Revisiting the 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Pact

Jun. 04, 2006

Hopes are high that a proposal to review the implementation of the 1996 peace accord between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could result in the attainment of peace in Mindanao. But with more losses than gains from the peace pact for the past decade, and with the governments mishandling of the peace situation in Mindanao, just and lasting peace in Mindanao may still be as elusive as before.


In their joint communiqu, the government and the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) urged to review the peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) following a three-day fact finding mission in Mindanao from May 18 to 21.

The OIC mission urged the parties to conduct a review of the implementation and status of the peace agreement and facilitate its full execution.

The government and OIC recommended the holding of a high level tripartite meeting in Jeddah in July; mounting anew efforts to bring the peace in Mindanao with the support of the OIC and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB); resolve the case against MILF Chairman Nur Misuari; sustain the breakthrough peace and unity in Sulu and in Mindanao; convergence of the gains of GRP-MNLF peace agreement and GRP-MILF cooperation; and that the Philippines to continue seeking an observer status in the OIC.

Teresita Ging Deles, former presidential adviser on the peace process, said that the move was long overdue. She also cited the governments peace accord with the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) which needs closure before it reaches its 20th year by September.

Hit or miss

Deles said that concerned agencies like the Office of President Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) relied on a hit or miss approach to address economic concerns of those beneficiaries, mainly combatants and their commanders, because the peace agreement did not provide a detailed implementation of socio-economic development programs and projects.

Economic development was under Phase I of the agreement, where a Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD) shall be put in place to cover 15 provinces, namely Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato. Sarangani, Palawan, including nine cities of Cotabato.

The agreement projected that by 1998, the areas shall have been the focus of development efforts by pouring in public and private investments to entice economic activities and thereby uplift the conditions of the people.

The economic zone shall be under the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD). Deles noted, however, that with vague territorial delineation, the agreement only prospered in areas where the MNLF is strong, particularly in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and some parts of Lanao.

MNLF would claim later on that parties were, lost in the euphoria of the new found peace, nobody noticed that in implementing Executive Order No. 371 signed in October 1996 the stipulated control and/or regulatory powers of the SPCPD was not provided.

The government was set to immediately hold peace talks with MILF, without due participation of the SPCPD, which proved detrimental to peace and development efforts in SZOPAD. MNLF perceived the governments divide and rule tactic that came into play in the succeeding talks with MILF.

On the other hand, Deles said that what needs to be revisited is a more detailed socio-economic plan mainly on livelihood and education. Women for instance, were excluded from holding funds because they do not belong to the state command or to the combatant groups. The combatant group, in its structure, might not be the best way to deliver socio-economic benefits, Deles stressed.


Findings by the OIC-led mission in May showed that the 1996 peace agreement has become dysfunctional, leading to increased tension in the region and to the outbreak of fighting in various areas particularly in Sulu.

The OIC further noted that the tension was incensed by the arrest and detention of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari beginning 2001 at Camp Sta. Rosa in Laguna. Misuari became governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) until 2000 and was taken into custody by the government on rebellion charges amid allegations that he led the hostile attacks to disrupt the ARMM elections in 2001.

According to the MNLF, the deteriorating peace and order condition in the area, the all-out war policy against the MILF rebels during the Estrada regime and unabated terrorist activities of elements such as the Abu Sayyaf Group rendered the SPCPD irrelevant.

Phase one also involved setting up joint regional security machinery, through the integration of 5,750 MNLF members into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the joining of the MNLF elements with the Philippine National Police (PNP).


Events leading to OICs pitch for a July closure of the 1996 peace pact could not go wrong, says Prof. Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. We can draw two assumptions [from this development], it is conspiratorial on one hand and rational on the other.

He said Arroyos most recent Saudi state visit, practically changed her perception of the influential OIC member nation. The PNPs relaxation of Misuaris detention also indicated the closure prospect, he said.

However, Wadi warned the closure of the 1996 peace pact, and the signing for a comprehensive compact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), may hit a snag after MILF expressed alarm over the initiatives bid to converge some gains between the two separate peace accords.

Not likely

Early on, the government is bullish it can firm up ties with MILF within the year, upon the closure discussion on the implementation of the 1996 peace pact in July.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief of MILFs peace panel, estimated about 85 percent of the parties agenda have been finished, with only two major issues left concerning ancestral domain and securing political settlement after the signing of the peace agreement.

It is quite remote at this time, he told Bulatlat, noting that the MILF is taking careful steps after three accords signed by MNLF and the government the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the 1986 Jeddah Accord and the 1996 final peace agreement brought no substantial gains for the Bangsamoro.

The peace panels of the MILF and the government have recently finished the 12th round of their exploratory talks last May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, talking about the ancestral domain agenda involving the determination and delimitation of areas to be placed under a prospective Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Leadership factor

The question now is whether the government is capable of leading the two peace talks, Wadi said. Arroyos mishandling of the peace agreement lies in her dependence on the governments security advisers on the Mindanao situation, which has weakened the administrations capacity to lead the two peace talks, he said.

The governments stake is the most suspicious of all in undertaking both peace deals, said Wadi noting that the Arroyos administration has been exhausted by the long-standing ouster campaign and its Charter Change prospect to escape upcoming impeachment proceedings.

Deles said in a revised Constitution, hitches may impact the full implementation of the agreements, since new setting parameters will bound the accords. There are many things that are happening outside the tableits impossible that the peace talks could be insulated from all these, she said.

The spate of killings, the ascendancy of militarist thinking, naming enemies of the state as fair game to be killed, even if these are outside MILF concerns, will affect the peace process. You cannot have flourishing peace talks on one side and killings on the other.

A peace process does not stop when it has been signed, if it will take another ten and twenty years to implement, a deeper level of frustration across the Bangsamoro people will make it very hard to sustain any gains from the agreements, she said.

Failures of the past agreements have shed a different light for MILF leaders, said Iqbal who related them to bad omen for the rest of the Bangsamoro.

At this point, it is very difficult to answer whether genuine peace now can be achieved, its been 30 years since the 1976 Tripoli agreement, the mother of all agreements, but no significant change has happened, he said. Bulatlat

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