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.

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