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BANGSA-MINDA, ENDURING PEACE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (Last of Two Parts)


"On Empowering the Filipino People"
SPECIAL TO THE MANILA BULLETIN
by former President Fidel V. Ramos
02 Oct. 2014 (for the 05 Oct. 2014-Sunday issue)

 

BANGSA-MINDA, ENDURING PEACE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

(Last of Two Parts)

 

This writer and his cohorts in the Cabinet, Congress, LGUs and the concerned citizenry made restoring stability in Mindanao and throughout the Philippines our highest priority because we realized that without durable peace, businesses could not prosper, work-people could not create social wealth; reforms could not flourish; and progress would not take root.

In this spirit, we consistently sought dialogues with the Muslim separatists of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and concurrently with the military rebels of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), Alyansang Tapat sa Sambayanan(ALTAS) and Young Officers Union (YOU).

We feared “separatism” in Mindanao – less for its practical threat to our territorial integrity than for its implied rebuke of “imperial Manila’s” historical neglect of our Muslim communities. 

Eventually, we embraced essential strategic plans for other insurgents/ dissidents, notably the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its military arm the NPA, and political front, the NDF – BUT NOT THE ABU SAYYAF, A CRIMINAL GROUP CLOAKED WITH JIHADIST IDEOLOGY AND PRINCIPALLY ENGAGED IN KIDNAP-FOR-RANSOM AND EXTORTION ACTIVITIES.

Barriers To The Final Peace Agreement

In April 1995, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group – which was joined by several “lost commands” consisting of bandits, smugglers, and self-proclaimed Muslim messiahs – led a raid on Ipil town, in Zamboanga del Sur, to deliberately provoke a breach between Government and the MNLF when the peace process was already winding down. 

The raiders looted seven banks located in the town center, burned some government buildings, and killed more than fifty people – soldiers, policemen, and civilians alike.

As Commander-in-Chief, FVR ordered our troops to pursue the 200 Ipil raiders without let-up all the way to the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Norte.  There, we eventually eliminated 90% of the ASG-led raiders, in the “S-triangle” of Siocon, Siraway, and Sibuco.  The remaining handful of twenty managed to escape by watercraft to Basilan and Sulu from where they came.

But FVR did not allow the ASG to break up our peace negotiations with the MNLF.  He ensured that our people involved in the negotiations held on to our strategic vision of enduring peace as the precondition for sustainable development nationwide.

As part of the 1996 FPA, we were able to integrate 7,500 ex-MNLF mujahideens into the Armed Forces and the National Police.  This writer remembers vividly public criticisms about those MNLF integrees.  People said the FPA had “naïvely” brought an MNLF “Trojan horse” into the AFP/PNP.

BUT, DO YOU KNOW THAT THOSE EX-MNLF WARRIORS STAYED LOYAL TO THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH ALL THE UPS-AND-DOWNS OF THE PEACE PROCESS – INCLUDING DURING THE SECOND “WAR” WITH THE MILF STARTING IN APRIL 2000 DURING PRESIDENT ESTRADA’S TERM – AND THAT THE BULK OF THE MNLF “INTEGREES” CONTINUE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT LOYALLY UNTIL NOW?

“Decommissioning” Process – MILF Era

Datelined Kuala Lumpur, Agence France Presseand The Philippine Starreported (29 September):  “The difficult process of standing down the MILF has started with the decommissioning of the first batch of firearms expected before yearend….

“The two sides have appointed three foreign experts – from Brunei, Turkey and Norway – to join an independent body that will oversee the decommissioning, together with four local experts yet to be nominated.  ‘Decommissioning is a delicate and difficult component of any peace settlement derived from Northern Ireland.  It must be done effectively and sensitively,’ Chief Government Negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said….”

In his article “Disarming the Muslims,” eminent journalist Emil Jurado opined (Manila Standard Today, 30 September):  “It is the height of naiveté on the part of the Aquino III Government to believe that the MILF would surrender their firearms.  That will just leave them to the mercy of the breakaway groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) or the Abu Sayyaf Group who are now reportedly in alliance with the ISIS, a global terror threat….

 “Then, there’s the Nur Misuari-led MNLF aiming for independence, which has been excluded in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) talks.  All these do not augur well for a final peace and development of Mindanao.

“Frankly and honestly, however, I really want to be proven wrong.  Peace and development in Mindanao is a national aspiration.”

Earlier, The Manila Timesreported (25 September):  “’There will be a formal turnover of high-powered weapons of the MILF by yearend,’ Presidential Peace Adviser, Secretary Teresita Deles predicted when asked by Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list about the timetable of decommissioning.  Alejano, a former Marine captain, expressed apprehension on the MILF’s commitment in turning over their firearms. 

“We expect 35% of the weapons to be turned over upon the passage of the BBL, another 30% upon finishing the plebiscite, and so forth until 2016,’ Deles said….

“Chairman Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF Panel agreed with Deles, saying there is no purpose for armed struggle anymore because there are no enemies left.”

Do we believe all these rosy predictions?   We do hope they happen as predicted, but many oldtimers among the AFP/PNP and Muslim rebels know that the Deles/Iqbal expectations are unrealistic!!

Comprehensive Peace And The

Concept Of “Bangsamoro Identity”

After President Estrada’s removal in a peaceful “People-Power” Revolution in January 2001 (EDSA II), the successor-government of Gloria Arroyo and the MILF agreed on a new cease-fire arrangement.  Their negotiators set up a truce-monitoring team composed of Malaysia, Japan, and Brunei.

And, quickly, a post-conflict reconstruction and development program started – supported by the World Bank, the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the U.S. 

Meanwhile, local Peace and Order Councils – offshoots of the Bishops-Ulama Conferences the FVR Administration set up in the early 1990s – initiated their own peace-making efforts.

Government and the MILF returned to the negotiating table in mid-2001 and agreed on a new “‘Tripoli Agreement on Peace” which had three main aspects:

– It created a Monitoring Team of observers – from Malaysia, Japan and Brunei – to monitor day-to-day adherence to the ceasefire agreements and a Joint Action Group to handle disturbances.

 – To deliver humanitarian, rehabilitation and development assistance, the two sides also agreed on mutual practices and obligations. 

 – Most important, the negotiators also agreed on the concept of “ancestral domain” to encompass critical issues such as a “Bangsamoro” identity with its own distinctive culture.

But, just before the signing of a final peace pact, scheduled in Kuala Lumpur in August 2008, our Supreme Court declared the proposed MOA unconstitutional – for conceding too much to the MILF.

In reaction, President Arroyo not only suspended the negotiations.  She also disbanded the Government’s negotiating panel.  All of a sudden, backsliding into war became a grim possibility, and the peace process was thrown back to square one.

The Government And MILF Framework Agreement

On 30 June 2010, the new Government of President Benigno Aquino III took over management of the negotiations through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

OPAPP’s basic task today is both to resume the off-on protracted negotiations with the MILF, and to review how our 1996 FPA with the MNLF is being carried out.

Last October 2012, Government and the MILF concluded a “Framework Agreement” with annexes on revenue generation, the sharing of wealth from natural resources, and other basic concerns.

The basic law for a new autonomous “Bangsamoro” region is to be drafted for Congress to enact and a plebiscite to ratify, so that it can replace the ARMM by 2015.

In Mindanao, we have no easy choices.  The only certainty is that all Filipinos have a stake in the success of the negotiations between the Government and the MILF.

AND THE OUTCOME SHOULD BE NOT JUST A MINDANAO FREE OF CONFLICT BUT A PEACEFUL MINDANAO HEALED OF ITS ANXIETIES AND PUT BACK ON THE ROAD TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.

Bringing Up The Poorest Administrative Regions

And so the question remains:  what measures should we now take to enable our people to move forward to political stability and economic prosperity, particularly in Mindanao?  

Government must give preferential treatment to groups and communities that have been disadvantaged either by official neglect or political prejudice.  Surely Muslim Mindanao, our ethnic groupings in the Cordilleras, and our poorest regions – Bicol, Caraga, Western and Central Mindanao, and Eastern Visayas – can reasonably claim similar preferential treatment in budget allocations for infrastructure, primary health care, basic education and other public services.

We need to build centrist, inclusive politics – or politics of the middle forces – by developing points of convergence upon which our political groupings can meet.  We must search for common ground not in political compromises nor in horse-trading but in the highest demands of the national interest.

We must also open up the regulation and management of our economy to insure equal opportunity for gaining wealth.

And we must incorporate all our people – rich and poor – in a caring and sharing national community that is daring enough to pursue the full potential of their lives.

UNITY, SOLIDARITY, TEAMWORK:  OUR BASIC STRENGTH

By now we Filipinos must realize that we cannot develop separately – as geographic regions, social classes, ethnic enclaves, religious groupings, or elite families isolated from one another.

OUR BASIC STRENGTH MUST COME FROM OUR UNITY OF PURPOSE, SOLIDARITY IN VALUES, AND TEAMWORK IN NATION-BUILDING.  WE CAN DEVELOP ONLY AS ONE COUNTRY, AS ONE NATION. 

DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT CANNOT DO THINGS BY ITSELF, BUT NEEDS THE CONSISTENT SUPPORT OF YOUNG AND OLD, RICH AND POOR, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS. 

WE MUST ALL GET INVOLVED AS STAKEHOLDERS.  WE CANNOT BE PASSIVE SPECTATORS TO GOVERNMENT’S EFFORTS.  FOR IF GOVERNMENT FAILS, THEN WE ALL FAIL, OUR SHIP PILIPINAS SINKS, AND WE MAY ALL DROWN.

THIS IS NOW THE TIME FOR US TO ASK OURSELVES WHAT WE HAVE DONE – AND WHAT MORE WE CAN DO – FOR THE COMMON ENTERPRISE OF A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL FILIPINOS. 

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org.  Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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