Sputtering Pnoy Peace Train

The Pnoy peace train had a rousing start-up in the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012.

The energy that the signing generated was electrifying. Expressions of support to the FAB snowballed even if the details as annexes to the pact are yet to be completed.

The signing signalled the rousing departure of the Pnoy peace train. The FAB is the fuel and the north star of this express peace train that should reach its final destination before Pnoy’s term ends in 2016.

The peace train is sputtering and Pnoy as chief engineer is reportedly smelling sabotage.

But the sputtering is not just caused by forces external to the train. The goodwill and momentum generated by the signing of the FAB are depleting fast. From all indications, the annexes initially expected to be agreed upon by the GPH and the MILF way back in December last year appears far from being signed.

With the slowing of the train along the political track, the GPH in particular is trying to keep the momentum going by fast tracking the implementation of the development aspects of the FAB.

The Sajahatra Bangsamoro was launched by no less than President Aquino to jumpstart the development of MILF communities. An inter-agency task force on Bangsamoro development was formed to oversee the implementation of these development projects.

The MILF was uncomfortable with these government-initiated programs and insisted that the programs are not being unilaterally implemented by government but is in fact a part of the agreement of the parties.

The inter-agency task force on Bangsamoro development can be disconcerting for the MILF because while the administrative order creating it provides that the task force will coordinate with the Transition Commission, it is not clear how this body relates to the Bangsamoro Development Agency or how it is linked with the mechanisms in the Bangsamoro Agreement and its annexes.

It is also tasked to develop and implement the communications strategy on the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program which unfortunately tends to suggest that this development scheme is under government’s sole control. Worse, this provision makes it look that the program is a government propaganda tool.

By implementing development programs without resolving the fundamental political issues in the negotiations, the government risks these programs being branded as counter-insurgency measures out either to soften the position of the MILF in the negotiations or co-opt MILF communities. If government does not thread carefully, these initiatives could create enmity not trust between the MILF and the government.

The MNLF offensives against the Abu Sayyaf and the on-going stand-off in Sabah between the followers of the Sultan of Sulu out to “reclaim” their homeland and the Malaysian security forces are potential “derailers” to the Pnoy peace train. These developments expose the limits of the Framework Agreement and raises questions on the “comprehensiveness” of the formula for Mindanao peace in the FAB and its subsequent annexes.

The Pnoy peace train left the station but left out some key actors including the MNLF and the Sultanate of Sulu.
The MNLF and Nur Misuari have been publicly portrayed as a spent force so Misuari reacted by unleashing his forces against the Abu Sayyaf and made “martyrs” of his slain men. The MNLF offensives took place while the government distributed health cards and scholarships to MILF combatants and communities.

While the historical claim of the Bangsamoro over Mindanao is anchored on the existence of the Sultanate of Sulu, the claim of the heir of the Sultanate against Malaysia were not touched upon in the negotiations which happened to be facilitated by the Malaysian government. This exposes the inherent limitations on the peace process where issues and options are foreclosed to maintain the good graces of the facilitator.

At this time, the sputtering Pnoy peace train needs to be saved not only because it is the only one on track but more importantly we may probably not have another Chief Executive with the same passion, commitment and resoluteness of President Aquino to resolve the Mindanao conflict.

The key is to sign a comprehensive agreement that lives up to its name—an all-inclusive roadmap that provides a space for all stakeholders to participate in the shaping and governance of the future Bangsamoro region.

The Basic Law that will be crafted must not only be perceived but must in fact be inclusive in substance and process. Unlike the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur where the discourse is controlled by the Malaysian facilitator, the crafting of the Basic Law in the public arena provides the space for genuine intra-Moro dialogue.

In this space, the MILF which will have the majority in the Transition Commission must exercise the highest degree of openness, statesmanship and professionalism in listening and building consensus with all stakeholders in crafting the Basic Law that is consistent with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The next station for the sputtering peace train is the crafting of the Basic Law. It is hoped that the government and the MILF play their cards right in this “station” so that an invigorated Pnoy peace train can continue its journey with more not less key stakeholders on board.

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