REVIEW OF 1996 PEACE PACT A LONG-STANDING MNLF DEMAND
The 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MNLF is set to be reviewed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the next few days. The MNLF said it has been demanding such review of the said pact for several years.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Vol. VII, No. 40, November 11-17, 2007
The 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is set to be reviewed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the next few days as announced by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita in a press conference last week. The MNLF said it has been demanding such review of the said pact for several years.
“Even before the establishment of the Expanded ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), which (was) established by virtue of Republic Act No. 9054, the MNLF and the Bangsamoro people asked the government to consider a thorough review of the Peace Agreement, especially in its implementation,” said Ustadz Morshid Ibrahim, MNLF secretary-general, in a phone interview with Bulatlat. “When we were still in the (original) ARMM, we had asked the GRP to conduct a comprehensive and honest review of the proposed bill submitted by the government before Congress.”
Created on Aug. 1, 1989 through RA 6734, the original ARMM covered the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao. The ARMM was officially inaugurated on Nov. 6, 1990 in Cotabato City, which was designated as its capital.
The GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement provides among other things for amendments to or the repeal of RA 6734. It was specifically provided that amendments to or the repeal of RA 6734 would be initiated within the period 1996-1997, after which the amendatory law would be submitted to a plebiscite or referendum in the original ARMM provinces as well as in the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani and Palawan and the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, lligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Puerto Princesa.
In the plebiscite held in November 2001 –- less than eight months after RA 9054 lapsed into law without President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s signature, in accordance with the Constitution –- only Marawi City and Basilan (except Isabela City) elected to be part of the expanded ARMM.
“We wanted that the bill would actually reflect the entirety of the Peace Agreement,” Ibrahim added. “But unfortunately the voice of the Bangsamoro people was not heard instead the government came up with a unilateral and arbitrary act, without consulting the parties concerned like the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) and the MNLF.”
Issues related to the implementation of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement had been a source of tension between the two camps.
Earlier this year, MNLF fighters led by Ustadz Habier Malik “detained” a group led by Muslim convert Marine Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino in Jolo, Sulu.
Dolorfino, who also uses the name Ben Muhammad, went with Undersecretary for Peace Ramon Santos and 13 others to the MNLF’s Camp Jabal Ubod in Panamao, Sulu in the morning of Feb. 2 to talk with MNLF representatives headed by Malik. The group included two colonels, a junior officer, nine enlisted men, and several members of Santos’ staff.
The talks were to tackle the holding of a tripartite meeting, proposed late last year by the MNLF, with the GRP and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).
The tripartite meeting was to address issues related to the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, and Malik’s group was protesting its repeated postponement by the GRP.
In the afternoon of that same day, Dolorfino and his group were prevented from leaving the camp, and were only released after agreeing with Malik and his men on a schedule for the tripartite meeting.
The tripartite meeting scheduled for March 17 this year was yet again postponed, and to make matters worse two grandsons of MNLF state chairman Khaid Ajibon were fired upon by soldiers while on an errand in the market of Indanan, Sulu on Feb. 17. This was followed by a bombardment of Ajibon’s headquarters, also in Indanan, and a massacre in Patikul.
The MNLF retaliated and in the wave of fighting that took place, more than 80,000 were displaced.
1996 Peace Agreement, Phase I
“Most of the controversies and differences of opinion between the government and the MNLF are with respect to Phase I of the Agreement,” Ibrahim explained to Bulatlat.
Signed on Sept. 2, 1996, the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement provides among other things for the organization of MNLF forces to be integrated into the AFP into separate units. This is covered in Phase I of the Final Peace Agreement, which provides that:
“a. Five thousand seven hundred fifty (5,750) MNLF members shall be integrated into the Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP), 250 of whom shall be absorbed into the auxiliary services. The government shall exert utmost efforts to establish the necessary conditions that would ensure the eventual integration of the maximum number of the remaining MNLP forces into the Special Regional Security Force (SRSF) and other agencies and instrumentalities of the government There shall be a special socio-economic, cultural and educational program to cater to MNLF forces not absorbed into the AFP PNP and the SRSF to prepare them and their families for productive endeavors, provide for educational, technical skills and livelihood training and give them priority for hiring in development projects.
“b. In the beginning, the MNLF forces will join as units distinct from AFP units. They will be initially organized into separate units within a transition period, until such time that mutual confidence is developed as the members of these separate-units will be gradually integrated into regular AFP units deployed in the area of autonomy. Subjects to existing laws, policies, rules and regulations, and approbate authorities shall waive the requirements and qualifications for entry of MNLF forces into the AFP.
“c. One from among the MNLF will assume the functions and responsibilities of a Deputy Commander of the Southern Command AFP, for separate units that will be organized out of the MNLF forces joining the AFP. The Deputy Commander will assist the Commander of the Southern Command AFP in the command, administration and control of such separate units throughout the aforementioned transition period. The Deputy Commander will he given an appointment commensurate to his position and shall be addressed as such.”
The organization of the MNLF forces joining the AFP into separate units, which was specifically agreed upon, never took place.
“The Agreement actually calls for the establishment of separate military units,” Ibrahim said. “But what the government did is the opposite.”
Worse, the AFP has over the past six years engaged in what MNLF vice chairman Jimmy Labawan described as “provocative actions” that have forced the MNLF to retaliate.
In October 2001, the military was then in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits who had abducted tourists in Sipadan, Malaysia. At one point they announced the defeat of an “Abu Sayyaf contingent” in Talipao, Sulu.
The massacre in Talipao led the MNLF, just five years after signing a peace agreement with the government, to once more take up arms. According to MNLF leader Nur Misuari, a former political science professor at UP who was then ARMM governor, the Talipao massacre was a “violation” of the 1996 peace agreement.
Misuari, who was then in Malaysia, ended up being arrested and subsequently detained in a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (38 kms south of Manila). He is presently under house arrest in New Manila, Quezon City.
Since October 2001, there has been sporadic fighting between the AFP and the MNLF.
The MNLF traces its origins to a massacre of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters recruited by the government in 1968 for a scheme to occupy Sabah, an island near Mindanao to which the Philippines has a historic claim.
Sabah ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965). His successor Ferdinand Marcos conceived a scheme involving the recruitment of Moro fighters to occupy the island.
The recruits were summarily executed by their military superiors in 1968, in what is now known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre.
The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year. The MNLF waged an armed revolutionary struggle against the GRP for an independent Muslim state in Mindanao.
The Marcos government, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace and signed an agreement with the MNLF in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1970s. The pact involved the grant of autonomy to the Moro peoples.
The Marcos government insisted on a plebiscite to settle the coverage of the autonomous government that would be established. The MNLF refused to recognize the results of the plebiscite and peace negotiations bogged down.
GRP-MNLF peace negotiations went on and off until 1996, when the two parties signed a Final Peace Agreement. This same Agreement is slated for review in Jeddah in the next few days.
“Hopefully (the review) would be a good step toward a better understanding and knowledge on the implementation of the Peace Agreement,” Ibrahim said. “Because there is no other effective means to solve the problem than for the contending parties to meet across the negotiating table.” Bulatlat