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The big shift in Kuala Lumpur


One could almost hear a national sigh of relief.  And coming soon after Philippine chief government negotiator Atty. Marvic Leonen’s warning last month that the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur had reached a virtual stalemate, the announcement last April 24 that the years-long negotiation has achieved a breakthrough during its latest round this week was a surprise as well. After all, a polling made two months ago revealed that a growing majority of Filipinos have become pessimistic that  a comprehensive agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic  Liberation Front (MILF) will be achieved during the incumbent term of Pres. Aquino.

The interim framework agreement has been dubbed by the two parties as “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles As Of April 2012”. Aware that the MILF’s strident demand for a substate has been met with public skepticism and hostility because it is mistakenly equated as secession, Atty. Leonen has been quick to describe the new agreement in this manner:

“It is clear that what the Parties are discussing are the parameters of meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro people, under a new autonomous political entity that can replace the current ARMM created under Republic Act No. 9054. The autonomous political entity envisioned is a secular political unit, existing within the Republic of the Philippines, located within its territory and subject to its sovereignty as a State,” he stressed.

Indeed, the new agreement makes no single mention of the controversial term “substate”, not even of the equally suspiciously-perceived “right to self-determination”. It is not preposterous to say then that with this agreement, the MILF has once again made new concessions, bent over backwards.  It is also a clear indication that the trust and confidence the two parties have painstakingly built over the years and further boosted by the meeting between Pres. Aquino and MILF chief Al-Haj Ebrahim Murad in Tokyo in August last year, continues to reap concrete dividends that will, hopefully, soon end this long, long ethnic conflict in Mindanao.  In the context of international political developments such as the so-called “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and the trend in Asia towards new democracies, including those once-straitjacketed by the fundamental struggle of right to self-determination,  this week’s agreement – if it reflects an equally new Mindanao or Bangsamoro “realpolitik” – throws wide-open a future, major path to a just and lasting peace, one that will benefit all of Mindanao and not just its Muslim constituency.
The agreement consists of 10 principles that will guide the next
rounds of the talks.  The principle that comes closest to RSD, or in its lieu, spells out a kind of “additional bill of rights” for the residents of the envisioned new autonomous region.  One of the stipulations therein guarantees the “right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means”.

The other major features of the agreement are:

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

•    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 ARMM.

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

•    The parties agree that the new autonomous political entity shall have a ministerial form of government (emphasis supplied).

It also identifies the need for transition and peace-keeping mechanisms as well as the crucial scheme on resource-sharing for revenues derived from the exploitation of natural resources in the autonomous region.  All of these can still be difficult twists and turns in the road ahead.

So hopefully flexibility, creativity and pragmatism will continue to drive the negotiation.  The transparency that now characterizes the process  will enable all stakeholders to be involved and thus enrich and hasten the process.  In the long run, the success and doability of a peace agreement will depend entirely on such public support and cooperation. Among the most crucial of these stakeholders are the media and local governments.

In more immediate terms, the support and intervention of third parties like the talks’ International Contact Group, particularly the recent entry of the Organization of Islamic Conference as an observer with its history of successful mediation in Mindanao, will be indispensable to the early and happy conclusion of this great to-do from the hills of Maguindanao to the halls of Malacanang and round the tables of Kuala Lumpur.

by: Peace Advocates Zamboanga

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