activism and consciousness of ‘Moro nationalism.’ Reasserting their distinct history and identity, Moro activist political leaders and organizations emerged eventually to culminate in the founding of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

1972

In January 1972, the Third Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) in Jeddah requested the Philippine government to protect the lives and properties of the Muslims. To show that the charges of genocide were exaggerated, the government invited eight Muslim ambassadors on a tour of Mindanao. In July, a Libyan and Egyptian delegation toured the troubled areas and concluded that there was clearly a war between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, notwithstanding their finding that no strong evidence existed of government-backed genocide.

On September 21, 1972, President Marcos declared martial law. A month later, the first organized Moro counter offensive was launched in Marawi, Lanao del Sur. The MNLF came out in the open to claim the leadership behind the struggle for self-determination and secession from the Philippine Republic.

1973

A year after the imposition of martial law in 1973 Marcos, while pursuing military operations, initiated socio-economic improvements in the south through Presidential decrees ordering relief and welfare projects and resettlement of refugees, and declaring certain Moro lands as inalienable. He constituted the ‘Presidential Task Force for the Reconstruction and Development of Mindanao’ in order to rebuild areas devastated by violence. He created the Philippine Amanah Bank in order to expand the class of Muslim entrepreneurs. And he created the Southern Philippines Development Administration (SPDA) to bolster business activity in the region. Marcos won over key Muslim leaders, those outside the MNLF.

The 4th ICFM (in Benghazi) recognized that the problem was ‘internal to an independent sovereign state,’ but maintained the pressure on Marcos. Marcos responded by realigning his foreign policy and organizing diplomatic initiatives to win over the Muslim world.

1974

The MNLF fortified its base and gathered popular support from the Muslims especially at the grassroots level. In response, two integrated commands — the Central Mindanao Command for the Cotabato-Lanao areas, and the Southern Command, for the Zamboanga peninsula and the Sulu archipelago —- were created by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In what was considered as the biggest battle of the year, the MNLF forces, in February 1974, “occupied” Jolo for barely three days as the Southern Command was quick to unleash its military might on the MNLF rebels leaving hundreds of casualties from both sides including innocent civilians. The MNLF troops retreated from Jolo which was practically razed by fire to the ground. In mainland Mindanao, the Central Command attacked the MNLF forces in Cotabato.

The MNLF gained official recognition from Muslim countries as legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people. The 5th ICFM urged the Philippine government ‘to find a political and peaceful solution through negotiations’ and officially recognize the MNLF.

1975

In 1975, fighting between the MNLF and the AFP came to a halt. In January, the first meeting between the Philippine government and MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and his deputy Salamat Hashim was held in Jeddah. In the field, negotiating panels reached out to the MNLF commanders as ordered by Marcos.  Fierce debates ensued among the top brass of the MNLF on how to respond to the Marcos peace initiatives. The 6th ICFM, which supported autonomy as the basis for negotiations, convinced the MNLF to accept the formula. From the Working Paper of the Committee of Four (Senegal, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Somalia), “autonomy” was defined as “self-government within the framework of Philippine national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Marcos sent Imelda Marcos, among others, as special emissary to Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria as part of his intensified diplomatic efforts. The Philippine government opened embassies in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Algeria, Lebanon and Kuwait and strengthened its relations with 13 other South Asian, Middle Eastern and African Muslim countries. The Philippines also lobbied the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers Meeting.

1976

Marcos met with the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General Amadou Karim Gaye in Kenya. He sent delegations to both the 7th ICFM in Istanbul and the Non-Aligned Summit in Colombo. He sent Imelda Marcos to Libya to personally confer with Gaddafi. On the ground, local ceasefires were forged creating an atmosphere conducive to the implementation of a ‘policy of attraction.’ Amnesty was offered to key MNLF commanders, along with livelihood projects and political positions in exchange for their surrender with ‘dignity’. Two of those who surrendered were Amelil Malaguiok, head of the Kutawato (Cotabato) Revolutionary Committee, and Abdul Hamid Lukman, a former municipal judge and legal adviser of Misuari in Jeddah.

On December 23, 1976, an Agreement was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through the late Deputy Minister of Defense Carmelo Z. Barbero and the Moro National Liberation Front represented by its Chairman Prof. Nur Misuari with the participation of the Organization of Islamic Conference through its Secretary-Genera1, Dr. Ahmed Karim Gaye in Tripoli, Libya. Among others, the salient point of what is known as the Tripoli Agreement is the establishment of an autonomy comprising the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Palawan and all the cities and municipalities situated in the above-mentioned areas. The participation of the OIC in the quest for a peaceful political solution to the situation of Muslim Filipinos started as early as 1972 as embodied in resolutions of the Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference which are as follows:

1972

The official inclusion of the item “Situation of the Muslims in the Philippines” in the agenda of the Islamic Conference during its meeting in Jeddah under Resolution No. 12. In the same year, the Libyan Arab Republic formalized its open support to the MNLF in order to subsidize its national formation.

1973

The Islamic Conference created the Quadripartite Ministerial Commission composed of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Senegal and the Republic of Somalia to report on the problems of Muslims in the Philippines during the meeting in Benghazi under Resolution No. 4.

1974

A framework for negotiation between the Muslim leaders particularly the MNLF was determined by the Islamic Conference based on a plan of action prepared by the Quadripartite Commission during its meeting in Kuala Lumpur under Resolution No. 18.

The series of diplomatic missions tasked to tackle the MNLF issue abroad started in 1975 when a panel of negotiators led by Executive Secretary Melchor was sent to Saudi Arabia to hold talks with the MNLF. The talks, though in the beginning was adjourned because of Misuari’s demand for an independent Bangsa Moro Republic, eventually led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976.

1977

On January 20, 1977, a Ceasefire Agreement between the Marcos Government and the MNLF with the help of the OIC was signed in Zamboanga City and the ceasefire was to take place up to April.  Marcos approved the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, which established Shari’ah courts as part of the national system of courts. The second round of negotiations resumed on February 5, 1977 which ended in a deadlock on March 3, 1977. The negotiations were suspended because the authority that was granted to it specifically provided that it would be limited to the period from February 5, 1977 to March 3, 1977 after which the Mixed Committee, which was tasked under paragraph (11) of the Tripoli Agreement “to study in detail the points left for discussion in order to reach a solution thereof in conformity with the provision of this agreement,” was deemed to have “ceased to function and its authority to negotiate terminated.” (Annex 14, From Secession to Autonomy {MFA, Manila} 1980) Having become functus oficio, the Mixed Committee failed “to discuss and determine later” the provisions of paragraph (2), (4), (5), (7), (8) and (9).

In the main, the said deadlock arose when the MNLF insisted that the 13 provinces be immediately declared a single autonomous unit. Marcos maintained that certain constitutional procedures, including a plebiscite, were needed because the majority of the people in the 13 provinces are not Muslims.

Imelda Marcos hurried to Libya on 12 March to solicit Gaddafi’s help who suggested forming a provisional government to supervise the plebiscite, although Misuari refused to head the provisional government. Subsequently, there ensued an official cable exchange between Libyan leader Mua’mar Khaddafy and then President Marcos between March 18 and April 14, 1977 on the steps to be taken in regard to the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement.

On April 17, 1977, a Referendum-Plebiscite was held but the validity of its results was questioned by the MNLF in the April 22-26, 1977 third round of RP-MNLF Peace Talks in Manila which ended in a deadlock. The crux of the disagreement did not necessarily center on the Referendum per se, but on how the questions proposed had been framed and printed. To this, Prof. Nur Misuari, in a cable to President Marcos earlier on April 16, 1977 expressed that “the MNLF and our people are not party to the so-called referendum of April 17 in the form and manner it is conceived, organized and conducted.” (Annex 16, From Secession to Autonomy {MFA, Manila, 1980}, text of Nur Misuari’s cable, dated April 16, 1977) The questions that can be raised, he stated, are only those contained in the Col. Khadaffy cable.

With the Referendum questions then reformulated and the consequent voters’ rejection of the merger of the provinces within the autonomy, the issue has turned into a sour note between the negotiating panels. What therefore constituted the crux of the problem is the implementation procedure which on one hand the Marcos Government, in calling for a referendum, justified on grounds of “necessary constitutional processes” as embodied under paragraph (16) of the Third Part of the Tripoli Agreement. (Annex 14, From Secession to Autonomy, Marcos -Gaye cable, 1977, p. 87) The MNLF, on the contrary, declared it was not a party to the April 17 referendum. This implementation procedure was explained by President Marcos when he cabled Dr. Ahmed Karim Gaye, OIC Secretary General, on April 14, 1977 as follows:

“Your Excellency will recall however, that in the first round of negotiation in December 1976 these negotiations reached an impasse on December 12, 1976 and all concerned, including Your Excellency, agreed to ask for my intervention and that of President Khaddafy and appealed to me to offer a compromise proposal. This resulted in the adoption of my proposal which included the term “Constitutional Processes” which in turn involved the calling of a referendum and later an election.” (Annex 14, Ibid, p. 87)

What has happened after the breakdown of the panel discussion between the MNLF and the Marcos Government is detailed by President Marcos in his report to the Special Session of the Batasang Bayan on May 3, 1977. He stated thus:

“Our immediate concern should be how to keep the ceasefire which remains in force until now, how to keep it in force even alter this setback at the discussion table, and even after the Islamic observers shall have been recalled. It will take the two parties to keep it, but much will depend on the policy that we, on our side, adopt.” (The Southern Philippines Question {MFA: Manila, 1980} p. 128, underscoring supplied)

On May 7, 1977, Proclamation No. 1628-A was issued proclaiming the adoption and implementation of the results of the Referendum Plebiscite of April 17, particularly the Batasang Bayan proposal contained in its Resolution No. 11 and included as Question No. 10 of the said referendum. This led to the organization of the Sangguniang Pampook (Regional Assembly) in each of Regions IX and XII. In pursuance of Proclamation No. 1628-A, and by authority of Batas Pambansa Blg., the election of Sangguniang Pampook representatives was held on May 7, 1979.

By this time, however, the improved image of the Philippines was working in its favor and the ICFM simply recommended that negotiations continue. This shook the MNLF leadership, and a split emerged. In Jeddah on 26 December, Salamat Hashim announced an ‘Instrument of Takeover’ of the MNLF leadership, a move supported by traditional leaders Rashid Lucman, Domacao Alonto and Salipada Pendatun. Misuari countered by expelling Hashim and charging him with treason.

Arab supporters were equally divided: Egypt supported Hashim while Libya leaned towards Misuari. Mediation by the OIC and Muslim World League failed. Not wishing to be used by the traditional politicians, Hashim transferred to Cairo and went on to form the ‘new MNLF’, eventually to be known as the ‘Moro Islamic Liberation Front.’ Lucman and Pendatun reinvigorated the Bangsamoro liberation organization to gain support, but Arab states ignored them.

1978

In 1978, the Philippine government and the MNLF resumed negotiations but the Philippine panel chose to meet Hashim rather than Misuari. Meanwhile, a report was presented to the OIC by the Marcos government on the functioning of the new autonomous regional governments. The 9th ICFM met in Dakar, Senegal from 17-29 April, and Misuari was recognized as the chairman and spokesman for the MNLF. Hashim cannot be present because Egyptian authorities, not wishing to further antagonize Libya, prevented him from leaving Cairo. In the field, MNLF members conducted military ambushes. In Patikul, Sulu, a local MNLF leader invited the AFP to a peace dialogue. In the area where the supposed dialogue was set, General Teodulo Bautista and 33 other soldiers who arrived were shot dead.

1979.

In 1979, Misuari reverted to his former goal of secession but despite his renewed efforts to convince the Islamic states, he did not succeed. His only new supporter was Iran, after a visit to Imam Khomeini in June. Meanwhile, the Philippine panel continued negotiations with the Hashim faction in Cairo. MNLF founding member Abul Khayr Alonto surrendered and joined the government panel. The 10th ICFM in Morocco affirmed support for the Tripoli Agreement. Initiatives on the diplomatic front focused on ensuring that the Agreement was actually being implemented.

Meanwhile on July 25, 1979, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No, 1618 providing the framework of the organization of the Sangguniang Pampook and the Lupong Tagapagpaganap ng Pook (Executive Council). ( In the main, while the Tripoli Agreement leaves to the national Government only matters concerning national defense, foreign affairs, and mines ` and mineral resources, under P.D. 1618 there were nineteen (19) more specific areas that were within the jurisdiction and competence of the national government. Also, Section 17 of P.D. 1618 though it enumerated ten (10) areas concerning regional affairs where the Sanggunian could exercise local legislative powers, all these were rendered ineffectual and nugatory by Section 4 which prohibited the autonomous regions from acting on matters which were within the exclusive power of the national government.

The power of taxation of the Sanggunian, for instance, was in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Minister of Finance (Section 20, P.D. 1618), so much so that the revenue-raising power of the Sanggunian was limited to inconsequential and trivial matters like signboards, secretary’s fees, etc., which when imposed barely aggregated to  P100,000.00 annually! There were other general constraints and, considering these, the autonomous government had practically placed itself inutile as “a mere glorified monitoring office.” (Abu Khayr Alonto, Autonomy by the People, February 11, 1982)

The modification of the Tripoli Agreement under P.D. 1618 was without the MNLF’s express consent and therefore constituted a unilateral act of the Marcos government not binding to the MNLF (Abu Khayr Alonto, Ibid). In the same year, 1979, the 10th Islamic Conference at Fez, Morocco, resolved: “To recognize the right of the Moslems of Southern Philippines to present their problem to the concerned international for a and to avail them of all possible political support in this respect, if the Government of the Philippines does not respect its commitment to resume negotiations with a view to draw up protocols for the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement.” (Islamic Conference Resolution No. 21/ 10-P, May 12, 1979, underscoring supplied)

1980

In 1980, pocket wars and skirmishes ensued. In March, Malaysia and Indonesia offered to serve as ‘honest brokers’ stressing that the problem has regional implications that could best be resolved by ASEAN. The Philippine government took newly installed OIC Secretary General Habib Chatti of Tunisia on a tour around Mindanao to meet Muslims and the new Regional Legislative Assemblies. The 11th ICFM in Islamabad requested the Philippine government to implement the Tripoli Agreement.

1981

In January 1981, the MNLF appealed to the Third Summit Conference of Heads of States in Mecca for recognition and support to the Bangsa Moro People’s right to self-determination. Reverting to its original secessionist stance, the MNLF restated its declaration of the “establishment of the Bangsa Moro Republic” as embodied in the Manifesto of April 28, 1974: “That henceforth the Bangsa Moro people and Revolution, having established their Bangsa Moro Republic, are throwing off all their political, economic and other bonds with the dictatorial regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos to secure a free and independent state for the Bangsa Moro people.” (Mahardika, MNLF’s Official Organ, Vol. IX, No. 1 {1982}, p.6)

But President Marcos has gained much of his intended effect of the Policy. He told Malacañang newsmen in February 1982 that his government was firmly resolved in implementing the Tripoli Agreement regardless of, as he put it, “whatever may be said about the Tripoli Agreement and the manner in which it is implemented.” (Interview with Malacañang newsmen on February 17, 1982 quoted in pamphlet on Implementation of the Tripoli Agreement {MFA: 1985}, p. 1)  For his part, Nur Misuari in an interview in Mindanao’s Jihad said that “there is no turning back” to the Tripoli Agreement. (Arabia, Islamic World Review, No. 32 {April, 1984}, p. 29)

Misuari failed to convince a summit conference of heads of states in Taif, Saudi Arabia to support secession. He also failed to convince the 12th ICFM in Baghdad which resolved to ‘make new contact with the Government of the Philippines for the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement in text and spirit’. Marcos ‘lifted’ martial law in a bid to win further legitimacy for his regime but he kept his dictatorial powers. In May, opposition leader Benigno Aguino Jr., after his release from prison with permission to go into exile in the US, visited Misuari in Jeddah and promised to support the Tripoli Agreement.

Meanwhile, MNLF forces killed 120 government soldiers in Pata island, off Jolo. In retaliation, more than 15,000 troops were sent to the island in a massive operation that infuriated Muslim local government officials.

1982-1985

In 1982, Marcos consolidated the Philippines’ diplomatic position. He visited Saudi Arabia’s King Khaled and OIC’s Habib Chatti. The 13th IFCM called on government ‘to speed the implementation’ of the Agreement.’ It also appealed to the MNLF to prepare for new talks ‘as a united front’. The newly established Moro Revolutionary organization, a member of the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF), called for a ‘people’s war as the main form of the Moro people’s revolutionary struggle. Efforts to link communist and Moro insurgencies failed, but local forces cooperated on the ground.

In 1983, the 14th ICFM in Dhaka called on the Muslims to unite prior to new negotiations that will put the Tripoli Agreement into effect. MNLF military activities began to wane, but the New People’s Army’s (NPA being the armed group of the National Democratic Front) offensives in Mindanao kept the AFP engaged. Benigno Aquino Jr. returned from exile and was assassinated on his arrival at the Manila International Airport. Popular challenge to the Marcos regime intensified throughout the country.

In 1984, Marcos built his case on the diplomatic front. He sent emissaries to the 4th Islamic Summit in Casablanca and to the World Muslim Congress in Karachi. In February, he held bilateral meetings with the presidents of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore. The 15th ICFM reaffirmed its commitment to respect the territorial integrity of the Philippines and again called on the MNLF to close ranks. In March, Hashim’s ‘New MNLF’ officially declared itself a separate organization with the name, the ‘Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).’ The MILF has a religious as well as nationalist agenda. Meanwhile, the NPA gathered strength and started to launch larger attacks. Mass demonstrations became spontaneous and the first nationally coordinated Welga ng Bayan (people’s strike) made manifest the depth of popular opposition to Marcos.

In 1985, armed attacks by the NPA intensified along with legal, popular opposition to the regime. Marcos scheduled a snap presidential election to defuse widespread tension. The legal opposition united behind Corazon Aquino, Benigno’s widow, as the anti-Marcos candidate. The NDF boycotted the exercise, calling the elections a ‘sham’.

II.  Autonomy for the Muslims: The ARMM under President Aquino

 1986

In 1986, in the scheduled snap election, Marcos was proclaimed winner. Days later, he was ousted after a failed coup sent millions of people to the main thoroughfare, known as ‘EDSA’ to protect mutineers from counter-attack. The Marcos family was flown to Hawaii by the US government. Corazon Aquino took her oath as President and established a revolutionary government. She formed a commission to draft a new constitution, which included provisions for autonomy in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera region of Luzon.

On August 20, 1986, the Aquino Government issued a White Paper entitled The Muslims in the Philippines: Policy of the New Government which spelled out a resolution to “do justice” to the Filipino Muslims:

“The 1976 Tripoli Agreement is a solemn commitment of the Philippine Government. The new Administration sincerely wants to accommodate the just aspirations of the Filipino Muslims for real and meaningful autonomy, provided that it is done within the framework of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. . .

“…Members of the Constitutional Commission now drafting the new fundamental law of the land have unanimously approved p the grant of autonomy to the Southern Philippine region and to the Cordilleras in Luzon. The new Constitution, to be submitted for ratification by the entire Filipino nation sometime before the end of the year, will embody a provision requiring the new Congress, after consulting with multi-sectoral groups in these two areas, to enact regional charters extending autonomy.”

Earlier in March of the same year, the MILF sent a message of its readiness to discuss peace with Aquino. In August, with OIC and Muslim World League mediation, the MILF and the MNLF agreed in principle to negotiate jointly in an expanded panel. But on September 5, 1986, Misuari returned to Sulu where, in an unprecedented move, President Corazon Aquino met him for a dialogue. Misuari seized the initiative and gained recognition for the MNLF from the government as its negotiating partner. The historic meeting resulted in an agreement between the MNLF and the government, as embodied in a joint statement, for a continued cessation of hostilities and laying down the groundwork for formal negotiations. Misuari was also allowed to conduct consultations with other MNLF groups to find out their stand on the solution to the conflict in Southern Philippines. The MILF displayed political strength through a militant consultative assembly in October, but failed to elicit a government response

The government panel led by Local Government Minister Aquilino Pimentel left on December 30 for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for preliminary talks scheduled on January 2-5, 1987. On 3 January, the government and the MNLF signed a Joint Statement known as the ‘Jeddah Accord’ which defined for the two parties the parameters of the peace negotiations:

“The two parties agreed to continue discussion of the proposal for the grant of full autonomy to Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan subject to democratic processes.

“In the meantime, the MNLF panel proposes that President Corazon C. Aquino will issue an executive order suspending pertinent provisions of the draft constitution on the grant of autonomy to Muslim Mindanao in the scheduled plebiscite on February 2, 1987, to allow the MNLF to undertake democratic consultations with the people of Mindanao and its islands, and that the Philippine Government Panel shall present this proposal to President Aquino for her approval.”

The MNLF, well aware of the Philippine Government’s policy to implement the Tripoli Agreement in accordance with the provisions of the new Constitution, proposed, as the second paragraph of the Jeddah Accord states, that President Aquino exclude the autonomy provisions (Sections 15-21, Article X) of the draft Constitution from submission to the people for ratification. President Aquino, citing her handpicked Constitutional Commission’s opinion, denied this proposal as this “could raise a Constitutional problem.” (Pres. Aquino‘s Statement, January 15, 1987) Here was President Aquino‘s “revolutionary government” addressing a “Constitutional problem” based on a draft Constitution that was yet to be ratified!

1987

Peace negotiations resumed on January 20, 1987 in Zamboanga City where the MNLF again presented their demand for full autonomy. Pursuant to the provisions of the Jeddah Accord, a formal talk was held in Manila on February 9, 1987. From the outset, it became clear that there were fundamental differences between the two parties which, at best, were very difficult to resolve. The difficulty arose mainly from the conflict of interpretation of the Jeddah Accord: The parameters were new because (a) the MNLF went beyond the 13 provinces listed in the Tripoli Agreement and (b) it agreed that its proposal would be subject to “democratic processes.”

On February 20, 1987, the MNLF Panel submitted a 26-point proposal to the Government Panel for, among others, the grant of full autonomy to Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Palawan and Tawi-Tawi, claiming that the Philippines had agreed thereto in Jeddah. Thus paragraphs 1.0 and _ 2.24 of the MNLF proposal state:

“1.0 BASIC POINT AGREED UPON IN THE JEDDAH ACCORD OF JANUARY 3, 1987

“1.1 The grant of full autonomy for the, islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Palawan and Tawi-Tawi

“2.24 Proclamation by the President

“Immediate after the signing of the agreement between the MNLF and the Government and before the first Congress of the Philippines in July 1987, the President of the Philippines shall issue a proclamation declaring full autonomy for Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan, pursuant to this Agreement.”

By March, Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez was designated as Chairman of the Mindanao Peace and Development Panel. In reply to the MNLF proposal of February 20, 1987, the Government Panel on April 8, 1987 maintained that the agreement in Jeddah was merely to “continue discussion” of the proposal and that the provision “subject to democratic processes” was omitted which constituted a unilateral and unauthorized revision of the Accord. (The Government Panel’s Point-by-Point Reply to   the MNLF Proposal of February 20, 1987, Manila, 8 April 1987)

The foregoing conflict of interpretation of the Jeddah Accord by both Panels caused tension during the negotiations as the MNLF insisted that the area, having been agreed to, was non-negotiable. To break the impasse, the Government Panel proposed: “For the sake of argument, it t would accept the MNLF interpretation that the Government Panel had “` I agreed to the grant of full autonomy to the entire island of Mindanao and other islands, provided that the MNLF would also agree that such grant was subject to democratic processes, i.e., to a referendum to ascertain the will of the people on the proposed autonomy.” (Aide Memoire, Position of the Philippine Government Panel, 1987) The MNLF declined this proposal. In the press and on radio and television, the MNLF accused the Philippine negotiators in Jeddah of “betrayal.” On April 15, 1987, the MNLF, then failing in its demand, submitted a revised proposal, to wit:

l. The grant of full autonomy to the 13 provinces covered by the Tripoli Agreement, without the need for democratic processes;

2. The remaining ten (10) provinces of the area of autonomy may be subject to democratic processes;

3. The President place the thirteen (13) provinces covered by the Tripoli Agreement under a provisional government until elections could be held in 1992; 4. The Chief Executive of the provisional government would exercise the powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Regional Security Force at least 85% of which shall come from the Bangsa Moro Forces;

5. The other basic points on the previous proposal must be respected; and 6. The grant be made through a Proclamation (Revised MNLF Proposal Presented to the Government Panel on April 15, 1987, Nos. 5, 17 & 19)

The Government Panel replied that the Philippines was ready to implement the Tripoli Agreement in accordance with the Philippine Constitution (ratified by the Filipino people on 2 February 1987) which mandates that there shall be created an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao; that, for this purpose, the President shall appoint a Regional Consultative Commission to assist and participate in the enactment of an organic act creating this Autonomous Government; that such act shall be enacted by the Philippine Congress within eighteen (18) months from its organization or up to January 1989; and that such organic act shall be submitted to the people of the affected areas for their acceptance or refusal. (Sections 15 to 21, Article X, Constitution of the Philippines)

The MNLF Panel maintained that the President of the Philippines exercise her transitory power of legislation which was still in existence, since the election for the members of Congress was on May 11, 1987, and this legislative body would convene on July 24, 1987. The Government Panel held, on the other hand, that since the Constitution has expressly provided that the Autonomous Government be created by Congress, the President cannot do what the Constitution has expressly assigned to Congress.

On April 24, 1987, the Government Panel offered, within the parameters of the Philippine Constitution, the following proposal: Since there existed two (2) Autonomous Governments in Regions IX and XII in Muslim Mindanao consisting of ten (10) provinces and the cities and villages therein which were created during the regime of former President Marcos by P.D. No. 1618 on 25 July 1979, the two Executive Councils would be merged into a Provisional Autonomous Council (PAC) of nine I members to be appointed by the President. The PAC‘s functions would be J strengthened so that it could:

1. Run the affairs of government in the area more effectively;

2. Actively participate in the socio-economic development of the area; and

3. Prepare the ground for the organization of the Regional Consultative Commission and the enactment by the Philippine Congress of the organic act for the autonomous government of Muslim Mindanao. (The proposed Provisional Autonomous ` Council {PAC}, April 24, 1987)

In addition, the MNLF was offered a position of leadership and adequate representation in the Provisional Autonomous Council as well as in the Philippine Congress.

The MNLF rejected the proposal as it insisted that the area covered by the Provisional Autonomous Council be expanded to thirteen (13) to include the provinces of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Palawan. The Government Panel disagreed invoking as its basis the referendum held on 17 April 1977, wherein the three provinces have opted out of it. The Government Panel considered the referendum of 1977 conducted under the dictatorial regime of President Marcos as legitimate. After all, even if the three provinces were included, the Government Panel’s proposed Provisional Autonomous Council was to exist only until the regular Autonomous Government is created by an organic act of the Philippine Congress. This argument notwithstanding, there is the rub: the MNLF objected to having the Tripoli Agreement implemented by an act of Congress. On May 5, 1987, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari handed to the Government Panel Chairman a one-page document stating the MNLF final demands as follows:

1. The President of the Philippines must, within forty-eight hours (from 7 May 1987) issue an Executive Order declaring all of Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan as an area of full autonomy;

2. The thirteen provinces mentioned in the Tripoli Agreement must immediately be constituted as a Provisional Government by Executive Order of the President;

3. The thirteen provinces mentioned in the Tripoli Agreement shall be exempted from the act of Congress;

4. The Provisional Autonomous Government shall be tasked with the formation and implementation of the structure and mechanics of the formal Autonomous Government for the entire region of Mindanao and its satellite islands;

5. The Provisional Autonomous Government shall be set up by the MNLF leadership, in consultation with the Office of the President of the Philippines, provided that said Provisional Government shall in the meantime exercise the powers and authority of governing the Autonomous Region based on the transfer of powers and functions to be agreed upon by the two parties on or before 9 May 1987; and

6. The Provisional Government (covering 13 provinces) shall conduct democratic processes to determine the wishes of the people in the 10 other provinces, and the President of the Philippines shall recommend to Congress the formulation of an organic act for these 10 provinces based on the recommendation of the said Provisional Autonomous Government acting as a Regional Consultative Commission.

The Aquino Government objected to the said MNLF final demands on each point, citing as its bases, Constitutional processes and violation of the Tripoli Agreement itself. The talks were suspended. Mr. Habib M. Hashim, Chairman of the MNLF Panel thus stated on May 8, 1987 at a press conference:

“We came to Manila upon invitation of the Philippine Government thinking that with the sincerity at last, the lasting peaceful political solution could at last be reached. And that while our people may not totally be free, at least we would be able to breathe the air of freedom and the same with our brother, the brother Filipinos, too. But unfortunately, in view of the so-called constitutional constraints, the Philippine Panel was not able to agree with us and grant us our demands.

“Nevertheless, on behalf of my Panel and the MNLF leadership, we have the highest respect for his Excellency, Emmanuel Pelaez. If ever we have not reached an agreement, it is not because the President herself or perhaps the members of the Government Panel are not really determined to grant us the demand that we have requested; it is because perhaps of the legal technicalities and the constitutional constraints.”

In a word, to the Government nothing could be done to accommodate the MNLF demands without violating the Philippine Constitution as if to  say that the Muslim problem can only be resolved constitutionally without due regard to historical testimonies to deep-seated issues compounding the sorry plight of the Filipino Muslims. Even with the breakdown of the peace talks, the government set into motion the necessary processes to implement the constitutional mandate to grant autonomy to A Muslim Mindanao within the time frame of 15 months from the convening of Congress in July 1987.

In October 1987, President Aquino laid the groundwork for the creation of the Regional Consultative Commission (RCC), while Congress calendared for deliberation the said body which was constitutionally tasked to assist Congress in the enactment of an organic act. On December 23, 1987, the Peace Commission and the Mindanao Consensus-Building Panel submitted to the President the list of nominees to the RCC. On March 1, 1988, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 6649 establishing the Regional Consultative Commission. The RCC was convened on 26 March 1988 and later submitted a Final Report (Open and spirited debates on controversial issues caused the failure of the RCC to pass an official draft of the organic act) which guided Congress in enacting the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao.

The MNLF, including some quarters, strongly criticized the Government for its non-implementation of the Tripoli Agreement and for violation thereof with the creation of the RCC. The government maintained that the Tripoli Agreement is an incomplete document, the substantive portions of which particularly on the character of the autonomous region remained unresolved but deferred for “future discussions.” The only way to implement these would be to provide the venue for discussion and settlement of the unresolved points. In constituting the RCC, the government believed it provided such avenue. The government, however, did not consider that the unresolved provisions of the Tripoli Agreement were “to be discussed later” not by the RCC but between the Philippine Government and the MNLF.

1988-1989

In November 1988, Congress began deliberations on the RCC Final Report and passed the Organic Act (R.A. No. 6734) on August 1, 1989, establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). On November 14, 1989, a plebiscite was held to ratify R.A. 6734 and, of the thirteen (13) provinces covered by the Act, only four (4) voted in its favor: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Pursuant to the Organic Act, an Oversight Committee was provided and tasked to ensure the smooth transfer of certain powers from the national to the regional government. It submitted its recommendations upon which President Aquino signed five (5) Executive Orders on 12 October 1990, to wit:

1. E.O. 425 provides for the transfer of supervision and control over the Departments of Labor and Employment, Local Government, Tourism, Environment &Natural Resources, Social Welfare and Development, and Science and Technology from the national to the regional government.

2. E.O. 426 provides for the transfer of the functions of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) from the national to the regional government.

3. E.O. 427 vests the ARMM with jurisdiction over barter trading in Sulu.

4. E.O.428 provides for the mechanisms for determining the annual assistance to be given by the national government to the regional government over the next five years.

5. E.O. 429 provides for the reorganization of the administrative regions in Mindanao as a result of the creation of the ARMM.

1990-1991

On February 17, 1990, the first regional elections were held in ARMM. Zacaria Candao was elected as its first governor. The Regional Assembly assumed positions as well. Aquino signed Executive Orders that defined central government relations with the ARMM, which was officially inaugurated on 6 November.

In 1991, the 20th ICFM (in Istanbul) calls for a resumption of negotiations between the Philippine government and MNLF.

III.  Ramos-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement 

 1992

In February 1992, Fidel Ramos, candidate in the then forthcoming presidential elections, met Gaddafi in Tripoli to discuss a comprehensive and permanent solution to the war. In May, he was elected President and immediately issued a call for peace..

Since the 1986 EDSA Revolt, the call for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the Southern Philippines remains a challenge to the government. Despite the achievement of significant institutional changes in the autonomous region, peace has not settled.

President Fidel V. Ramos has taken a new peace initiative which, as a move founded on a more authentic participation, reinstalled the peace agenda in the forefront of Philippine politics. Thus he declared: “Peace and security are the first urgent problem. For as long as instability and uncertainty characterized our common life, we shall not make any headway. . .Our goal must be to attain a just, comprehensive, peaceful and lasting resolution of the internal armed conflict. . .This effort must go hand in hand with ‘ the thrust of my government to institute basic reforms to root out the causes of rebellion.” (State of the Nation Address, July: 1992)

President Ramos outlined a comprehensive peace and unification process which “recognized that the attainment of peace requires a process, and that peace is linked with the national imperative of unification.” (Tañada, The Road to Peace is Our Only Way to Progress, Privilege Speech at Senate Session Hall)

Pursuant to this agenda, the President on September 1, 1992, signed Executive Order No. 19 creating the National Unification Commission (NUC), an ad hoc advisory body to the President tasked to “formulate and recommend, after consulting with the concerned sectors of society, to the President . . . a viable general amnesty and peace process that will lead to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the country.”

On October 3-5, 1992, Representative Eduardo Ermita and MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari held their first exploratory talks in Tripoli, Libya to re-establish contact which was lost after the breakdown of peace negotiations in 1987. These talks resulted in the signing of a Statement 0f Understanding in which were outlined the following MNLF proposals: 1.) That formal talks focusing on reaching an agreement on the modalities of implementing the 1976 Tripoli Agreement; 2.) That formal talks be held in a neutral venue; and 3.) That formal talks be held under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Upon the President’s instructions, the NUC reviewed the MNLF proposals and submitted the following recommendations: 1.) Approval of the continuation of exploratory talks with Nur Misuari as contributory to a comprehensive peace settlement in Mindanao; 2.) Holding of the next phase of exploratory discussions in the country as a concrete and tangible effort towards national unification; 3.) Expression of gratitude to the OIC for facilitation of dialogues promoting peace and unification; and 4.) Recognition of the existence of other l Muslim groups that must also be consulted and included in the peace process. (NUC White Paper)

1993

This led to the second round of exploratory talks in Cipanas, West Java, Indonesia from April 14-16, 1993 which focused, by virtue of the MNLF proposal, on “the modalities of implementing the 1976 Tripoli Agreement.” From October 25 to November 7, 1993, after the two rounds of exploratory talks, the first GRP-MNLF Formal Peace Talks was held in Jakarta, Indonesia which was concluded with the signing of two documents, to wit: an Interim Ceasefire Agreement and a Memorandum of Agreement.

Ramos issued Proclamation 347 granting amnesty to rebels and creating the National Amnesty Commission. A GPH-MNLF Joint Ceasefire Committee was established.

1994

On May 26, 1994, an Executive Legislative meeting was held to discuss specific issues that required detailed guidance in the negotiations with the MNLF, The MNLF, on the other hand, conducted consultations with various sectors to gain support for its position.

The second round of Formal Peace Talks, which was held in Jakarta, Indonesia, was concluded on September 5, 1994 by Ambassador Manuel Yan and MNLF leader Nur Misuari with their signing of the 1994 Interim Agreement. In it, several points of consensus were reached such as implementing an educational system in the autonomous region, in areas of economic and financial systems, mining and minerals, in the area of administrative system and in the matter of implementing the Sharia’h or Islamic laws.

1995

The third round of Formal Peace Talks was held in Jakarta on November 27, 1995. In the three formal peace talks all held in Jakarta, there were Mixed Committee meetings, and numerous Support Committee, ad hoc Working Group, and Joint Ceasefire Committee meetings held which have accumulated more than 150 hard-earned points of consensus except those which remained unresolved particularly on defense and the regional security force, and the so-called provisional government. The Formal Peace Talks then decided that the remaining issues; on the integration of MNLF Forces into the AFP and the implementing structure‘” of the autonomous government will have to be settled in the Philippines. On December 1, 1995, at the close of the Third Jakarta Talks, the 1995 Interim Agreement was signed consolidating all points of consensus so far reached since 1994. Thus, Government Panel Chairman Ambassador Manuel T. Yan said: “Our search for bold and innovative solutions to the outstanding issues shall be broad and unrelenting. We shall be as persistent as ever in our consultations -asking questions, exploring options and probing possibilities. Under the beacon of the Tripoli Agreement, we shall not cease until we have examined every nook and cranny of our Constitutional universe.”

1996

On March l and 2, 1996, during the Mixed Committee meeting in Zamboanga City, the two Panels decided to address first the main contentious issue of provisional government and the implementing mechanism thereof. The other remaining issues particularly the integration of MNLF Forces into the AFP and the establishment of the Special Regional Security Force (SRSF) would easily and naturally follow, it was agreed, if the main issue would have been first resolved.

The GRP Panel maintains that the implementing mechanism that will lead to a new regional autonomous government must be within the ambit of the Philippine Constitution. The principal basis of its contention is paragraph 16 of the Tripoli Agreement which states that: “the Government of the Philippines shall take all necessary constitutional processes for the implementation of the entire Agreement.” To establish a provisional government or transitional structure, there is a need for a plebiscite as constitutionally required to obtain the consent of the people on the matter, and ultimately, to determine the area of autonomy in accordance with the provinces and cities that would favorably vote to join the same.

The MNLF Panel, on the other hand, held that the provisional government should be established immediately after the signing of the Final Agreement. It hinged its position on Paragraph 15, Article III of the Tripoli Agreement which states, thus:

“Immediately after the signature of the Agreement in Manila, a Provisional Government shall be established in the areas of the Autonomy to be appointed by the President of the Philippines; and be charged with the task of preparing for the elections of the Legislative Assembly in the territories of the Autonomy; and administer the areas in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement until a government is formed by the elected Legislative Assembly.”

To the MNLF, establishing the provisional government immediately after the Final Agreement is signed does not therefore need a plebiscite because that is not required in the Tripoli Agreement.

To break the impasse, Secretary Alexander P. Aguirre, GRP Chair of the ad hoc Working Group on the Transitional Implementing Structure and Mechanism, posed this query; “Would it be possible to establish a provisional government or a transitional structure without a plebiscite but yet not contravening the Constitution?” On his query, Secretary Aguirre himself answered: For the establishment of a provisional government this is not legally possible because the Constitution ordains so. In the Philippine constitutional and legal system, plebiscite is required under any of the following situations:

l. When the Constitution is amended or revised (Section 4, Article XVII, Philippine   Constitution);

2. If regional autonomous governments are created (Section 18, Article X, Philippine Constitution);

3. If the Organic Act (R.A. No. 6734) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is amended; (Section 3, Article XVIII, R.A. No. 6734);

4. When a province, city, municipality or barangay is created, divided, merged, abolished, or its boundaries substantially ` altered (Section 10, Article X, Philippine Constitution); and

5. On the exercise of People‘s Initiative (Section I, Article VI, Philippine Constitution).

The Government therefore proposed that a “transitional structure” is legally feasible as part of the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement, for as long as this would not result in any of the foregoing conditions where plebiscite is always required. Secretary Aguirre’s proposal for a “Southern Philippines Commission for Peace and Development” was combined with Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong’s proposal for a “Consultative and Development Council in Southern Philippines,” and refined into the “Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development.” Some of the relevant consultations in April and May were with: l) Mindanao leaders at the DOLE clubhouse in Polomolok, South Cotabato on April 14, l6 and 25; 2) Mindanao local executives in Malacañang on April 22; 3) Mindanao peace advocates in Bayview Park Hotel on May 8; and 4) Mindanao leaders and peace advocates in Malacañang on May 9. In the follow-up consultation with Mindanao leaders at Polomolok, South Cotabato on April 25, President Ramos remarked: “These extraordinary times, however, necessitate extraordinary solutions. I wish that our leaders will not shackle the peace process with technicalities but strive to deal with the vital practicalities we face.”

On June 21-23, 1996 in Davao City, the GRP and MNLF 8th Mixed Committee agreed on the concept of setting up a Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and a Consultative Assembly (CA). Accordingly, these should serve as “transitory implementing bodies” to focus on the intensive peace and development efforts in what should be created as a Special Zone of Peace and Development (ZOPAD) covering the 14 provinces and cities enumerated in the Tripoli Agreement. These were embodied in a document entitled “The Establishment of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) for Phase I of the Implementation of the Tripoli Agreement”

On July 26, 1996, the Philippine Senate constituted a Committee of the Whole to consider certain bills, resolutions and privilege speeches relating to issues and concerns regarding the GRP-MNLF peace negotiations. Consultations with Mindanao leaders, concerned government officials and the GRP Panel were held which resulted in the passage of Senate Resolution No. 50 on August 22, 1996 expressing support to the GRP-MNLF Points of Consensus subject, however, to certain recommendations.

Within this period from July to August 1996, Members of Congress expressed opposition to the Interim Agreement. The Senate organized public hearings, and called on the executive to justify its actions and commitments. The Senate agreed to support the agreement, but only with nine substantial amendments, which diluted the powers and autonomy of institutions to be set up under the agreement. Six senators continued their opposition, and led a group of politicians who filed a 54-page petition asking the Supreme Court to nullify the Agreement. Catholic bishops expressed support for the agreement, subject to refinements in the text. Misuari announced his bid for the ARMM governorship. The 9th Mixed Committee meeting and 4th round of formal talks took place in Jakarta. Exploratory talks with the MILF began.

On September 2, 1996, the Final Agreement on the Implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, later to be known as ‘the 1996 Final Peace Agreement’ was signed by GRP Panel Chairman Ambassador Manuel T. Yan, MNLF Panel Chairman Professor Nur Misuari, with the participation of the OIC Ministerial Committee represented by its Chairman, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas and the OIC Secretary-General Dr. Hamid Al-Gabid. The MILF distanced itself from the Agreement, but committed not to stand in the way of peace. In the ARMM elections, Misuari ran for governor and won, and six MNLF leaders were elected to the Regional Legislative Assembly.

On October 2, 1996, President Ramos issued Executive Order No. 371 which, although it departed from the Agreement on some significant points, proclaimed a Special Zone of Peace and Development (ZOPAD) in the Southern Philippines, and, therefore, establishing the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and the Consultative Assembly (CA). The government formed a new negotiating panel for talks with the MILF in October. The MILF, in a display of strength, held a huge assembly near Cotabato City on December 3-5, 1996 and reaffirmed its commitment to independence.

1997

In 1997, Government and MILF representatives met and issued a joint press statement. Heavy fighting in Buldon left more than a hundred dead and marred talks. Another meeting in early February was suspended because of renewed fighting. The committees met again in March and agreed to form an Interim Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, with Fr Eliseo Mercado as chair. Meetings took place in April, May and June 1997 but were bogged down by continued fighting. The AFP launched its biggest offensive in June. By July, an agreement on cessation of hostilities was forged. Further meetings between the two sides followed.

In January to June 1996, the government rushed to mollify politicians opposing the Interim Agreement. Consultations were held every month with local officials and members of Congress, with Ramos himself participating in some consultations. The government organized public meetings in Mindanao to promote the Interim Agreement. In June, Indonesia called a consultation for the OIC Committee of Six. A meeting of the GRP-MNLF Mixed Committee resulted in agreement to establish the Southern Philippines Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD).

IV.  Estrada’s ‘All out war’ Policy

1998.

In 1998, Joseph Estrada was elected new president. He had an electoral alliance with politicians who opposed the peace agreement. Anti-agreement politicians did well in the local elections. MNLF leaders, save for one, lost their bids for local positions. A new government negotiating panel was constituted to talk to the MILF.

1999

In 1999, new outbreaks of fighting between MILF and AFP followed by re-establishment of ceasefire. Government recognized two MILF camps. ARMM elections were due in September. Three bills had been filed in Congress to amend the Organic Act on the ARMM, expanding it in accordance with the 1996 Peace Agreement. A plebiscite on the new autonomous region was due by the end of year, but may be deferred. Following twenty months of talks at the technical committees level, formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) open on October 25, 1996 at the Da’wah Center, Sultan Kudarat, Maguidanao. In November, fighting broke out in North Cotabato between the Philippines army (AFP) and MILF forces. The GRP and MILF peace panels met on December 17, 1996 and agreed on the rules and procedures for the conduct of formal peace talks.

2000

In the first week of January 2000, President Joseph Estrada set a deadline of 30 June for the forging of a peace agreement. Fighting broke out in Maguindanao between AFP and MILF forces. MILF Camp Omar Al-Farouk, recognized by the MILF-GRP Second Joint Acknowledgement of October 1999, was attacked by the AFP on 9 January. Negotiations between the GRP and the MILF on procedural matters took place from 17-20 January.

On February 21, 2000, the AFP took control of Camp Omar Al-Farouk. The bombing of a ferry boat in Ozamis City on 25 February was one of a series of attacks the government blames on the MILF, which the latter denies. In March, a land dispute in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte led to a siege of the town hall in mid-March by alleged MILF elements. After two days of fighting, AFP Marines assumed control on 19 March. On 21 March, President Estrada announced an ‘all-out war’ against the MILF. On 26 March, MILF Chief Hashim Salamat called for a United Nations-organized independence vote for Muslims in Mindanao. Abu Sayyaf took 70 hostages on Basilan island, later freeing 41.

On April 23, 2000, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 tourists from Sabah, Malaysia. The Bishops Ulama Forum issued a statement on 26 April calling for a renewed ceasefire in central Mindanao. The GRP and MILF signed an aide memoire on 27 April, signaling agreement to normalize the situation in Mindanao, pursued the ongoing peace process, and resolved the situation in the Narciso Ramos Highway. The next morning, government and MILF forces fought for control of the highway. Two days later the MILF suspended the peace negotiations indefinitely citing the military’s disregard of the 27 April agreement. Fighting renewed towards the end of the month in Matanog, Maguindanao.

On May 5, 2000, the MILF declared a unilateral cessation of hostilities for 48 hours. The GRP continued their military operation. They demanded the MILF must lay down their arms and release the hostages, claiming that the MILF and Abu Sayyaf were acting in concert. Hostilities resumed in Matanog and other municipalities in North Cotabato. The GRP-MILF peace panels met on 30-31 May in Cotabato City where the GRP panel presented a political package that included a draft bill amending RA 6734 (ARMM Organic Act). While the peace panels were meeting on 31 May, MILF Camp Bushra was bombed, and the Philippine flag was raised in a mosque there.

On June 1, 2000, on the third and final day of negotiations, the MILF agreed to consider the government’s offer of “meaningful autonomy”, but no ceasefire was declared. On 20 June, the government urged displaced people to return to areas designated as zones of peace, where the government had taken effective control after fighting with the MILF. The MILF central committee decided to withdraw from talks on 15 June and on the same day, the Malaysian Foreign Minister assured President Estrada that the OIC was not inviting the MILF to the forthcoming ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 29 June, but noted that it may be represented at phases of the meeting not restricted to OIC members. The MILF presented its position paper for the first time at an Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers meeting, which ended with a resolution calling on both panels to return to the negotiating table.

On July 9, 2000, the government declared victory over the MILF. President Estrada visited the MILF’s main camp Abubakar the next day to raise the Philippine flag and to announce that all of MILF’s 46 camps had been taken over by government. Philippine newspapers reported on 12 July that Hashim had declared a jihad against the Philippine government. The Eleventh Congress started discussions on proposed House Bills (Senate Bill 2129 and House Bill 7883) that will eventually supplant RA 6734 (ARMM Organic Act) on 24 July 2000.

On August 21, 2000, arrest warrants werere issued against MILF leaders. The MILF disbanded its peace panel days before the expected peace panel meetings. On September 22-24, 2000, the MILF’s 16th General Assembly confirmed their decision to withdraw from the peace talks and endorsed Hashim’s declaration of jihad. The government announced on 30 September that it had withdrawn criminal charges against the MILF leadership, offering amnesty and safe passage. On October 6, 2000, the first of a number of corruption allegations against President Estrada emerged.

In December, the government held an amnesty in Cagayan de Oro, and some 800 MILF fighters allegedly exchanged weapons for a pardon and $290. The MILF claimed the ceremony included no real MILF fighters, but instead local civilians.

V.  Arroyo-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain 

2001

On January 21, 2001, when Estrada fell from power, Arroyo took her oath of office as President of the Philippines. During the ceremony, Arroyo also declared her policy of an “all-out peace.”

President Arroyo appointed in February the members of the GRP peace panel to negotiate with the MILF. On 7 February, both the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives approved the two house bills (HB 7883 and SB 2129) as Republic Act 9054, the new law that will supplant RA 6734 (ARMM Organic Act). Arroyo ordered a suspension of military operations against the MILF on February 20  to encourage a resumption of peace talks, but did not agree to the MILF demand to withdraw from camps overtaken during Estrada’s rule. The ceasefire was broken on 24 February as the AFP and MILF accused each other of launching attacks.

On March 13, 2001, President Arroyo named MNLF chair Nur Misuari Special Envoy to the OIC. The MNLF and MILF met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The MNLF was represented by the members of its Executive Council. The government and MILF signed a General Framework of Agreement of Intent on 24 March in Kuala Lumpur. A month after being approved in both houses of Congress, RA 9054 came into force on 30 March.

On April 3, 2001, the MILF declared a “suspension of offensive military action” against AFP forces, a move reciprocated by the government. The day before, the government had announced an all-out offensive to “annihilate” the Abu Sayyaf. In late April, the MNLF Executive Council ousted Misuari and collectively assumed the chairmanship. Misuari remained governor of the ARMM. On June 19-22, 2001, peace negotiations were held in Tripoli, Libya wherein an Agreement on Peace was signed by GRP peace panel Chair Jesus Dureza and MILF peace panel Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

Beginning July 24, 2001, GRP-MILF peace negotiations were held in Port Dickson, Malaysia to flesh out the June agreements. On 7 August, the MNLF Executive Council and the MILF signed an Agreement on the General Framework for Unity in Putrajaya, Malaysia. On the same day, the government and MILF peace panels signed a Joint Communiqué and Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001. The plebiscite on an expanded ARMM was held on 14 August. One city and one province voted to join the ARMM.

On October 18, 2000, peace negotiations were held in Selangor, Malaysia. The GRP and MILF signed a Manual of Instructions for Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Local Monitoring Teams (LMTs). On 19 November, Misuari was accused of rebellion after attacks on security posts in Jolo by MNLF fighters. The next day, President Arroyo issued a preventive suspension barring him from exercising his powers as ARMM governor. On 24 November, Misuari was arrested in Malaysia. ARMM election was held on 26 November and MNLF Executive Council member Parouk Hussin was elected Governor, a post he assumed in January.

On December 20, 2001, the GRP and MNLF signed a Joint Communiqué in Manila to recognize the progress made in the implementation of the 1996 FPA and the need to sustain such progress for the good of the Muslims in southern Philippines.

2002

On January 7, 2002, Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza took Misuari from Subang Jaya, Royal Malaysian Air Force Base and brought him to the detention bungalow in Sta. Rosa Laguna. The CCCH, tasked with supervising the implementation of the ceasefire, met for the first time on 12 January.

In February, skirmishes resumed in various parts of central Mindanao.In March, President Arroyo suspended formal peace talks with the MILF. In April, Geneva Call persuaded the MILF to sign a deed of commitment against the use of landmines after a meeting at an MILF camp in Maguindanao.

On May 6, 2002, the GRP and MILF signed a Joint Communiqué on the isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups operating in Mindanao in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The next day Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspects of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 were signed in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur. The MNLF and MILF held a first meeting of the Joint Coordinating Council of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Conference (BSC) on 8-9 May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and agreed to send a joint delegation to the 29th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of the organization of the Islamic Conference on 27 June in Sudan. The MILF’s project implementing body, the Bangsamoro Development Agency, was set up to “lead, manage and determine” the rehabilitation and development projects in the conflict-affected areas.

On July 2, 2002, President Arroyo announced that the MILF’s former headquarters Camp Abubakar would become an army base named Camp Datu Sinsuat. From July to September, members of LMTs were appointed as per the GRP-MILF agreements in 2001, and a series of local workshops are held in various parts of central and western Mindanao. The Bangsamoro Development Agency also conducts a series of planning workshops.

On November 6, 2002, Jesus Dureza denied that the USA was to list the MILF as a terrorist group, after reports to the contrary following a meeting between Philippine and US government officials. On December 28, 2002, government peace panel chairman Jesus Dureza and panel member Irene Santiago admitted during a meeting with the members of Mindanao media that a peace agreement was expected to be forged within the first quarter of 2003 to avoid “politicization” of the peace process.

2003

On February 10, 2003, the government peace panel presented the draft final peace agreement with the MILF to congressional leaders. Philippine government forces stormed the Buliok Complex in the town of Pikit in Cotabato Province on 11 February (the day of the Eid’ul Adha). Efforts to get the ceasefire committees to meet on 12 February failed as the MILF declined to attend the meeting before government troops moved out. On 19 February, President Arroyo approved a draft peace proposal for the MILF.

On March 4, 2003 a bomb exploded at the waiting shed of Davao International Airport killing 22 people and injuring at least a hundred others. Hashim reportedly condemned the act but charges of multiple murder and frustrated multiple murder were filed against him along with Vice-Chair for military affairs Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (also MILF peace panel chair), Vice-Chair for political affairs Ghazaali Jaafar, and spokesperson Eid Kabalu. On 27-28 March, the government and MILF peace panel representatives met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Jesus Dureza (GRP) and Lanang Ali (MILF) signed a Joint Statement on 28 March, reiterating their commitment to resume formal peace negotiations and to honor and implement past agreements.

On April 2, 2003, a bomb exploded at Sasa Wharf in Davao City killing 16 and wounding 55 others. MILF fighters attacked the town of Maigo, Lanao del Norte on 24 April, leaving 13 people dead.

On 4 May, twenty-two people died in a MILF bomb attack in Siocon prompting the Philippine government to call off the 9-11 May scheduled exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur. On 5 May, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued an open letter to both Arroyo and Hashim urging for a ceasefire and return to negotiations. Days later the Bishops Ulama Conference issued a statement offering to mediate between the MILF and the GRP. On 9 May, GRP peace panel Chair Jesus Dureza resigned, claiming he wanted to focus his efforts on development in Mindanao. A day later, a market place in Koronadal City, South Cotabato was bombed killing 15 people and wounding 31. The government blamed the MILF. On 13 May, President Arroyo warned the MILF that she would recommend to the USA to put them on their list of terrorist organizations if they did not end attacks on civilians by 1 June. On 14 May, the OIC officially recognized ARMM governor Parouk Hussin as chair of the MNLF. Arroyo declared a war of “will and vision” against the MILF on 17 May, and orders “selective attacks” on “embedded terrorist lairs” in central and western Mindanao. In the evening of the same day, Arroyo departed for a state visit to the US, and returned a week later having secured US$356 millions in defence and counter-terrorism aid. On 28 May, the MILF announced a unilateral 10 day ceasefire beginning June 2, 2003 which was welcomed by President Arroyo. The next day the MILF was involved in an attack on Carmen town, North Cotabato, in which five civilians were killed.

On June 12, 2003, the MILF extended its ceasefire for another 10 days. Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita was named as chair of the government peace panel on 10 June. He announced that the government would withdraw its offer to resume peace talks if MILF chair Salamat Hashim did not act as chief negotiator for the MILF. On 22 June, the MILF extended its ceasefire indefinitely and requested a matching gesture from the military. Hashim issued a policy statement dated 20 June “rejecting terror as a means to resolve differences”. The government welcomed the move but urged Hashim to declare a permanent ceasefire and reiterated its call for him to personally head the MILF peace panel. On 24 June, the government announced that following meetings of the peace panels, GRP-MILF talks would resume in Malaysia and Hashim would lead the MILF negotiators and sign any resulting agreements.

2004-2006

On January 18, 2004, sixty peace monitors from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya were deployed to Mindanao to monitor the five-year truce between the two parties. Malaysia sent 41 unarmed soldiers. On 20 December, the discussion on ancestral domain took place. The last of the three major agenda items was divided into four strands: concept, territory, resources, and governance. On April 16, 2005, the seventh round of exploratory talks in Malaysia concluded the discussion on concept, territory, and resources. In 17 September 17, GRP panel head Silvestre Afable and MILF’s Iqbal say the panels successfully finished the “most difficult hurdle in the ancestral domain agenda.” On February 6, 2006, peace negotiators promised to draft an overall framework of the ancestral domain by late March. On 6 March, Malaysia canceled the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF because of the political situation in Manila. Arroyo declared a state of emergency on 24 February which was lifted a week after. On 31 August, Japan sent a delegation to Manila to talk about Japan’s contributions to the peace process.

On 3 September 3, the peace talks between GRP and MILF resumed but will possibly extend beyond September. Difficulties in the talks arose as both parties did not agree on the areas to be placed under the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity (BJE).

2007

On May 12, 2007, Arroyo instructed the AFP to “work closely with the mechanisms of the peace process to keep combatants in place.” On 16 June 16, Silvestre Afable resigned reportedly because of lack of support from the government. On 10 July, Marine officers were beheaded in Basilan after skirmishes with the MILF. On 13 August, Arroyo called for a “pilot implementation of the envisioned Muslim ancestral domain regime.” On 17 August 17, Arroyo called “urgent” the peace talks with the MILF to resolve the Basilan situation. On 24 October 24, the government panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and MILF peace panel chair Iqbal said in a joint statement that formal talks on ancestral domain can be finally be concluded, ending the 13-month impasse between the two parties.

On 15 November, the parties agreed to the scope and boundaries of the ancestral domain and affirmed “all previous points of consensus on the core items of the territory issue.” On 16 December, peace talks were stalled due to constitutional issues between the two parties. The ancestral domain negotiations reached a deadlock.

2008

On April 21, 2008, Malaysia, a member of the International Monitoring Team, started to pull out their soldiers in Mindanao. On 10 May 10, the Malaysian troops withdrew from Mindanao. On 9 July, an informal emergency meeting between the GRP and MILF was called to defuse tension between the two groups. Here, MILF complains about the deployment of troops near their bases, claiming the move was “a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement.” On 17 July 17, a deal on ancestral domain of some local Muslim communities was made between the two parties in Kuala Lumpur. On 24 July, the GRP and MILF panels commenced their talks in Kuala Lumpur. In Manila, pro-government legislators in the House of Representatives filed a bill to postpone the August 11 elections in ARMM. On 25 July, after two days of negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, the ancestral domain deal failed to be signed. On 27 July 27, the two panels signed a joint communiqué on the Muslim ancestral domain.

2009

On July 27, 2009, a Memorandum of Agreement on the Muslim Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was finalized in Malaysia. Under this agreement, some 700 villages in Mindanao would hold a referendum within 12 months of the MOA signing to determine if they wanted to join the “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity,” an associated state which would be formed after the necessary constitutional amendments are undertaken by the government. This agreement was scheduled to be signed on August 5, with the final peace agreement set to be concluded by November.

On 2 August, three days before the scheduled signing of the MOA-AD, local officials of North Cotabato filed a case asking the Supreme Court to block the signing of this agreement. On 4 August, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order for the signing of the ancestral domain in Malaysia on August 5. On 11 August, Sen. Mar Roxas and Sen Franklin Drilon filed petitions with the Supreme Court to stop the Philippine government from concluding the MOA with the MILF. On August 15, the Supreme Court holds oral arguments on the GRP-MILF MOA-AD.

On October 14, the Court voted 9-6 to strike down the MOA-AD as unconstitutional. According to the decision penned by Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, “the Constitution does not recognize any state within this country other than the Philippine State, much less does it provide for the possibility of any transitory status to prepare any part of Philippine territory for independence.” Likewise, the Court held as unconstitutional the guarantees under the MOA-AD that the government will implement the necessary constitutional amendments to create a framework for its implementation. According to the Court, the peace panel and even the president do not have the authority to make such guarantees because they do not have the power to propose amendments to the Constitution, such power being vested exclusively in Congress.

The junking of the MOA-AD marked another setback for the peace process, with the armed conflicts for the year 2008 reaching a record-high of 30 incidents in Mindanao. The three-year impasse that followed the junking of the MOA-AD was marred with violence as clashes between government troops and rebel forces escalated. In an effort to salvage the negotiations, Arroyo declared the suspension of military operations against the MILF in July 2009.

VI.  Aquino-MILF Bangsamoro Framework Agreement

 2011

 Following the MILF’s announcement that they were no longer seeking secession from the Philippine Republic, the administration of President Aquino III continued the peace talks with the MILF. But the prospects for peace remained elusive as rogue MILF forces, despite the existing ceasefire agreement, conducted sporadic attacks against government military troops in several areas in Mindanao. Worst of these attacks came on October 18, 2011 when MILF forces ambushed an Army contingent in Al-Barka, Basilan killing 19 young soldiers and wounding 12 others. Amidst calls for an all out war, President Aquino and the military hierarchy rejected it, despite the MILF’s half-hearted efforts to make these rogue leaders answer for their attacks.

The reason for the stalled peace process was not government’s lukewarm effort to make peace, but the lack of sincerity of the MILF in negotiating peace with the government. This concern arose from the fact that the Al-Barka attack occurred just a couple of months subsequent to Aquino’s controversial meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo.

The Ten Decision Points in establishing a new Bangsamoro Entity

2012

In early 2012, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen warned both GPH and MILF panels that the peace process was already on the verge of a “stalemate” because of both parties’ disagreement on what constitutes “genuine autonomy,” as it had been made apparent by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal that what they want is a Muslim sub-state distinct from the already autonomous ARMM. In late April, two months after lead negotiators from both sides had expressed pessimism about concluding negotiations in the near future, news emerged of a “breakthrough” in the 15-year-old peace process. Thus in this sudden turn of events after the 27th Round of Exploratory Talks in Malaysia new hope sprung forth as a document entitled “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles,” that mentions “a new autonomous political entity” that would ultimately replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  Under this document, a “new autonomous political entity” governed by a “ministerial form of government” shall be introduced as a replacement for the current ARMM. This new setup would be introduced during “a transition period” through the “institution of transitional mechanisms” under the new entity.

The “power-sharing and wealth-sharing” rights vis-à-vis the national government, with an accompanying power “to create its own sources of revenue,” thru taxation was one special aspect of this new entity. Another equally special aspect is the existing Shari’ah courts which would also be strengthened by expanding their jurisdiction and giving them “competence over the Shari’ah justice system.” And another aspect is the mention of “basic rights” which ought to be afforded the “citizens residing in the new political entity.”

The 10 points are vague declarations regarding the new entity, and we await assessment whether it can survive any constitutional challenge similar to that successfully posed against its predecessor. Therefore, implementation of these Ten Points need to comply with the existing legal framework under Philippine law, most important of which is the Constitution. Section 18, Article X of the fundamental law explicitly provides that the power to create an autonomous region rests in Congress subject to the favorable vote of the people through a plebiscite. Thus, ARMM Organic Act (RA 6734) created the ARMM out of the four provinces that favorably voted in the plebiscite called by Congress in 1989. Another plebiscite was held under the ARMM Expansion Act (RA 9054), with only one other province and one city opting to join the ARMM.

Should it replace the ARMM, A “new Bangsamoro political entity” must comply not only with the Constitution, but also with the ARMM Organic Act as amended (RA 9054). The Supreme Court struck down the MOA-AD. The reason was the government, the Executive Branch in particular, “committed” to the MILF the amendment to the constitution in order to implement the MOA-AD’s provisions. Justice Conchita Carpio Morales saw this as outright illegal as the executive branch of government has no power whatsoever to propose any amendment to the Constitution, much more to try to guarantee something that it does not even have the power to do by itself. For the new political entity to survive any constitutional challenge, its creation should not be based on any commitment on the part of the government to touch the Constitution.

The 10 points, which were signed by both Leonen and Iqbal, laid down the general principles to guide the negotiations until the signing of a final peace pact.

Decision Point No. 1.

The Parties recognize Bangsamoro identity and the legitimate grievances and claims of the Bangsamoro people.

Decision Point No. 2.

The Parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Parties will work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Decision Point No. 3.

The Parties agree to the continuity of negotiations in the context of agreed documents.

Decision Point No. 4.

The Parties agree that the new autonomous political entity shall have a ministerial form of government.

Decision Point No. 5.

The Parties agree to the need for a transition period and the institution of transitional mechanisms in order to implement the provisions of the agreement.

Decision Point No. 6.

There will be power-sharing and wealth-sharing between the National Government and the new political entity. In the matter of power-sharing, the National Government will have its reserved powers, the new political entity will have its exclusive powers, and there will be concurrent powers shared by the National Government and the new political entity. The parties agree that the following matters are reserved for the competence of the National Government

  1. Defense and external security
  2. Foreign policy
  3. Common market and global trade
  4. Coinage and monetary policy
  5. Citizenship and naturalization
  6. Postal service

This list is without prejudice to other powers, which the Parties may agree to reserve to the National Government in the course of the negotiation.

Decision Point No. 7.

The Parties agree that wealth creation (or revenue generation and sourcing) is important. The Parties also acknowledge the power of the new political entity to create its own sources of revenue, subject to limitations as may be agreed upon by the parties, and to have a just share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development or utilization of natural resources.

Decision Point No. 8.

The Parties recognize the need to strengthen the Shari’ah courts and to expand their jurisdiction over cases. The new political entity shall also have competence over the Shari’ah justice system.

Decision Point No. 9.

The Parties agree to the creation of (third party) monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, which may utilize competencies already available in existing mechanisms, e.g. International Contact Group (ICG), International Monitoring Team (IMT), Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

Decision Point No. 10.

In addition to basic rights already enjoyed, the following rights of all citizens residing in the new political entity bind the legislature, executive and judiciary as directly enforceable law and are guaranteed:

  1. Right to life and to inviolability of one’s person and dignity;
  2. Right to freedom of expression and of religion and beliefs;
  3. Right to privacy;
  4. Right to freedom of speech;
  5. Right to express political opinion and pursue democratically political aspirations;
  6. Right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
  7. Right of women to meaningful political participation, and protection from all forms of violence;
  8. Right to freely choose one’s place of residence and the inviolability of the home;
  9. Right to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in social and economic activity and public service, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;
  10. Right to establish cultural and religious associations;
  11. Right to freedom from religious, ethnic, and sectarian harassment; and,
  12. Right to redress of grievances and due process of law.

These rights, already constitutionally recognized, were included in the decision points to highlight the demand of the Moros for equal treatment with non-Moros. Rasul found it interesting “that enjoyment by the Bangsamoro of human rights, already accorded to all citizens by Philippine law, had to be part of the 10 decision points.”

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro

On October 15, 2012, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Six month after, from November 2012 to April 2013, only one of five documents in five rounds of talks was finished. .

Scheduled for seven days, from November 12 to 18, the talks ended on the 17th instead of the 18th  to allow the GPH and MILF peace panels to consult their respective principals on the still unresolved issues and prepare for “the next and hopefully, last round” a few weeks later.

A Joint Statement by the technical working groups (TWGs) on wealth-sharing and power-sharing, which had convened every month since August “made substantial progress in the crafting of the Annexes”  while the TWG on Normalization, which convened for the first time in November,  “agreed on an outline of issues  and had initial positive exchanges on these matters.” The panels, it said, “remain committed to complete the annexes before the end of the year.”

The issues of power and wealth-sharing centred on how much more powers would be granted to the Bangsamoro than what has been granted to the ARMM under Republic Act 9054. Marvic Leonen assured the MILF that “it will be more than 905, not less,”  He defined “more” as “more that will be satisfactory to the MILF.” Chair of GPH-TWG on wealth-sharing Ma. Lourdes Lim said that the Joint TWG has put the details to the provisions on wealth sharing in the FAB and substantive inputs have been raised for the Transition Commission to consider but this will have to go to the panels.  Accordingly, the powers proposed for the Bangsamoro would be more than what RA 9054 provides. As a reference point, 9054 is the minimum, the baseline. (MindaNews)

On 21 November, GPH peace panel Chair Mario Victor (Marvic) F. Leonen was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Aquino. In December, UP Politicial Science Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, senior GPH peace panel member was appointed new chair of the peace panel vice Marvic Leonen.

The peace panels extended the scheduled December 12 to 14 talks on the Annexes to the FAB by one day ending on Dec. 15 yet with no Joint Statement on what transpired during the four-day negotiations in Kuala Lumpur and without any date set for the next meeting. Parties were deadlocked on a major issue on the leadership of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the body that will take over the ARMM as soon as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified. To the MILF, the issue is ‘non-negotiable:’

On December 17, 2012, President Aquino issued Executive Order 120 creating the Transition Commission (TransCom). On 18 December, House Resolution 971, introduced by Mindanawon representatives Jesus Sacdalan of North Cotabato, Tupay Loong of Sulu, Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao and Acmad Tomawis (Ang Laban ng Indiginong Filipino partylist) was passed expressing support for the 2012 FAB “and its implementation, including the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.” Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives, the resolution called for the FAB to provide for the “empowerment of the Bangsamoro people by creating the space for their meaningful participation in the process of enacting the Bangsamoro Basic law through the creation of the Transition Commission.” On 19 December, Senate Resolution 922, introduced by Mindanawon senator Teofisto Guingona III, expressed support to Executive Order 120, stating that the signing of the FAB “has inspired optimism and hope that a just framework for peace in the Muslim Mindanao region through a partnership with the Bangsamoro has been achieved” and that this “partnership and mutual recognition among our peoples are crucial in the process of nation building by providing spaces for our diverse cultures and traditions, under one sovereign Philippine Republic.”

At the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), its officials were squarely behind the efforts of the Aquino administration to forge a “framework peace agreement” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Speaking before a general assembly in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in Pasig City in as early as September 2012, ARMM Regional Governor Hataman said the ARMM officials who were appointed by President Aquino were prepared to fully support the establishment of the proposed new autonomous political entity (NPE) that was being envisioned in the peace negotiations with the MILF. He said the series of reforms that he was pursuing in the ARMM were a “part of promoting the peace process in preparing the ARMM for the eventual signing of the peace agreement (between the government and the MILF).”

President Aquino III signed into law Republic Act 10153 synchronizing the ARMM elections to the national polls in May 2013 and authorizing the president to appoint officers-in-charge in the region, thereby providing opportunities for the government to implement drastic reforms. In his speech, Hataman commended the OPAPP and the members of the government panel of negotiators for holding a series of consultative meetings with ARMM local officials and for allowing the various sectors in the region to take part in helping ensure the success of the peace process.

2013

On January 1, 2013, in her New Year’s massage, GPH peace panel Chair Ferrer expressed optimism that the four Annexes would be finished in two months and that the 15-member Transition Commission “should have been fully organized and ready to build on the terms laid out by the Panels in the Annexes.”

From January 21 to 25, GPH and MILF peace panels ended their five-day peace talks without completing any of the four annexes to the FAB. But their Joint Statement claims talks “successfully ended” with both parties “achieving a milestone” with the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the body that will “review, assess, evaluate and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes.” The panels will identify the members of the TPMT “within one month,” the Joint Statement said. But as of 11 April, the panels had yet to announce if they had identified TPMT members).

The Joint Statement also announced the extension of the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) for another year  “in recognition of their important roles in the peace process, without prejudice to adjustments that may be needed pursuant to developments in the crafting of the Annexes to the FAB.” Progress on the negotiations on the Annexes was mentioned in the Joint Statement only on the third of the six-paragraph statement. It said the panels, expressing “satisfaction on the continuing progress of the discussions on the Annexes to the FAB,” agreed to meet again in February and “confident that the Annexes will be completed and signed at the soonest possible time.” (MindaNews)

On February 11, 2013, a socio-economic peace initiative of the government in partnership with the MILF called Sajahatra Bangsamoro, was launched at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.  President Aquino is the first Philippine President to have been welcomed into their turf by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and members of the MILF Central Committee. In retrospect, it was on February 11, exactly ten years ago the Philippine government under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched aerial bombings to signal the start of the Buliok war, yet on the day of  Eid’l Adha (Feast  of Sacrifice) wherein at least 400,000 people were displaced. Neither government nor the MILF remembered February 11, 2003.

On 12 February, members of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” arrived in Lahad Datu, Sabah. The group was led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who claims to be Sultan of Sulu. Standoff with Malaysian authorities ended 1 March as violence ensued. On 25 February, Malacanang announced the appointment of the 15 members of the Transition Commission to be chaired by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal.

The GPH and MILF peace panels end their February 25 to 27 three-day talks in Kuala Lumpur with the panels signing only one of four annexes. The panels signed the six-page “Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities” which specified, among others, that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority would be “MILF-led” Also signed was the Terms of Reference for the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), the body that would submit recommendations to the peace panels on the police force for the Bangsamoro. The technical working group on Normalization prepared the four-page Terms of Reference on the ICP.

The next talks, scheduled on March 25 to 27 were reset to April. GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer met with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal in a “special meeting” in Kuala Lumpur on March 25.  Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles issued a six-paragraph press statement announcing the “first en banc meeting” of the Transition Commission on April 3 and in the fourth paragraph says President Aquino sought a postponement of the talks.

In April 2013, the Transition Commission held its “first en banc meeting” at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Pasig City. From 9 to 11 April, the peace panels ended their negotiations with the three annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro still unfinished. In their Joint Statement, they stated that they would meet again to finish the annexes “after the May 13 Philippine elections.” They further stated that the discussions of the TWG on Normalization were “moving the parties towards an agreement on the architecture for the normalization process.” The eight-paragraph Joint Statement further said the panels “continued to find ways to resolve remaining issues on the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization,  agreeing to exchange notes through the facilitator in the coming days” and affirmed their commitment to “finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”

(All rights reserved. Copyright 2013)

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