Erap Estrada on the Moro Problem

Former President Erap Estrada has not been coy about his intention to commence “all-out” war against the MILF. In this article entitled “Erap: Government weak vs. MILF”, this “all-out” war position is further clarified.

Government is weak.

“Government should negotiate in position of strength. But right now, government is being weak. That is why so many lives are sacrificed and continued to be sacrificed with kidnappings, terrorism and massacre talking place,” he said.

All-out war is the policy.

“The former president said he is still bent on an all-out war against terrorists and rebel groups in Mindanao, particularly against the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf extremist groups.

I wouldn’t changed a thing. I would still do the same thing all over again. No regrets about having dealt with the problem that way. And if elected again as president, Estrada said, he is determined to crush the rebels in the south with an iron fist.

Estrada launched an all-out offensive against the separatist rebels which led to the downfall of the once impregnable Camp Abubakar, the MILF’s main camp in Central Mindanao.” (BM)

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Fairness requires “all-party” talks

So what do I think would constitute a “fair process”? Let’s start with the “who”, i.e. the parties that should be on the negotiating table.

A “fair process” requires that all relevant parties are represented and heard on the negotiating table. Right now, the negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a two party negotiations  (the GRP peace panel, headed by Amb. Rafael E. Seguis and the MILF peace panel, headed by Mohaqer Iqbal) which is severely limited and fails to fulfill the requirement of “fairness in process”. The parties need to be expanded to cover broadest segment of stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process.

Since the GRP-MILF peace process (and yes, even the GRP-MNLF peace process) speaks of solving what has been alternately called, the “Bangsamoro Problem”, the “Mindanao Problem”, or the “Muslim Insurgency”, which essentially consists of determining, once and for all, the final political status (e.g. nationality and citizenship) of Muslims in Southern Philippines, there is a need to have all the relevant parties on board in one, single peace process. If we are talking about the same people, the same areas, the same issues, the same problems, why insist on separate processes?

The “relevant parties” I  think should include the following:

1. Representatives of the National Government, consisting of both Executive and Legislative Branches;
2. Representatives of the Bangsamoro, consisting of the MILF, the MNLF, political leaders
3. Representatives of Christians communities, consisting of local government officials, other leaders;
4. Representatives of the Indigenous Peoples;

If we implement this concept of an “all-party” negotiations today, the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur will be radically changed. Imagine if have the following personalities negotiating in Kuala Lumpur, all of them seriously looking for ways to bring peace to Mindanao:

For the Philippine State:
Amb. Rafael E. Seguis representing the National Government;
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, representing GRP, Senate of the Philippines;
Cong. Prospero Nograles, representing GRP, House of Representatives;

For the Bangsamoro People
Mohaqer Iqbal, representing the MILF
Nur Misuari, representing the MNLF
ARMM Gov. Ansarrudin Alonto Adiong
Gov. Khalid Dimaporo, representing Lanao del Norte
Gov. Mamintal Adiong, representing Lanao del Sur
Gov. Sakur Tan, representing Sulu
Gov. Jum Akbar, representing Basilan;
Gov. Sadikul Sahali, representing Tawi-Tawi
OIC Gov. Gani Biruar, representing Maguindanao

For the christian communities:
Gov. Jesus Sacdalan representing Cotabato;
Gov. Daisy Avance Fuentes, representing South Cotabato;
Gov. Suharto Mangudadatu, representing Sultan Kudarat;
Mayor Celso Lobregat, representing Zamboanga City;
Mayor Lawrence Cruz, representing Iligan City;

For the indigenous peoples of Mindanao
A representative of the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao;

I can already feel the tremendous energy that will be generated in our quest for peace and development if we convert the present two-party negotiations to an “all-party” one. I can almost see in the horizon a just, durable and comprehensive peace  agreement, which while might not be what each party desired at the onset, is an outcome that the parties are willing to accept and defend because the process has been fundamentally fair. This in itself will ensure the success and durability of any agreement. (BM)

Peace negotiations as fundamental fairness

Peace negotiation is essentially about fairness.

One can sometimes be misled into looking at peace negotiations only from a “technician” point-of-view and thus,be tempted to rely on “techniques” like “constructive ambiguity”, “low-ball/high ball”, or even “sandbagging” but these methods can only bring you so far.

Negotiations is an “emotional” process

Negotiations involve “human beings” and thus must be seen as an “emotional” process rather than a logical one. They are not about documents, drafts, matrices or initial positions per se. Even seemingly “rational” sessions like Q&A sessions, while appearing to be “detached” and “clinical”, are not. In fact, they constitute opportunities for the parties to “feel” out each other. All sessions are about feelings and emotions, bar none. Thus, the first order of business in any negotiations is an updated “emotional scan” of the actors involved.

2 Facets of Fairness.

Back to fairness. The “fairness” that I am talking about consists of 2 things: fairness-in-outcome (also known “social justice”) and fairness-in-procedure (also known as “procedural justice”).

At the root of armed conflicts are a set of grievances which require a fundamental shift  in present structural and social relationships in order for the conflict to end. Social change is the goal of peace negotiations. These “shifts” usually are detailed and spelled out in a comprehensive compact.

Hand-in-hand with a comprehensive compact for social change, it is equally important that the process in attaining that outcome must be fair. In short, the fair outcome must be attained through a fair process. This is the tricky part as there can be a divergence of views as to what constitutes a fair process. Still it must be reiterated that the search for a fair process is as important as the search for a fair outcome.

Even from a purely pragmatic point-of-view, a comprehensive compact has a better chance of succeeding if there is a significant consensus among stakeholders that the process that led to the outcome was fundamentally fair. In fact, studies have shown that parties are even willing to accept a less than desirable outcome if they feel and perceive that the process was, on the whole, fair.