There are three (3) parallel political processes that could potentially address the long-standing political grievances of the Moro people: 1) the ongoing negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); 2) the current reforms in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); 3) closure of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
These processes are not mutually exclusive and they drive the evolving political formula for resolving the Mindanao conflict. The challenge is to insure that these processes, independently or in convergence at some point promote an inclusive, workable and effective self-governance for the Muslim minority which is key to sustainable peace in southern Philippines.
Reforms in the ARMM
A national government-appointed leadership team in the ARMM is tasked to institute reforms in the governance of the autonomous Region. The team has instituted a system of accountability and transparency in the regional government. A new voters’ registration will be conducted to clean the list of voters towards credible elections in the region. Republic Act 10153 which moves and synchronizes the ARMM elections with the national and local election elections on May 2013 mandates the appointed members of the Regional Legislative Assembly of the ARMM to recommend to Congress changes to the ARMM Organic Law six months upon their assumption into office. This mandate is an opportunity to address the gaps not only in making ARMM a working and effective autonomous government but also to respond to the concerns of the MNLF regarding the non-implementation of its Final Peace Agreement with the government.
In the ongoing negotiations, the GPH and the MILF have agreed on the basic principles of a negotiated political solution among which are: 1) That a new autonomous political entity will be established in place of the ARMM; 2) That there will be power sharing and wealth sharing between the national government and the new political entity; 3) That basic human freedoms will be enjoyed in the new political entity.
The negotiated political settlement that is evolving in this track will focus around a regional political structure that will not be independent of the Philippine republic but will enjoy the highest form of autonomy under the Philippine constitution and laws.
It is significant to note that this agreement on basic principles did not generate as much negative reaction from the general public as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Philippine government and the MILF. The Supreme Court of the Philippines stopped the signing of the MOA and declared it as unconstitutional because no proper consultation was conducted and that the terms of the MOA-AD particularly in calling for an associative relationship between Manila and the envisioned Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was violative of the constitution that declares the Philippines as a unitary state. The aborted agreement sparked costly armed encounters in Mindanao.
Learning from the lessons of the MOA-AD, the GPH is treading carefully in the negotiations with the MILF in insuring that the process is transparent and consultative. It is also apparent in the recently agreed basic principles that the GPH will offer to the MILF the maximum powers that may be permissible under the constitution and laws. While this preliminary agreement may not foreclose MILF’s position for the creation of a sub-state which is still one of the contentious issues in the talks, the use of the term “new autonomous political entity” indicates that the parties were avoiding the use of terms that historically invited public backlash. Focusing on structures and the mechanisms for power and wealth sharing could move the process forward. This preliminary agreement provides a great opportunity to shape public opinion in support of the evolving political formula for Mindanao peace.
Political Reconfiguration is Inevitable
The political reconfiguration in Muslim Mindanao is inevitable with or without an agreement with the MILF. The general consensus is that the ARMM has failed to bring about the intended peace and development in southern Philippines. This is the rationale for government instituting reforms in the ARMM. The MILF has time and again strongly rejected the ARMM in addressing its political grievances thus it has agreed to the formation of a new autonomous political entity. The MNLF advocates for the full implementation of its agreement with the government by integrating its terms in to the ARMM Organic Law.
There is a golden opportunity that must be seized at this time: Build on the common goals of the three political processes and the general consensus that autonomy in southern Philippines must be strengthened by evolving a workable and equitable power, resources and wealth sharing between the national government and the autonomous region. The peace processes with the MILF and the MNLF and the ongoing reforms and the mandated amendatory process to the Organic Law in the ARMM are parallel tracks that will move the political reconfiguration forward. The relative openness displayed by the power players in Manila on the agreement on principles with the MILF is an opening to move harness broader and stronger support to the evolving negotiated political settlement in southern Philippines.