|Decision points, silent points|
|Wednesday, 30 May 2012|
When the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the "Decision Points for Principles" last 24 April, a few leaders from both sides followed by a chorus of media greeted the event in grand terms.
However, now that the last sparks of euphoria have faded out, a more prudent and circumspect assessment of the document is in order. Of the 10 decision points laid by the document, four are deemed crucial. Critical too in this ongoing social process is the social inclusivity that must be engendered to fold into the process the Lumad and other non-Muslim voices in the region.
The four critical Decision Points
First, Paragraph 2 states that the "Parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Parties will work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity (NAPE) in place of the ARMM (Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, currently covering Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi)."
To long-time observers of the talks, the decision may not appear that earthshaking. After all, was keeping the status quo in the first place ever an option? But to the MILF, the decision to replace the ARMM with a NAPE does represent a real change, breakthrough if you will, because via the decision, the GPH chose to abandon the stance it adopted for the previous two years that it would agree to nothing more than "reforming" the ARMM. Still, by itself, this decision point does not go so far as answering the concrete question: "How exactly new is new and how exactly autonomous is autonomous?" Indeed, whether or not it will be a federal or similar set-up requiring a constitutional amendment may largely determine how winding and bumpy the road to an agreement will be.
This leads to the second major decision point. Under Paragraph 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."
To shape this proposed new entity in its own image, the MILF in the short term set its sights primarily on tweaking this decision point in its favor. A recent MILF editorial in its website Luwaran allows us a glimpse of how important the MILF sees the transitional government as shaping the NAPE:
In other words, in place of the GPH leading a transitional government, the MILF asks to lead this transitional government and to put its stamp through elections on the future autonomous government. This scenario however remains a vision the MILF solely holds.
It is the third concrete decision point that marks a real step forward. Under Paragraph 6, "There will be power-sharing and wealth-sharing between the National Government and the new political entity... The Parties agree that the following matters are reserved for the competence of the National Government: a) defense and external security; b) foreign policy; c) common market and global trade; d) coinage and monetary policy; e) citizenship and naturalization; and f) postal service."
Paragraph 6 deals with a decision that, unlike previous agreements that dwelt on generalities, is concrete even if still incomplete, given that still more power may yet be conceded to the national government. At the moment, there are a number of matters reserved under the ARMM Law to the national government which are still negotiable: general auditing, national elections, maritime and land transport, and communications. They do not appear to be especially crucial as those already conceded to the national government. Some of these supposedly negotiable matters are already part of those reserved for national government, such as customs and tariff that are covered by global trade. At any rate, whatever additional matters the MILF will give up to the national government will just chip away at, rather than build up, its autonomy. But even under the terms already agreed upon, by and large the powers of the national government in the proposed autonomous region, from foreign policy to national defense to trade, appear to be basically and effectively comparable to those under RA 9054, the law establishing the ARMM.
If the third decision point does not seem to envision the NAPE much beyond the ARMM, the fourth decision point opens the door to such a possibility. According to Paragraph 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." Since the ARMM law already provides that the Shari'ah laws pertain only to Muslims, what does expanding jurisdiction over cases mean? How does this fit in with the overarching vision of the MILF of building an "Islamic way and system of life" where Shari'ah laws guide all aspects of society, and impliedly, all citizens of society?
Whereas the ARMM, as mapped out by the GPH and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was designed to be secular in keeping with the secularism of the MNLF leaders, the MILF is explicitly an Islamic or Islamist movement. In its website, it identifies itself as "a religious and political organization made up of Islamists engaged in liberation struggle based in their traditional homeland embracing Mindanao, its adjacent islands, and the Sulu archipelago."
As MILF Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal stressed, the MILF "cannot slide down anymore lower than our current proposal for the establishment of a substate for our people." In line with its slogan of "one nation, one faith" and an Islamist worldview on polity drawn heavily from the ideas of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutub, such a "substate" model traditionally revolved around the concept of an Islamic state dominated by Shari'ah laws. In the MILF view, real autonomy is largely seen as the freedom and the means to carry out Islamic governance through Shari'ah "to make the words of Allah supreme in the life of the Bangsamoro people."
The silent points
Thus, as important as what the document laid down in decision points are those it is silent about - and these are territory, ancestral domain, and land rights.
The MILF negotiators and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) negotiating for the GPH seem to have deliberately shelved negotiations on these three matters up to 24 April as part of their common strategy.
It is easy to understand why. After all, the Memorandum of Agreement-Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008 turned out to be a diplomatic fiasco. When a copy of the document leaked before it was signed, it unleashed massive opposition and protests from many stakeholders. Among them were local governments in so-called Christian areas, or those populated mainly by Christian settlers, which registered their rejection of the supposedly planned inclusion of 700 villages peopled mainly by Christian settlers within the proposed Moro sub-state. Also, through a "Cagayan de Oro Declaration" in 2008, non-Muslim Mindanao-based indigenous peoples, collectively called Lumad, openly rejected inclusion in such a Moro state and called for direct representation in the talks. They included leaders of the Subanen, Higaonon, Talaandig, Armunanen Manobo, Ubo Manobo, Manobo Pulangiyon, Dulangan Manobo, Teduray-Upi, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, Lambangian, Blaan, Tboli, Tagakaolo, Bagobo, Banwaon, Mamanwa, Tagbanua, Mandaya, Mansaka, Ata-Manobo, and Mangguangan. In 2011, an indigenous community went to the extent of calling for a separate state.
Much of the controversy lies in highly complex and unresolved contradictions. On one hand, the MILF refers to the Bangsamoro people and their ancestral homeland as "those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization of its descendants whether mixed or of full blood." In this scheme, envisioned also among those to be subjected to Islamic or Bangsamoro rule are the Lumad and their ancestral lands. As Archbishop Orlando Quevedo articulated, "I acknowledge the common original history of the Bangsamoro and the Lumad. But they are, I believe, separate peoples that are distinct and different in cultures, social structures, and traditional religious beliefs. With due respect to their own IP rights recognized by law, the situation of the Lumad should be separately considered in the peace package between and the MILF and the Philippine government."
According to the MILF, as a result of both landgrabbing and migration, the land that the Bangsamoro people occupy now amount to only 13% of what they originally occupied. In this light, the MILF seeks to expand the territory of a proposed Bangsamoro substate, as indicated in its website statement, "The unitary structures of governance, North and South, must be transformed into new state constructs with borders redrawn to entrench an associative juridical entity." This however is problematic, as in all the regions outside the ARMM, the Muslims make up a small minority of the population, at most 28.4% in Region 12.
The strategy adopted for the talks is thus double-edged. This unholistic exclusion of territorial and demographic issues from the work of fashioning the talks' overarching framework obviously springs from a sense of urgency and expediency. Clearly, the current piecemeal, fragmented approach - power-sharing now, territory and ancestral domain later - is aimed at fast tracking a agreement, or at least one portion of it. With the GPH's target of an agreement within a year's time, perhaps, this indeed might prove the quickest route, or shortcut.
On the other hand, the shortcomings of such a strategy putting a premium on speed over and above holistic wisdom rises to the surface when studied together with the MILF frame of mind. MILF Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal argues, "For the MILF peace panel, we want to see a process where we agree first on basic principles, concepts, frameworks, and parameters, then the elements, and then the parts or details. Obviously unknown to some, much has been achieved already in this regard."
The danger in this approach is that a grand historical ideal may be conjured up without grounding it in current, local realities, and then its template mechanically and thus inappropriately applied - as in one size fits all - to all types of territories envisioned to be covered, whether peopled mainly by Muslims or by non-Muslims. The weakest link of both strategies and the hidden threat they pose is that they may end up replicating perhaps the very Achilles heel of the MOA-AD: the failure to recognize, or at least adapt in practice, the all-important truth that the concerns of territory, ancestral domain, power-sharing and wealth-sharing in Mindanao commonly belong to a multiple set of stakeholders - Bangsamoro/Muslims, Lumad, and Christians - each possessing an equal stake in the future and in the common good.
This principle requires an equal valuation of the aspirations of all three types of stakeholders for self-governance, ancestral land rights, and economic equity. In other words, the conflict resolution required must be based on adequate social inclusivity.
Inclusion of Lumad and non-Muslim voices in the negotiating table
Here is where the need for adequate social inclusivity calls for the appropriate process. In a decision penned by then Associate Judge and now Ombudsman Teresita Carpio-Morales in 2008, the Supreme Court struck down the MOA-AD, not just for unconstitutionally guaranteeing its own passage, but also for failure to adequately consult stakeholders.
OPAPP officials stressed three measures to ensure the transparency of the process this time. One, they conducted at least 70 consultations and will continue to organize more. Two, they will ensure that the sentiments of indigenous peoples and other stakeholders are heard. Three, they will publicize the final peace pact draft before signing (see ESSCNews).
Definitely, the motives of all parties involved in terms of sincerity and commitment to peace and equity are beyond question. But at the end of the day, whether or not the talks will lead to a NAPE will likely hinge on its broad social acceptability. Unfortunately, current measures and assurances of transparency may still not suffice to achieve the required social acceptability of the final agreement. For the talks to be truly socially inclusive and equitable, fully transparent, and finally acceptable will require a modus operandi in which the Lumad and other non-government and civil society stakeholder representatives themselves are directly, equally and regularly imbedded, and integrated in the negotiation table itself. This more participatory format is not only socially just, but is also more efficient in that Lumad voices will be deeply engaged in working out a final draft, rather than merely reacting to the fait accompli of a final draft.
This will also seem both reasonable and feasible, considering that representatives of at least 10 foreign countries and organizations regularly sit in the talks as monitors or observers. Perhaps, a shift in venue from Malaysia to Mindanao will facilitate this new arrangement.
Such a set-up will guard against a top-down method superimposing a general schema unduly favoring only one or two parties on a complex diversity of localities and communities. At the same time, this organizational mechanism can be expected to cultivate a bottom-up mode of participation better attuned to the concrete needs and wants of Lumad and other non-Moro communities.
At any rate, while all agree now there is still a long way to go, that the parties remain in the negotiating table is cause enough for celebration. Moreover, the keen interest in the talks among stakeholders coupled with their critical concerns kindles the hopes for a final breakthrough in the form of a truly equitable and lasting peace agreement. At stake no less is the possibility of a durable peace in Mindanao deeply rooted in social justice.