text AMINA RASUL, Former Presidential Adviser on Youth AffairsBroken peace
This past week, representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Committee of the Eight and the General Secretariat have been meeting with government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to look into the status of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA). The Agreement laid to rest almost four decades of conflict by what was then the largest secessionist Muslim group in Mindanao. Headed by Ambassador Sayed Kassem El-Masry, Adviser to the Secretary General, the OIC Mission has visited Mindanao and met with the Moro National Liberation Front. Last Saturday, they dialogued with the group of MNLF General Kajid Ajibon in Jolo.
The GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement was signed almost ten years ago, with the help of the OIC. Two MNLF leaders have been elected ARMM Governor: MNLF Chair Nurullaji Misuari and Dr. Parouk Hussin. The ARMM Organic Act has been amended and the territory increased from four provinces to five and Marawi City. However, no visible economic or social progress is evident. Instead, Misuari is incarcerated on charges of rebellion while armed conflict between the MNLF and government troops have erupted in Sulu since 2004.
What is the true status of the implementation of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement? The GRP and MNLF perspectives were contradictory, not even a case of the half full/half empty glass. Government maintained that the FPA has been implemented in full while the MNLF and many Mindanao leaders claimed that the terms of the Agreement have been violated.
The government reports that the military and political aspects of Phase 1 of the agreement (which includes integration of former MNLF combatants to the Armed Forces and the police) have been fully completed. Further, Phase 2 has also been substantially implemented with the passage of a new Organic Act for an expanded ARMM. Government also cites the multi-donor Mindanao aid program.
However, the MNLF disputes the progress claimed by government. Rev. Absalom Cerveza, spokesperson of the MNLF Peace Panel, has said that the MNLF rejected the new Organic Act for ARMM because it violated terms of the Peace Accord. He frequently cites the failure of national government to remit the internal revenue funds in the first five years of the regional government, the intervention of Malacañang in the ARMM elections, and the fact that the law – contrary to what was agreed upon -- lays claim to all strategic minerals in the ARMM for national government, effectively depriving the ARMM of vital resources for development.
Part of the problem has been the emasculated institutions tasked with coordinating development efforts, according to former ARMM Executive Secretary Randolph Parcasio. First, the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) was “tasked to cause the implementation of peace and development projects” in the conflict areas, as delineated by the Special Zone of Peace and Development.
Unfortunately, the control and regulatory powers of the SPCPD were not stipulated. Further, it was not involved in the peace efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and it was not involved in the ARMM electoral processes, contrary to agreement. Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr. (OMI), former President of Notre Dame University of Cotabato City, resigned from the SPCPD in protest.
Second, the ARMM is widely regarded as ineffective due to lack of resources and inefficiency. Even the United Nations Multi Donor Program Second Assessment Mission Report concludes that the Organic Act did not offer true autonomy. Between 1991-2005, former Regional Governor Hussin has lamented that only Php53-billion was actually released for the regional government, a small portion of ARMM requirements and what has been allotted. Furthermore, between 2002-2004, more than Php1-billion in ARMM funds were not released. Aggravating the funding problem, 86% of the ARMM budget goes to personal services, leaving almost nothing for infrastructure and development programs. Government funds released to ARMM is less than 1% of total provided to all regions. This belies government claim that ARMM is priority.
To make matters worse, ARMM has been criticized year after year for corruption.
It is astounding that no dialogue between the two parties has occurred over the past decade to solicit and exchange views, even as armed hostilities between MNLF and government troops occurred in Jolo last year. No joint evaluation has been conducted using an objective set of indicators either. Following the battles between the Jolo-based MNLF and government troops, Muslim civil society has called on the OIC to exert pressure on both the GRP and the MNLF to dialogue.Further, non-governmental groups - such as the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, the Mindanao Peaceweavers, and the Muslim Women Peace Advocates of Sulu – have proposed that civil society be involved in the dialogue.
Thus, the visit of the influential OIC has been welcomed by the leaders of Muslim Mindanao. Ambassador El-Masry announced in Davao City that the OIC will convene the tripartite committee – government, MNLF and the OIC – in Jeddah to evaluate the implementation of the Peace Accord. The Ambassador has also called on the Philippine government to free Chairman Misuari, whose popularity has increased during his four year incarceration. Misuari’s regained popularity makes him a central figure in bringing the Jolo MNLF back onto the road to peace.
Will the experience with the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement have a significant impact on the GRP-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace talks? A failure in the 1996 agreement can become a blaring signal to the MILF about the sincerity of the government, and the effectiveness of implementation of whatever it is they agree to. Worse, the unaddressed grievances of the MNLF and the ARMM light a powder keg of renewed secessionist conflict. This can only spell disaster for Mindanao and the country, already reeling from political crisis.
A broken peace is the last thing our country needs.