This commentary first appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Mixed reactions greeted the emergence of Moro National Liberation Front founding chair Nur Misuari from over three years of hiding. Those seeking justice for the atrocities committed in the 2013 Zamboanga siege wanted him held accountable now that he is within the law’s reach. But some raised the strategic value of his temporary liberty: his ability to take part in the Bangsamoro transition process, thus completing the key actors in the long march to peace in Mindanao. (The others are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the various MNLF factions.)
Jesus Dureza, President Duterte’s adviser on the peace process, acknowledged that Misuari would be a major player in the administration’s strategy of achieving convergence among the Bangsamoro peace agreements. But how this will turn out depends on how the process is steered. There is a delicate dynamics among Moro revolutionary groups, shaped in the course of the four-decade armed struggle for self-determination. Here, the process will be as important as the content.
Simply, convergence is bringing the MILF and the MNLF into a unified process of building Moro autonomy consistent with the peace agreements that the government has signed with each.
According to Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, who served as chief government peace negotiator with the MILF, the peace processes with the two groups are “conjoined” as these deal with the same aspirations of the Moro people.
The reality of having two peace processes to resolve a single conflict arose from the split within the MNLF leadership in 1977. In one faction was Misuari and in the other was Salamat Hashim, whose faction eventually became the MILF in 1984. In the book “Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny,” author Salah Jubair says that differences in political outlook and questions about Misuari’s style of leading the Moro revolution caused the split. There were other factors, the most fatal being when Misuari’s secretary-general, Muslimen Sema, formed the MNLF Council of 15 in 2000.
With the split, Moro supporters such as the Muslim World League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) made efforts in 1986 to have both Misuari and Salamat join peace talks with the government—to no avail, as President Corazon Aquino chose to negotiate only with the MNLF.
By Sept. 2, 1996, Misuari had forged with the government a final peace agreement (FPA), which remains unsatisfactorily implemented to this day. An OIC-sponsored review of implementation identified 42 points for improvement.
By January 1997, negotiations with the MILF had begun, culminating in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on March 27, 2014. The MILF said it negotiated on issues for Moro self-rule which the FPA left out or did not articulate clearly.
Both the FPA and the CAB envision expanded autonomy, but they diverge on the territory of the proposed political entity. The FPA counts 13 provinces (now 15) outlined as the Moro homeland in a 1976 initial pact. The CAB focuses on areas within the historic Moro homeland, as small as a barangay, which are predominantly Moro-populated. It also provides for the delineation of Bangsamoro waters—a feature absent in the FPA.
The MNLF was unhappy that the amended Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, enacted in 2001, does not quite reflect the FPA’s provisions. A disgruntled Misuari tried to launch another rebellion in Sulu in 2001, for which he had to face charges that did not prosper in court.
The MILF was anxious that the 16th Congress failed to enact the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that could have provided for an autonomy setup more meaningful than the ARMM, a major consensus enshrined in the CAB.
President Benigno Aquino III sought the convergence of the two peace agreements through the BBL. He offered the MNLF factions seats in the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission which was writing the BBL, per the CAB. But the offer was unheeded.
Today, Sema’s MNLF Council of 15 will take seats in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. Earlier, Sema and the MILF agreed to jointly explore the convergence points in the FPA and CAB, following the OIC’s call for Moro revolutionaries to unify their actions.
But Misuari’s faction will not be represented in the commission. He will have his own panel interacting with the government—a situation exemplifying the many nuances that must be adroitly dealt with to ensure success in convergence.
President Duterte has set mid-2017 as the deadline for drafting a new autonomy measure that he will endorse to Congress. In the next eight months, crucial balancing acts will be needed in order to effectively navigate the intricate politics of the Moro revolution to set the path toward peace.
I now understand why peace negotiators of the government and the MILF were inclined to abuse the phrase “cautious optimism” when describing their feelings about the prospects ahead.
Ryan D. Rosauro, based in Ozamiz City, has been a correspondent of the Inquirer since 2001.