GPH’s ‘back to zero’ retrogression in peace proposal to MILF could ruin talks

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel, said a “heaven and earth” gap exists between the GPH proposed peace settlement and the draft compact submitted by the MILF last February.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) teetered on the brink of collapse last Aug 23 in Kuala Lumpur, as the government peace panel finally submitted its counter-proposal which the MILF peace panel described as “starting from zero.” The MILF-GPH peace negotiations have been going on for 14 years now.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel, said a “heaven and earth” gap exists between the GPH proposed peace settlement and the draft compact submitted by the MILF last February. That is, despite the fact that the MILF has already scaled back their demand from secession to genuine autonomy, Iqbal said, in a round-table discussion with Moro Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) shortly after arriving from Kuala Lumpur. Iqbal and the rest of the MILF panel had decided to reject the GPH proposal, and to send a copy to the MILF central committee with the recommendation to reject it.

In an interview with DZRH after the August MILF-GPH formal talks was cut short, Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice-chairman, said “it is our proposal that was rejected by the GPH.” He said the MILF peace panel had expected the Aquino government to comment on the MILF draft compact “commission by commission,” especially after the Tokyo consensus of MILF chair Murad and GPH President Aquino to “fast-track the peace negotiations.”

The peace problem in Mindanao is a Bangsamoro problem, Jaafar said. “We know this problem better than the GPH, so the GPH should have listened to us,” he added.

The GPH had reportedly tried to delay putting their counter proposal on the negotiating table in their latest round of talks, as it had sought first to discuss the case of Ameril Omra Kato, an MILF commander whom the GPH’s military troops had branded as “rogue.” The Aquino government has been pressuring the MILF to expel Kato and his troops, a move that would allow the Philippine government troops to freely target Kato and his troops.

But the MILF did not brand their “brother” as rogue; neither did they fully remove Kato, who is not just a commander but an ulama (a Muslim leader), too, from the roster of the MILF, as they said they have not yet fully exhausted all efforts to reach out to him.

Jaafar said Kato is not a problem. If they sign a peace settlement with the Philippine government and it proves to be the solution to the Moro question in Mindanao, then “all our brothers including Nur will support that.”

Going for a ‘brand-new change’

Not even an overhaul could remedy the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) because it is already “paralyzed” and beyond help, said Jaafar. The MILF does not recognize the ARMM. They have in fact rejected overtures from the Aquino government to head it, and they branded as “malicious” the recent inclusion in the list of possible temporary heads of ARMM of at least four leaders of MILF.

After more than 15 years of ARMM, there is still no change in the lives of the Bangsamoro people, Jaafar said, adding that “If there had been change, it occurred only on the lives of the ARMM leaders whose wealth had increased as they assumed power.” Jaafar said the MILF wants change and prosperity to be “balanced,” to be inclusive also of the ordinary citizens of the Bangsamoro state. Such “brand-new change” is what the MILF said they hoped to bring about in
establishing a Bangsamoro state.

The Moro is not just a segment of Filipino population, said MILF peace panel member Michael Mastura, as he cited examples of the Moro people in Mindanao conducting themselves politically, culturally and militarily vis-à-vis other nations. They have had treaties, for example, with other nations. “We have a different history, power structure and culture,” said Iqbal. But because this is different from that of the Philippine government, he reiterated the solution in their draft compact for the Bangsamoro self-governance and real autonomy.

From the point of view of the GPH, it would just be a “substate” because, based on MILF draft compact, in some major governance issues such as coinage, foreign affairs, postal services and armed defense, the Bangsamoro state would still be under the Philippine government. The MILF just wants their authority to govern themselves be respected and recognized, in such a way that they would have sufficient power that they would not have to ask the Philippine government for money, said Jaafar.

But the GPH draft counter-proposal, according to Iqbal, did not even mention the word “substate.” Instead of granting the MILF’s scaled-back demand for semi-independence or real autonomy, the GPH proposed a transition government where the MILF would constitute just a third of the governing authority. The other two would be shared by the GPH and representatives of civil service organizations.

Iqbal said the MILF proposal embodies “continuity from 1987 to now,” they have incorporated in it the results of their peace agreements with the Philippine government, but the GPH proposal “started from zero.” The MILF is proposing “real governance,” the GPH reverted to integration, said Iqbal. The MILF reframed the MOA-AD to excise what its opponents had found as objectionable; the GPH did not even attempt to correct the MOA-AD that it had initialed. Instead, its proposal has “retrogressed”, Iqbal explained. From a proposed “compact agreement,” he said the Aquino government reverted to “integration.”

Given the Aquino government’s derogating or setting aside previous peace agreements, Mastura of MILF said the counter-proposal submitted by Marvic Leonen in their latest formal talks in Kuala Lumpur is “not an act of the GPH but just an act of the Aquino peace panel.”
In a news report published in Interaksyon, August 27, Leonen was quoted as saying that the GPH stands by its proposal: “The government rejects the MILF’s rejection of our proposal.”

Leonen asserted, “The government proposal is the most principled, realistic and practical approach to resolving the decades-old armed conflict in the south.”

Mastura, on the other hand, said that in the GPH proposal of transition government where the MILF would just be a minority, the transition government would also fall “directly under the office of the President,” and it will be created with a new organic law. Mastura concluded that the GPH proposal gives them “nothing but crumbs.” ()

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