development
projects in conflict affected areas…” This issue, like that on the acknowledgement
of MILF camps, had sovereignty and territory implications for both sides, even
if to a lesser degree. But the dynamics between the MILF and GRP on this was
aggravated by internal dynamics within the GRP, including between its regular
peace panel and the back-channel negotiators. The latter dynamics was a classic
example of the government’s lack of coordination and strategic coherence in the
GRP-MILF peace negotiations.

GRP
peace panel Chair Jesus G. Dureza wanted to put up a development set-up which
was elaborate, following a consultation process. It would have provincial
development committees with tri-people representation. This would take too
long. It would have a partnership concept like the Southern Philippines Council
for Peace and Development (SPCPD) for the MNLF. The MILF looked at such an
elaborate system with suspicion. They were looking for control and authority,
as connoted by the agreed terms to “determine, lead and manage,” and so
rejected a consultation model.

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 And so GRP back-channel negotiator Silvestre
C. Afable, Jr. thought of an NGO-type project implementing body, and the
parties eventually settled on this, not the MILF itself directly managing
development projects but an MILF-initiated NGO, the BDA. Earlier, the lawyer
Dureza had argued that the MILF has no legal personality to implement projects
which is part of governance. The non-lawyer Murad had countered that the
agreement itself provides the legality. 18 All told, this issue occupied the
parties for about seven months from October 2001 to May 2002 when it was
resolved at the negotiation level after President Arroyo suspended the regular
panel in favor of the back-channel negotiators.

If
we look at current second suspension of more than one and a half years as of
from February 2003 to September 2004, the main stumbling block issues for a
second resumption of peace negotiations––AFP withdrawal from Buliok complex,
dropping of criminal charges against MILF leaders for the March–April 2003
Davao bombings, and MILF 9 Soliman M. Santos, Jr. disengagement of any links to
the Al Qaeda affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah are not at all substantive issues of
the Bangsamoro problem but issues of trust and confidence. Major trust, at
least from the MILF perspective, has been broken twice within a period of three
years, and so its two demands for resumption are some sort of test of
seriousness of the GRP.

The
thinking in the MILF is that if the GRP cannot comply or deliver on small
agreements or matters, then how can it be expected to do so when it comes to
big agreements on substantive issues. Compliance with the two demands was
finally completed in August– September 2004. But still, the negotiations did
not resume in the last quarter of 2004, indicating there must be other
bottlenecks (the ball was now with Malaysia) or unfinished business, e.g. the
phasing in of the Malaysian led International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the
formation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) on criminal interdiction to
fully secure the ceasefire. The GRP for its part also wants proof of the MILF’s
avowed renunciation of terrorism and terrorist links, a major concern of the
GRP because of its strong alignment with the U.S.-led global war on terror. It
has thus calibrated or graduated its responses to the MILF’s two demands for
resumption, e.g. partial or gradual withdrawal from Buliok, and suspension of
warrants of arrest in lieu of dropping of criminal charges. Seen as significant
initial proof of MILF’s help in the war on terror is its intelligence
cooperation with the August 2004 AFP air strike which hit the U.S.-listed
“foreign terrorist organization” Pentagon gang leader Tahir Alonto and his
companions at their hideout in Liguasan Marsh, generally considered an MILF
area. But doubts about the MILF’s terrorist links persist, mainly from some
military and police intelligence quarters. One major obstacle is the high level
of distrust,22 clearly seen more in the negotiations with the MILF than with
the MNLF. Oquist noted and described it this way: “Some in the AFP consider
that the MILF non-insistence on independence or other political demands hides a
continued commitment to independence in the future. Likewise, there are
elements in all of the insurgent groups that doubt the political will and good
faith of the GRP in the negotiation process.

There
are still high levels of mistrust and lack of confidence on both sides, despite––and
partly because of all of the years of peace contacts and negotiations.”23 One
might say that the historical and social basis of this distrust between the
negotiating parties and panels are the deep social, cultural, and religious
cleavages between the peoples they purportedly represent, the Filipino people
and the Bangsamoro people. This must count as an obstacle, too, to the
negotiations, a settlement, and its implementation. It is a basic concern which
cannot be addressed mainly by the negotiations but needs a broader people-to
people peace process.

In
a vicious cycle, every outbreak of hostility and disruption in the negotiations
reinforce the high distrust and the deep cleavages. At the same time, some
disruptions, transitions and lulls during the current second suspension were
unavoidable, excusable, or not attributable to the will of the parties or other
forces. To be sure, certain transitional developments involving all key players
unavoidably contributed to extended suspension: the U.S. entry into the
negotiations scene in May 2003, the demise of long-time MILF Chairman Hashim in
July 2003, the retirement of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in
October 2003, the long Philippine election period from campaigning to
proclamation spanning the first half of 2004 followed by at least two full
months (July–August 2004) spent reorganizing the government’s political
departments, and the wait for the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections in
November 2004.

At
least the main cast is in place before the New Year. As it is, the usual
non-negotiation periods of Ramadan and the Christmas season have also
unavoidably intervened in late 2004. 10 Delays in the Peace Negotiations
between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front But
from the longer view, since the start of the GRP-MILF peace negotiations in
1996, the various disruptions were still mainly due to the dynamics between and
within the parties, especially on the government side. These dynamics have
their roots in competing policy positions. Competing Policy Positions I present
here mainly Dr. Oquist’s analysis of the “extreme protraction of the peace
process” due to competing policy positions,24 which is one of the main
obstacles to achieving a negotiated settlement in the GRP-MILF peace
negotiations and to implementing agreements, whether interim or final. In the
Oquist analysis, there has been the existence across the years of essentially
three competing policy positions in Filipino society, in the government, in the
armed forces, and in civil society at the Bangsamoro, Mindanao and national
levels.

The
“pacification and demobilization” position consists of negotiating concessions
(maximum from adversary, minimum from one’s own side) necessary to achieve the
cessation of hostilities and demobilization of rebel combatants, basically to
end the insurgency. This can lead to a pragmatic approach in relation to
tactical objectives on both sides rather than the achievement of strategic,
durable peace. These fast, quick fixes always have appeal but may not lead to
construction of viable, sustainable peace, fall short of it, and are too
superficial. The “military victory” position seeks defeat of the adversary
without concessions. Specifically, in the Philippines, it advocates the
military defeat of the MILF and the NPA, the political defeat or
marginalization of the MNLF, and the extermination of the Abu Sayyaf and other
terrorist and kidnap-forransom groups. Negotiations are useful only for
tactical advantages, including those related to public relations.

Divide-and-rule
is a common tactic. Extremes can easily disrupt ground situations. But it has
never really worked in achieving lasting peace in Philippine history. The
“institutional peace-building” position advocates the short, medium, and
long-term construction of policies and institutions for peace in the economic,
social, political, cultural, and ecological spheres through participatory and
consultative mechanisms. It has high levels of long-term commitment and
motivation of its supporters. It is a long-term endeavor, which needs policy
coherence based on national consensus and an integral, holistic policy
framework. Sometimes these positions combine in different proportions,
especially the first two positions. On paper, like President Arroyo’s Executive
Order No. 3 of February 2001 defining government policy for comprehensive peace
efforts, it might look like an “institutional peace-building” position. But in
practice or operation by the GRP peace negotiators and by the Cabinet Oversight
Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) above them, it has been mainly the
“pacification and demobilization” position and sometimes the “military victory”
position.

And
post-9/11, this has been further dominated by an all-out anti-terrorism
position, itself a policy matter. Predominance of the military and military
solutions, and of a narrow national security doctrine, have impinged on the
peace process long before the U.S-led global war on terror. The latter has only
strengthened the hand of the “hawks” and reinforced an already dominant or
hegemonic ideology of national security, particularly its thrust of
counter-insurgency as the framework to address insurgency or rebellion. The
peace process has become subsumed under such a national or internal security
framework. The peace negotiations in particular, through the Presidential
Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP), have been subject to the COC-IS created by
President Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 12 with a counter-insurgency “Strategy
of Holistic Approach.” 11 Soliman M. Santos, Jr. I round out this discussion on
competing policy positions with the relevant conclusions of a recent study by a
Filipino political scientist Miriam Coronel Ferrer on the dynamics of the
persistent Mindanao conflict.26 One of the six major reasons for its
persistence she identifies is “incoherent peace policy and absence of
peace-building leadership.”

The
former refers to the Philippine government, while the latter refers to both
government and rebel leaders with rare exceptions, notably President Ramos. She
describes this elsewhere as the absence of a type of leadership that is
committed to finding peaceful solutions and instituting lasting peace. Without
leadership, there are only the motions and routines of on-and-off talks, of the
fighting-while-talking mode. 27 The government’s objectives for the peace
process is no longer so much about addressing the root causes of rebellion as
it is demobilizing the rebel forces. And even before Arroyo, there has been the
persistent militarist mentality of degrading the military capability of the
rebels in order to be able to impose a peace settlement on them. There has also
been the “military victory” temptation to try to even finish them off with U.S.
anti-terrorist logistics support, which also funds the AFP’s modernization
aspirations. As for the dynamic among the positions, Oquist noted that all
three of the competing positions are in play in the Mindanao peace process and
they all have significant sources of support in civil society and government,
including the AFP.

None
of these actors and stakeholders, including the AFP and the MILF, are
monolithic in relation to these positions. The relative influence of these
positions varies dynamically across time. The balance among the positions also
makes possible drastic policy shifts. These shifts have occurred not only from
one administration to another but also within one administration. Perhaps the
best example of this in relation to the MILF front was the shift from the
“all-out war” policy of President Estrada in 2000 to the “all-out peace” policy
of President Arroyo in 2001, and then back again to an “all-out war” policy in
2002–03. 25 All told, there is no policy consensus, coherence, or consistency.
Thus, the protraction of peace processes. A second major related reason for the
persistence of the Mindanao conflict identified by Ferrer is the “lack of
national consensus.” No national consensus has been reached on the need to
solve the Mindanao conflict through peace negotiations that could effectively
redistribute political power, economic resources, and social opportunities.

Aside
from national consensus, there is also the problem of Mindanao consensus among
and within the three basic peoples (broadly, the Christians, Muslims and
Lumads) there, not to mention the communist armed struggle factor. It is not
just a question of consensus on the peace process but on its key substantive
issues like the one coming up on ancestral domain. 28 Oquist advances two
conclusions in relation to the competing policy positions. First, peace will
not come out of unilateral policy actions in Mindanao. Second, peace must come
out of the interaction of forces.

 For that to happen, there needs to be
considerable consensus-building on the cost of insecurity in Mindanao, the
urgent necessity for the Philippines as a whole to commit to viable and sustainable
peace with a sense of national ownership. This must take place within the State
and in relation to public opinion, at both the national level and in Mindanao.
The lack of national or Mindanao consensus is partly due to the lack of
participation of other stakeholders (e.g. other Moro groups, Lumads,
Christians, and civil society), and adversely affects support for and
sustainability of the peace process, especially when it comes to the
implementation of agreements. It also results in their issues (e.g. land rights
and indigenous peoples’ rights) not being factored in and addressed properly.
These were major gaps in the GRP-MNLF peace process.

A
Muslim woman peacemaker 12 Delays in the Peace Negotiations between the
Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had these critiques
of participation in the Mindanao peace process: Peace talks were top, high
level, and exclusive, only with the leaders of the MNLF and MILF, with the
exclusion of the vast majority of Bangsamoro, Lumad and Christian settlers No
community-based peace talks and no consensus-building Not fully reflective of
the needs and aspirations of the affected communities and stakeholders No sense
of ownership by the stakeholders, the vast people of Mindanao No sustainability
of peace agreements; communities are uninformed or ignorant of agreements,
hence cannot be vigilant of sustaining and protecting whatever gains there from
29 Impingement of the “Global War on Terror” In contrast or contraposition to
the inconsistent peace policy of the Philippine