11 Peace Outcomes

The lack of agreement is on the “means”

The MILF earlier issued its “11 General Features of the MILF comprehensive compact proposal” and the Government, in turn, countered with its “11 Characteristics of the government proposal”. Both papers outlined and described their solutions to the Mindanao problem. After the Kuala Lumpur meeting, it is obvious that there is no agreement or consensus. The MILF described the gap as “heaven and earth” while the Government sees the gap as “workable”. Is it a case of describing a glass of water as half-full or half-empty? Most probably. If there is one thing that is certain, the clear lack of agreement by the parties is one on the “means” of achieving a set of outcomes. But with respect to ends and outcomes, I think that the parties are actually nearer to each other.  This is an area where the parties can actually come up with a substantial agreement.

 

Design peace agreement by reverse.

Designing peace agreement is easier if done in the reverse. This means that the parties can move forward by articulating and agreeing first on a set of desired outcomes and then work backwards by designing the means of achieving those outcomes and coming up with clear indicators of determining whether those outcomes are attained or not. It is not too late to start with this fundamental step.  The negotiations has been ongoing for several years and yet a fundamental agreement on specific aims and outcomes have not been made. The parties presumed that there is an agreement on outcomes. There is actually none on paper. Although the fundamental agreement to craft a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace” has animated the talks, this is too general and too vague for purposes of negotiations.

When faced with an obstacle, do a sidestep.

Without rejecting any proposal and embracing the paradox of “heaven and earth” and “workable”, one can actually see the possibility of the parties moving forward by agreeing on a set of peace of outcomes. This is not to “derogate” prior agreements but to do a “sidestep” in the meantime to avoid what seems to be a polarized situation. As they say, “Peace is like riding a bicycle, one has to continue pedaling in order not to fall.” On the other hand, we also need to guard that peace talks do not degenerate to a “paikot” scheme.

11 Peace Outcomes.

From my point of view as an outsider, the Government and MILF can agree on the following peace outcomes:

1. Corrects the imbalance of totality of relationship between Filipinos and Moros.

2. Creates mutual trust amongst peoples of our country.

3. Gives recognition and justice to the ancestral homeland of the Moros.

4. Takes into account the realities of underdevelopment, demographic shifts and diversity.

5. Gives the Moros a modest share and taste of the remaining 7-9 percent of the lands, wealth and resources.

6. Delivers good and effective governance, social services and foster economic development as soon as possible.

7. Recognizes the Moro aspiration for separate national identity while retaining their Filipino citizenship.

8. Maximizes people’s creativity, resourcefulness, and initiative.

9. Disarms, demobilizes, and rehabilitates combatants.

10. Fruit of genuine public consensus.

11. Benefits not only Moros and the indigenous peoples, but also the Filipinos.

Designing by Outcomes

Once an agreement on peace outcomes is made, the parties can discussed ways and means to attain the outcomes. By doing this, the parties avoid the positional type of negotiations and really engage in problem solving. The parties can now evaluate each other’s proposal based on a external standard which they themselves created rather than just say agree or disagree. Furthermore, broader Philippine society can also contribute to finding solutions to attain the outcomes. After all, this is not just the problem of the MILF and the Government.

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The MILF and Government are both correct

According to the MILF, the gap between the proposals is “heaven and earth”. According to the Government, the gap is “workable and not too far apart”. Who is right and who is wrong? Both of them are right! They are just looking at the problem with different frames. They are using differently colored lenses. They are right in their own respective frames.

The frame is the single most powerful aspect of the negotiations and yet not much attention is given to it. Why? Because the frame is “outside” and precedes the negotiations. While everybody is looking at the text of the proposals and nobody is looking at the “eyeglasses” that are used in reading the proposals. The frame is complete even before the first words in the proposals were written, even before the first words were spoken at the table. The frame determines how the negotiators and their principals view the problem and controls the range of options and possibilities that they are willing to consider. The frame provides the emotional content that drives the negotiations too. The frame determines the words used in the proposals: “substate”, “self-determination”, “homeland”, “constitution”, national territory”, “governance”, “massive resources”, etc.

Framing is necessary to live in this world. We all need to frame, as framing is our way of making sense of reality. Framing organizes what is otherwise meaningless and unconnected phenomena and provides clarity and significance to everything that happens in the world. A frame defines who we are. Things we learn at school, the stories we heard, and our life experiences in accordance to the sequence of time create our frames. We take frames for granted. We never question them or find a way to change them unless we are forced by external, unplanned events, i.e. death of a loved one, catastrophe, etc.

The good thing about frames is that it can be changed and the first step is awareness – awareness of the frames that determine our perception of persons, events and challenges. Until one is aware of the dominant frame and is able to “escape” the clutches of the frame, it would be difficult to think or generate new ideas. All ideas are the logical outcomes of the frames. To expect new ideas from old frames would be like trying to squeeze milk from a stone.

Changing frames however is also difficult. Since, ultimately, the frame involves the ego; it will resist any effort of change. Despite our usual public pronouncements that we do not have the monopoly of the truth, deep down inside, we actually believe that we do. We know better than anyone else. Not one of us wants himself or his thinking challenged. The fundamental belief of the ego is that it is right and that the other person is wrong. The compulsion of the self is to defend itself by persuading others to change their frames. Why? Negating the other frames gives strength and validates our frame. Since external effort to change frames is futile, change then can only come from the within the frame, within the person, within the self. Change must come voluntarily. And this happens only when the self is made aware that the frame is a frame.

So how do we move from here? I think we should all try to sit back and relax – whether by the cool swamps of the Liguasan, or the mighty river Pasig, or in the lush green Sunken Garden of Diliman – find a corner, create some personal time, get a cup of coffee, perhaps some caramelized not-so-ripe saba skewered on a thin bamboo stick, a piece of paper and a pen and answer questions like these:

  1. What is this all about? “This negotiations is about _______________.”
  2. What is non-negotiable in these talks? “Ultimately, I will never sign an agreement that has ________ in it.”
  3. What is most essential in any future agreement? “I will only sign an agreement that has __________ in it.”

Of course, we know the answers to these questions already but it wouldn’t hurt to get a piece of paper and write it down. The trick is to commit our answers in writing so that our frames are placed out in the open and open to scrutiny.

There will be no durable and sustainable agreement until the respective frames of the parties, especially the principals, are fully examined and discussed. Without a change in frames, this conflict will be settled by the rule of force and violence. This is why all peacemakers must help in making the parties be aware of their frames. The consequences are dire.

And the difference in frames is not limited to the parties. Within the Government and the MILF, between the negotiators and their principals, there are different frames, which makes it doubly important negotiators and principals to discuss their unexamined frames. By doing so, the negotiators can fully represent and communicate the minds of their principals. Furthermore, some frames might have been effective in the past but is now an obstacle to peace. The possibilities are endless if the frames are examined and pondered upon. Perhaps this is should be our next step: a collective examination of the frames that dominate us as a nation which limits the possibilities of peace in our land.

ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.” (Source: http://www.jainworld.com/literature/story25.htm)

Questions and Answers

How different is the Comprehensive Compact from the previous drafts that the MILF or the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had proposed, such as the MOA-AD?

There is no substantial difference between the Comprehensive Compact, the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) and other similar agreements. These proposals all flow from a particular view of what the problem is and how it can be solved. For the MILF (and they have been fairly consistent), the problem is political – the illegal and unjust incorporation of the Bangsamoro people into the Philippine State. The solution therefore is also political — the exercise of self-determination by the Bangsamoro People. The MILF’s strategy is one of incrementalism and pragmatism. While proposals may vary in some details from time to time, the end goals have always been the same: a political agreement that will fundamentally reshape the present relationship between the Filipino People and the Bangsamoro People.

For all intents and purposes, the MILF has ceased being a separatist group. It has thus created, it would seem, the same revolutionary vacuum that the MNLF created in 1976, after signing the Tripoli Agreement, and the MILF subsequently filled. Is history repeating itself? Or is the problem simply that intractable so that we seem to see a repetition of a cycle here?

It might not be correct to say that the MILF has ceased to be a separatist group. The MILF is a separatist group that is however open to a solution that will grant the Bangsamoro People the “highest form of autonomy.” What is not separatist is the draft they offered to the Philippine Government. Independence however remains to be part of its options. Being separatist or not cannot be frozen in time. The MILF can always go back to a call for independence if the current negotiations do not gain headway or if its constituencies and commanders on the ground change their minds.

The government insists that the Constitution is not the problem, countering the MILF’s position that it is a stumbling block in the search for a solution, as happened apparently with the MOA-AD. Some people tend to agree that there seems to be no way to get around the Constitution on this substate issue. Or is that a wrong perspective?

The Constitution is a challenge for both. The government sees that it cannot offer anything that requires changing the Constitution. Government’s strategy then is to convince the MILF to agree on matters which will not require changing the Constitution, i.e. super economic package (a mini-Marshall Plan), a transparent and accountable ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), etc. For the MILF, the thinking is that a basic restructuring of Filipino-Bangsamoro relations requires constitutional change. The logic is that without constitutional change, the basic relationship remains unaltered. If government and MILF do not change their minds, then they will have to find a way that signals a basic restructuring of Filipino-Bangsamoro relations without requiring a restructuring of the Philippine Constitution.

Some Filipinos, particularly in Zamboanga, are still wary of any pact with the MILF. You think both sides are doing enough  to assuage their fear? Would a plebiscite or referendum of the pact address that?

The fears of the people in Zamboanga and other Christian-dominated areas in Mindanao come from their own experience and mindsets. It has been said that the mind can only see what it is ready to see. So the question is how do you change minds? How do you change perceptions so that they can see the peace agreement with the MILF as something to be welcomed rather than feared? Work in these aspects has not been fully attended to by both the government and the MILF.

What did that meeting in Tokyo signify? The OPAPP press release says it was President Benigno S. Aquino III himself who sought to meet MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Why do you think he would do that?

President Aquino is a “hands-on” President. He wants to understand the problem personally and to solve it in his watch. In meeting with Chairman Murad in Tokyo, President Aquino shared his views of the problem, the parameters of the probable solutions and proposals on how to approach the negotiations. The Tokyo meeting was a high-level diplomatic move. In a sense, President Aquino “negotiated” the broad aspects of the agreement and it is now up to his negotiators to hammer out the details.

Published also in Interaksyon.

1 Common Spokesperson for GPH-MILF Talks

The Tokyo Meeting between President Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad signals a new relationship between the Government and the MILF – a new relationship that is characterized as “not of adversaries  but partners in problem-solving”. This new relationship must now transform how the parties communicate to each other, to the people of Mindanao, the larger Philippine public and the whole world.

If in the past, the structure of communication was one of conflict – unilateral, taking and defending a position and critical of each other, the new communication structure must be one of common effort, exploration and positivity. In order to effect this change, the parties need a new structure of communication.

Our suggestion is for the parties to designate an independent, impartial and highly eminent third person to communicate to the public on what is happening inside the negotiations. We must put an end to unilateral communications where communications is part of negotiations strategy.

There should be no other source of information. Real partners speak with one voice and therefore the parties must now do away from speaking unilaterally and separately. Speaking with one voice does not mean that there are no problems or challenges in the room. It only means that whatever happens inside the negotiations, the public will be informed by one source designated by the parties. In this way, communication is not anymore an extension of conflict, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This will also help negotiators focus on the more crucial task of negotiating rather than thinking also of how to communicate to the public.

Objectives, Benefits and Values: A Way Out of Restrictive Negotiations

One way to escape the clutches of a restrictive negotiations process is to move from the usual debate, clash and discussion of position papers and “non-negotiables” to an exploration of expected benefits and values – Why do you want this? What benefit or value do you think you will derive or acquire if we do exactly what you want? Perhaps there are other ways and means to achieve the same results?

Edward De Bono, creator of Lateral Thinking, differentiates between objective, benefits and values.

 An objective is something that you set out to achieve. It is something towards which you aim your efforts. An objective can be defined. You take steps towards your objective. You make action decisions depending on whether the action is going to advance you to your objective.

A benefit, on the other hand, is something that flows from the achieved objective, A benefit is something that affects you in a beneficial way. The benefit is a benefit because it delivers a value. The reason you aim for an objective is that you believe it will deliver the benefits once you get there.

A value is what is delivered by a benefit. A value is a way of looking at something. One man isolated in a hut on a deserted island may value the peace and the natural environment. Another man might hate boredom. One may welcome the organized routine and predictability of army life. Another man may find it oppressive and restricting. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Embedded in the stated objectives and position papers are the not-so-obvious benefits and values. The parties need to articulate and explain them in the open so that there can be no misunderstanding. To do this, the parties need to shift their minds from the paradigm of friend or enemy, aggressor or aggrieved or oppressor or oppressed and try to look at each other as a persons of good will, who seek the nothing but the good for themselves and their people, have clear interests and wanting certain benefits. This kind of mind shift has begun with the high level meeting of President Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad and now needs to be continued at the level of the negotiating panels and even on the ground.

Of course, every party to a conflict would insist that the only way for them to secure the benefits and values they desire is through the achievement of their stated objectives as outlined in their position paper, otherwise they would appear inconsistent. Is it really the only way? Well, they  could be right in the end that it is the only way but until a real and honest exploration of alternatives and possibilities is made, we will never find out.

While conflicting parties may have differing views of the situation or problem, want different things and have different values, it does not mean that they cannot find a solution that benefits all or at least while it benefits one does not harm the other.  The attainment of a certain objective by one need not be to the detriment of the other. It is not always a zero-sum game where the benefit of one leads to the disbenefit of another. If we design a solution that takes into account all the benefits and values that the parties desire while at the same time making sure that no party is harmed, then that solution might work. This the Plan Red or Magenta that I was talking about.

The suggestion then is to shift focus of the peace talks from a discussion of position papers to an exploration of benefits, values and alternatives, possibilities and choices to attain those benefits and values. Who knows? A thousand flowers of options, alternatives and new ideas may bloom.

It is expected of course for a party to the conflict to be wary and suspicious of a suggestion to explore benefits and values first before looking at position papers as it might be another ploy by the other to weaken one’s position or misdirect the Talks. It may also send a wrong signal to combatants on the ground that their negotiators are not anymore steadfast or worse, have abandoned the cause. These are real implications and dangers which the parties need to address.

Can the parties do this – exploration of benefits and values – by themselves, without the aid of a facilitator. I think they cannot. The parties need a facilitator for this. The role however of the facilitator must now be an active one. The parties cannot limit the facilitator’s role to providing a communication line to each other. The facilitator now must think together with the parties. He must challenge and expand the thinking of the parties.

In the context of the GPH-MILF talks, the International Contact Group composed of UK, Japan, Turkey, The Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah and Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue can also host similar exploration conversations on benefits and values on the ground and among non-negotiators but key influencers and stakeholders and feed the results to the so-called Track 1 negotiations. xxx

Escape the clutches of the current negotiation setup to attain peace

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

After the meeting of Philippine President Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad in Tokyo, the real work for peace begins. The work now consists of looking for new, fresh and effective ideas to consider and build an agreement.

But how can the parties get new ideas? A place to start is to be aware that the current setup is not designed for agreement. In fact, it is a setup for deadlock and non-agreement. If they are aware that a deadlock or non-movement is due to the mechanism and design of the peace process (and not because of each other) then they might be able to escape the clutches of the current setup and achieve a peace agreement.

Let me explain. The Philippine Government have their own frames, ideas and proposals that they will bring to the negotiating table by August 22. The MILF had already submitted their frames, ideas and proposals.  Right now, it can be presumed that both parties are so convinced of the practicality, justness and rationality of their respective positions that as far as they are concerned their proposals are the right proposals and the purpose of the sessions in Kuala Lumpur is make the other party see the “truth” of their positions. So everyone’s grand strategy is to convince the other guy. All the preparations that the parties are doing this very minute revolves around explaining and defending their positions. All of them are tensed.

The theory in traditional negotiations (and the GPH-MILF negotiations is in one) is that when the parties negotiate (trying to change each other’s mind), the parties will find “common ground” and achieve a  “compromise” agreement. The results of this kind of setup has not been encouraging – whether in the Philippines or elsewhere.

This type of negotiations is severely limited. Why?

Because the traditional negotiations process does not allow for an joint exploration by the parties of a wider area of thinking, of other possibilities other than those they have already thought of, other than those already present in their minds.

Both parties have to play the game of negotiations: defend your positions and evaluate and oppose the other guy’s position. The parties are like horses on a race track – with blinders not of their own making.

Again, this is not the fault of the parties. It does not show lack of good will, intention or desire to agree. It is just that the structure of negotiations does not give the parties an opportunity to relax their positions. The negotiations have no feature for the parties to put their respective hard positions in a safe corner and say: “dyan ka muna” and then explore jointly a wider area of thinking to look at other possibilities – options they haven’t thought of but might attain the same ends, give the same benefit with the least hurdles or impediments in implementation. The negotiations does not have a feature that assures the parties that they can always go back to their initial positions but not after exploring a wider area of possibilities. In a sense, the parties need a design feature that says:

“OK, you have chosen a tree to dance around but you still have time to go and explore the forest and look at the other trees. Malay mo may mapupusuan kang iba na mas maganda. In any case, you can always go back to this tree and say: “I have seen all the trees in the forest and frankly my dear you are the best of all that I have seen.”

If one party says: “Plan ‘Blue’ is the answer to peace in Mindanao and the other party says: “No, it is Plan ‘Green’”, they are severely limiting themselves to their current level of thinking and there will be no end to the debates. At best, the parties will sign a compromise agreement to implement “Plan Cyan” – which is what you get if you mix the colors green and blue – leaving both parties not happy and the conflict unresolved and untransformed.

But there may be Plans ‘Red’, ‘Magenta’, ‘Purple’ and a host of other possibilities which they miss to look at because their thinking have been transfixed on their current proposals. Sadly this what negotiations is all about – defend, debate and argue rather than a joint exploration of new ideas and possibilities. The parties miss out on the other possibilities because their minds are not “relaxed”. All their energies are focused on defending their plans and arguing how the other’s plan would not work.

When we contemplate solely at one color, we miss out on the rainbow of possibilities. And when we miss out on the rainbow, we also miss our chance at finding that proverbial pot of gold.

(Next: A Proposal to escape the clutches of current negotiations setup)

Comparing the views of Gov’t and MILF on the Tokyo Meeting

The big news of course is the unprecedented meeting between Philippine President Aquino and Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo two nights ago. There are a lot of things to be excited and speculate about.  To add clarity to the post-Tokyo discussion, I found time this morning to make a comparison of the official statements of the MILF and Government Chief Negotiator Marvic Leonen. This is nothing but “cut and paste”. But I learned a lot. Here it is:

Flags and Banners: Peace Negotiators’ Dilemma

Standards.

The need to communicate makes it easy for parties to paint themselves in a corner and makes it more difficult to achieve an agreement. From my point of view, there is no bad faith or ill intent. The parties earnestly want an agreement. The fault lies in the structure and mechanics of traditional negotiations – the conditions of secrecy and the lack of constant, day-to-day communication. Let me explain.

In the days of old, warring armies have their standards and these standards or banners have both symbolic and practical value. Standards define the territory or portion of the territory that is said to be under their control. Standards also tell the combatants where to regroup in case they are scattered. The armies look up to the standards – if the standard advances, they advance. If however the standard retreats, they retreat. The capture of the standard means surrender and defeat. One of the more important functions of a standard is to tell sympathizers how the battle is being fought and that they are winning.

Secrecy.

Present-day peace negotiations, including the ones with the MILF and the CPP-NPA-NDF, are no different. They may look different – there is no blood and gore, no knights in shining armor battling with each other, no colorful standards – but they are of the same mold. The weapons now, instead of swords and spears, are words, argument and pressure. Because of the dominant idea in negotiations that secrecy is needed, the “battle” has now a limited set of “combatants” – negotiators, consultants and technical staff. However, there is a need for the “combatants” to telegraph, to tell its supporters and sympathizers, what’s happening inside the negotiations battle. They need to communicate how they are “not yielding any ground”, how they are “winning” and how people should not worry because the combatants remain committed to their goals and to the instructions of their “principals”. They need to assuage and build the confidence of their larger publics that everything is going according to the original plan. This communication is needed for continuing support and confidence of the bigger public. In short, while in the past the form was in actual “standards” fluttering in the battlefields, now the standards are in form of banner statements in mass and new media, e.g. MindaNews, Philippine Daily Inquirer or Star or ABS CBN or GMA or through their websites. Thus, the need for secrecy in negotiations leads to the need to issue sweeping, banner statements to telegraph what’s happening inside the negotiations to the bigger public.

Lack of Constant Communication.

Intermittent meetings also characterize present-day negotiations. Since the meetings are almost “diplomatic” in nature, the parties do not talk to each other constantly. They talk only during the formal meetings. Parties, and with good reasons behind it, want to talk only in the presence of the facilitator and in a meeting called for such purpose. Thus, while the problems on the ground arise on a day-to-day basis, the parties talk only once a month or every 2 months. If the parties talk only once a month, where do they get information about what the other party is thinking or doing in the meantime? Most probably in the website of the other party and in the banner statements that captured the interest of mass media. And what do they read in these banner statements? That the other side’s position is fixed, hard and unchanging – matters which are meant for public consumption and not for negotiations. Will the negotiators on the other side react strongly to these banner statements? You bet. They have no choice. Otherwise their own publics would think that they are being defeated or that they have lost the battle. Would the negotiators of the other side take the banner statements as public statements and therefore harmless as far as the negotiations are concerned? Most probably not. There lies the problem. Public banner statements are now part of the “private”, i.e. secret and confidential, negotiations.

Dilemma.

It is clear that negotiators need to communicate to at least to 2 publics – the larger public and to each other. They need to communicate to the larger public that they are winning the fight, that their positions are fixed and that there is no surrendering their standards and yet, at the same time, they need to communicate to the other side other that their standards are neither fixed nor rigid and that somehow an agreement can be obtained. The dilemma for negotiators is clear: they need to inform their larger publics and principals that their positions are fixed, unchanging and they will never surrender the standards and yet, they need to communicate to each other that somehow their positions are not fixed, malleable and can be changed. But how can you do this today? In the days of old, this 2 type of communication, i.e. one for public consumption and another for negotiations, is easy. However in this age of cellphones, Internet, Facebook, yahoogroups, etc., you cannot control or limit access to any communication anymore. There are no more insiders or outsiders. Communication is accessible to everyone.

(Next: Designing a Way Out of the Dilemma)