Sincerity, Honesty, Fair Compromise: Essential Keys In Negotiations

By Tony C. Abaya

There seems to be only one way out of the impasse created by the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and that is, to renegotiate it.

But it has to be assumed that some in the MILF would object to any renegotiation. These are the hardliners who believe that the MOA is a done deal and is already binding on the GRP, even if it has to be approved in a plebiscite, has to be backed by an enabling law from Congress, and has to wait for charter change to accommodate a federal state – which the MILF are demanding – within a larger federal union.

The MILF panel contends that these legal and constitutional details are of no concern to them because, as rebels, they are not bound by the Philippine Constitution, which they specifically insisted should not be mentioned at all in the MOA, to which the GRP panel sheepishly agreed.

Assuming there are still moderates among the MILF leadership who will agree to renegotiate, some basic ground rules should be agreed upon from the start.

One. The venue for future “peace talks” should be in Indonesia, not in Malaysia. Malaysia is not an honest broker in these negotiations. The Malaysians do not and will never forget that President Ferdinand Marcos tried in the 1970s to organize an invasion force that was meant to invade Sabah (or North Borneo) and claim it as part of Philippine territory on behalf of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, who had merely leased it to the British North Borneo Co., but which in turn ceded it to the Federation of Malaysia.

A Bangsamoro federal state controlled by the MILF, if it were to become a reality, would most likely declare independence from the Philippine Republic – the MILF has always been separatist – and even federate itself with Malaysia, since Malaysia has always been a much better managed country than the Philippines.

It can be argued that the separatist struggle that has percolated among the Moros in the region since the 1970s was stoked by Malaysia, with the help of British intelligence, as their payback to us for Marcos’ failed grab for Sabah..

Indonesia, at least, has no reason to harbor ill will against the Philippines. Furthermore it has had its own share of separatist movements and would be sympathetic to Philippine efforts to discourage the dismemberment of the Republic.

Two. The GRP should negotiate only with groups that seek only greater autonomy. Groups that declare themselves separatist are really beyond negotiations because their minds are already made up and there is no point in talking to them. The GRP should talk to present separatists only if and when they are ready to scale down their demands to greater autonomy, rather than outright separatism.

The GRP should also insist that all negotiations should be held within the ambit of the Philippine Constitution. If groups wish to negotiate without acknowledging the over-arching jurisdiction of the Constitution – as the GRP panel foolishly caved in to the MILF - then forget it.

For once, I agree with former president Joseph Estrada: “We have only one flag, one armed forces and one nation. It is treason if you give away part of the country to the MILF.” [...]

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All out offensive against the MILF has never been proven to work. In the past it may have significantly crippled the MILF but there will always be young MILF generations who will take over the wrong way of advancing the past generation's cause.

Justice for the innocent civilians must be demanded by the government while the renegotiation is restarted. If justice is not satisfied, any new agreement that may be arrived in the future would only be standing on a faulty foundation because there will be relatives of the innocent civilians who will find an opportunity to take the law into their own hands thereby possibly causing new sparks of hostilities in the future after a final MOA will have been signed.

The present situation is a test for the MILF especially to its leadership. How their leadership would handle the situation would spell the success or failure of the renegotiation if they are still willing to do so.

All peace-loving Muslims MILF or not, should have their leaders join minds and heads with the leadership of the MILF so that there will be true one voice in the different Muslim communities in Mindanao and in the Philippines.

May God put a real lasting end to this decades-old conflict of same-blood people. We are Filipinos first before we are Muslims, Lumad, or Christians. Can't we truly love each other?