FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang (LL.M., M.R.I, J.D.)
CALLING PEACE MEDIATORS TO ACCOUNT
(Part III – Asking the Hard Questions)
Within the Bangsamoro community, there is a widespread suspicion that the Indonesian government has been compromised as mediator both before and after the signing of the agreement. Whether or not this has anything to do with the fact that Indonesia itself was facing its own “separatist” problem in East Timor at about the same time that the MNLF-GRP negotiations were at its crucial stage can only be the subject of speculation. But I do recall that the Philippine government adopted a hands-off policy on East Timor even though the vast majority of Catholic Filipinos, not to mention the international community, sympathized with their Timorese brethren. I also recall senior members of the MNLF recount that Indonesia allegedly “twisted” the arm of Misuari into signing the agreement lest they will recommend to the OIC to withdraw its support and recognition of his organization.
Setting aside the question of whether a true revolutionary should allow himself to be manipulated in such a brazen manner, what business does a mediator have in coercing a party to agree to an agreement that is bound to fail? That agreement was supposed to address the Bangsamoro’s assertion of their right to self-determination but anyone who has taken the time to go over the ’96 agreement will notice two things: first, that the autonomous government it is supposed to establish would end up being economically and fiscally dependent on the national government; second, that the implementation of the agreement would be subject to constitutional processes and dependent on institutions created by the Philippine constitution - in other words, dependent on the Philippine government.
So, you end up with a peace agreement that instead of allowing the Bangsamoro to exercise their right to self-determination, allowed the Philippine government to exercise it for them. That is not the right to self-determination. That is the right to “their”-determination which, before the 1996 agreement, did not exist as a concept. I am sure political scientists and international law experts would forever be thankful for the introduction of this strange concept, at least for its comical value.
It is this kind of agreement that the Indonesian government asked the MNLF to swallow, and swallow the MNLF did - hook, line, and sinker. Is it any surprise then that its implementation was beset by all sorts of problems? Recall the verbal tussles between Misuari and the Senate and, after 2001, the resumption of actual fighting between MNLF and AFP forces. And for most of this time, the Indonesian and Libyan ambassadors were saying all is well and good with the peace agreement or at least silent about its problems.
I have always said that the Bangsamoro is grateful to the OIC for showing their concern to their brethren in Minsupala. But it cannot be denied that someone dropped the ball in mediating the Mindanao conflict. Whether this can be attributed to a couple of members or all the members of the Committee of the Eight - or even the entire OIC itself - should be the subject of a sincere self-examination on its part if it wants to give the Bangsamoro and the Philippines something to be truly grateful about. Otherwise, what will happen is what we often see when a basketball referee is perceived to be biased - riots.
For sure, there are valuable lessons that can and should be drawn from the failures of the ’96 agreement. This is particularly true since there is another attempt to resolve the conflict between the Bangsamoro and the Philippines, the ongoing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Perhaps it is understandable why the MILF has been reluctant to sign a peace agreement. They don’t want to fall into the same trap.
As for the MNLF-GRP agreement, quo vadis? Is it still capable of being revived? Can it still provide a just and lasting solution to the conflict? Was it ever? Is the Misuari-led MNLF still capable of taking the cudgels for the Bangsamoro?
During the open forum in that testimonial dinner in Mandarin Hotel, I could not help but notice that the moderator was doing his level best to prevent me from asking my question to the Indonesian envoy. My friends from the media and diplomatic missions also noticed it and some started ribbing me about it. Eventually, they urged me to just stand up, go to the microphone, and just introduce myself and pose my question. After I started to get tired from raising my hand, I did.
I, of course, personally know the moderator and this made the excuses he offered after the program all the more lame. He tried to explain that he failed to notice me raising my hand which I thought was ludicrous since he didn’t fail to notice people to my left and right, sitting in the same table as I. I can only assume that he had an idea about the question I would ask and not wanting to put the Indonesian envoy on the spot, tried his best to ignore me. Perhaps, in so doing, he didn’t realize that he was sacrificing articulations of their people’s serious problems for the sake of being polite to the envoy. Indeed, some in the audience began to head for the door after telling me they were getting bored with the “safe” questions and answers.
Precisely, the point of asking hard questions is to make people or institutions account for their roles in resolving the conflict, to put them on the spot if necessary. Further, it is one thing for others to sanitize the status of the peace process. At times, that is to be expected. But it is both tragic and ironic to see some Moros themselves do the same thing. Maybe some of us are living such comfortable lives in Metro Manila that we have forgotten the miserable plight of their people back home and no longer see the need to articulate nor confront it. Imagine a former Moro member of the Commission on Human Rights stifling a fellow Moro. That is not only ironic, it is pathetic.
It seems that after the first part of this series came out, more indications about the troubled ’96 agreement came out. The scheduled tri-partite meeting in early February was again cancelled. And then there was that unfortunate incident in Sulu where government and military officials were “hosted” by MNLF men. Would anyone still have the gall to sanitize the troubled agreement, I wonder.