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Feb 03rd
Home Columns Amina Rasul Back to Square One
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Columns - Amina Rasul
Monday, 25 August 2008 15:45

Almost 12 years ago, government succeeded in signing a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front.  President Fidel V. Ramos and MNLF Chair Nurulajji Misuari received the UNESCO's Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize "for the agreement they have made in ending the conflict on 2nd September 1996 between the Philippines Government and the Moro National Liberation Front". Former President Corazon C. Aquino had initiated the talks with the MNLF.  It took almost nine years of negotiations under two highly-credible Presidents before an agreement was signed.


After more-than 12 years of negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are we back to square one?


I have been pessimistic that a peace agreement with the MILF would be signed under the Arroyo regime.  Ramos had one Peace Adviser throughout the negotiations, the much respected Ambassador and former AFP Chief General Manuel Yan.  Mrs. Arroyo has had four.  Ging Deles resigned with the Hyatt 10 group while Yoyong Afable resigned, according to insiders, because he did not get the support he needed to be effective.


While the Arroyo Peace Advisers and the government panels have tried their best, they always suffered from Mrs. Arroyo's lack of political will and capability to support the peace process and, worse, her lack of credibility.  First, I don't think the peace process is a priority for an administration besieged by corruption charges and economic problems (unless it served a partisan political agenda). Second, the hawks in government who prefer a military solution are very influential. Witness the conflagration in Central Mindanao. Third, more political leaders have come out to join Vice-Governor Manny Pinol and Mayor Celso Lobregat against the peace agreement which they believe would give more power to the Bangsamoro.  Fourth, the MOA on Ancestral Domain is now viewed as an excuse for amending the constitution in order to allow Mrs. Arroyo to stay on in the Palace.


The Arroyo Peace Advisers and the government panels have tried their best but they always suffered from Mrs. Arroyo's lack of political will and capability to support the peace process and, worse, her lack of credibility.  

As Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. was preparing to brief the Strategic Studies Group of the National Defense College of the Philippines on the controversial MOA on Ancestral Domain, Malacanang announced that the MOA would not be signed.


Mrs. Arroyo also announced a shift in the conduct of government's peace efforts: "The focus of our talks shall shift from the armed groups to the communities. The parameters governing our negotiations shall be a balance between the constitutionality and public sentiment." She will focus on disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR).  She will conduct "authentic conversations or dialogues with the people." She will make the armed groups "account for their actions not only to the government but more importantly to the people."


The MILF have stated its rejection of any attempt to renegotiate the MOA, saying they have already signed it.  After over four years of negotiation on issues related to ancestral domain, I can't blame them.  Besides, how does Mrs. Arroyo plan to conduct peace talks via "authentic dialogues"?  Maybe SWS can conduct a survey on each point to be negotiated?  Perhaps another consultation like the one her Cha-cha Consultative Commission conducted?  Where none of the major Mindanao NGOs were invited?  Not even former Senator Santanina Rasul of Sulu was invited to any of the consultations for ARMM or Sulu. 


How will she get the MILF to disarm and demobilize?  How will she take them to account for their actions?  She can't even collect the hundreds of thousands of loose firearms in the hands of her local leaders.


FVR's speech for the UP Centennial Lecture Series (August 12), was a solid rebuke of the way the Arroyo regime is conducting the peace process. He recollected the daring daytime raid on Ipil by the Abu Sayyaf and some lost commands (including MILF troops) resulted in the burning the commercial center of Ipil and the deaths of 50 civilians, police and soldiers.  The attack could have derailed the peace talks with the MNLF.  However, FVR stayed the course.


"The violence in Ipil could have broken the back of the peace negotiations.  We could have accepted the futility of ever achieving peace in Mindanao --- and returned to the decision of relying on the force of arms as our remaining course of action".  This seems to be the course of action of the Arroyo administration, complete with arming vigilante groups.  The PNP has announced that it would provide 1000 shotguns to civilian militia.  Is this just the start of vigilantism supported by government?

FVR shared the lesson he learned from the GRP-MNLF peace talks: "in any peace effort, the leader must focus on the long-term view --- the strategic vision of peace and development --- and refuse to be stampeded into contrary action by tactical pressures from the enemies of the peace process."

We have been stampeded back to square 1.  Tragically, it is a red square, red with the blood of innocent victims, soldiers and Mujahideen.  All avoidable – if only she had truly supported the peace process.  As it is, when people ask me where we are headed, I think we are exactly where she wants us to be.


The current chaotic situation is reminiscent of the days before the imposition of martial law by former President Marcos.  All we need now is for the car of a high-ranking government official to be bombed and the implementation of a martial law playbook would be complete. # # #


Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2008 15:49

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