I see positive signs in the ongoing peace talks between the GPH and the MILF.
The reported presence as observers of the five (5) governors from the ARMM in the talks in Kuala Lumpur is a good sign that political support is being harnessed towards the evolving political reconfiguration in the autonomous region.
The informal meeting between the MILF and the MNLF is another positive sign to consolidate or at the very least align the gains of the MNLF and MILF tracks towards a common goal for genuine and effective Moro self-governance.
These developments show that there are conscious efforts to make the talks transparent, consultative and inclusive. The most basic and crucial question for stakeholders in the talks is: What would any peace pact mean to their political, social and economic interests?
The ongoing talks are undoubtedly more transparent than previous ones. Lessons from the MOA-AD experience are heeded by both parties. The consultations raise confidence that the GPH and the MILF are not only bringing their own interests but also consider those of the other stakeholders. There will always be winners and losers in the outcome of the talks. The key is to steer the outcome that stakeholders in the end will feel that every sacrifice and concessions they make are worth giving in exchange for peace and security. This can be achieved by engaging stakeholders in open dialogue at all levels.
There are difficult issues yet to be hurdled in the talks among which are powers and wealth sharing, territory and the transitional mechanism for the formation of the new autonomous political entity. The GPH is willing to provide as much powers and concessions to the new entity via amending the ARMM Organic law.
The MILF will insist on more powers and autonomy in governing the new political entity. The talks are entering a crucial stage that requires flexibility and pragmatism from both the GPH and the MILF. The parties must seize today’s positive political environment where President Aquino enjoys popular support after the impeachment of CJ Corona that he could afford to go the extra mile to sell to Congress, the judiciary and to the people a peace pact with the MILF.
The MILF should realize by now that the Moro people from different political and ethnic persuasions are looking up to the GPH-MILF negotiations as the best avenue to make Moro self-governance work for all. Without going into the debate on which group/s represent the Bangsamoro people, the current talks having the greatest potential for advancing self-governance of the Moro people makes the MILF the de facto bearer of the torch for genuine and effective Moro self-determination.
The MILF has the “gravitas” at this stage to unite not only the revolutionary but also political leaders in the Bangsamoro. Whether the MILF will take this leadership role would depend on its openness to consider the interests of other leaders and groups in negotiating with the GRP. After all, the negotiations are meant to solve not the just the problems of the MILF but that of the Moro people.
On the other hand, the GRP must exhaust the limits of what is doable and legally permissible towards genuine autonomy in the region. The short-lived reforms in the ARMM cannot do more than promoting the ideas of good governance, transparency, accountability in the ARMM. They are helpful in changing people’s negative perception of Moro leadership. These ideas which are already a “given” in LGUs in the country are still “advocacies” in the autonomous region.
The key is to reconfigure the relationship between the autonomous region and the national government in such a way that the new autonomous political entity will have the political power and resources to effectively govern itself within the Philippine political system. The GPH must also provide sufficient political and legal guarantees that the agreement will be respected by the current and future administrations.