Philippines, MILF rebels sign peace agreement

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2014 10:44 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2014 10:49 AM

President Aquino (2nd right) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (4th left) witness the historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malacanang on Thursday. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBNnews.com

President Aquino warns 'saboteurs'

MANILA - After 17 years of negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday signed a peace agreement that seeks to end more than 30 years of the secessionist movement in Mindanao.

The signing happened during a short simple but emotional program at the Kalayaan Hall grounds of Malacanang.

It was marked by speeches from Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and President Benigno Aquino.

Najib flew in for a one-day working visit from Malaysia despite the ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

Signing for the Philippine government side was negotiating panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. The MILF side was represented by negotiating panel chair Mohager Iqbal. The Malaysian third-party facilitator was represented by Abdul Ghafar Tenku Mohamed.

President Aquino warned those who may derail peace that they will be met with firm resolve like what government displayed in the siege of Zamboanga.

The chief executive also urged leaders of Congress to work on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and not allow it to be sabotaged by senseless debates marked by self-interest.

Aquino also thanked everyone who worked on the agreement, heaping praises on the MILF for its trust and the negotiating teams.

Deles, meanwhile, paid tribute to Aquino, Najib, and Murad for the peace process.

"No more war. No more children scampering for safety. No more evacuees. No more lost school days or school months. No more injustice. No more misgovernance. No more poverty. No more fear and no more want," Deles said. "A new dawn has come, the dawn for books, not bullets; for paintbrushes, not knives; for whole communities, not evacuation centers; and for rewarding toil, not endless strife."

Bangsamoro identity

For Murad, the agreement is a recognition of the Bangsamoro identity, something that was deprived of them after the Philippines was colonized by other countries.

Murad also honored former MILF leaders like Salamat Hashim who are no longer alive to witness the event.

He hopes the pact won't suffer the fate of the 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the government.

Nevertheless, Murad emphasized that the agreement and the government that will be formed from it, is not just for the MILF but all Moros and all Filipinos.

Murad also condoled with the victims of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Najib, in turn, thanked the Philippines for its sympathy and support.

He lauded Aquino and the MILF for the peace agreement, even as he maintained Malaysia's support for the peace process and the development of the Bangsamoro.

Najib also reminded all parties that now comes the hard part of actually implementing the agreement.

“All parties must stand by the agreement," he said. "Decades of fighting have robbed a generation of healthcare, education, income. With peace must come not just prosperity but opportunity. Only then will Bangsamoro's future be assured."

The government assured everyone it will work to faithfully implement the agreement. Malacanang also expressed readiness to defend the agreement from any constitutional challenge.

Comprehensive agreement

Dubbed as the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement came after negotiations that began during the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos and reached its conclusion under President Aquino.

The CAB has 5 component documents. They are the framework agreement signed in 2012 and separate annexes on revenue generation and wealth sharing, normalization, power sharing, and transitional arrangement.

The FAB outlines the general features of the political settlement, defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and sets the principles processes and mechanisms for a smooth transition until the election of Bangsamoro officials in 2016.

Signed in 2012, the FAB paved the way for the creation of a 15-man transition commission that will draft a proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will institutionalize and give teeth to the final peace agreement.

Unlike the ARMM which is led by a governor elected at large, the Bangsamoro will have a ministerial government. Voters in a regular Bangsamoro election will elect parties whose members will sit in the Bangsamoro assembly.

The assembly members will then elect from among themselves a chief minister who will serve as the head of the Bangsamoro.

The chief minister will choose the deputy and other ministers that will form the cabinet from the assembly. The assembly will have at least 50 members.

The Bangsamoro will have an autonomous relationship with the national government. The Bangsamoro geographical coverage will be determined by a plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the existing ARMM areas, as well as other areas that want to join so long as 10 percent of the registered voters in those areas file a petition for inclusion.

The BBL will also likewise define the relationship of the Bangsamoro and central governments and existing local government units -- which powers will stay with national, shared with Bangsamoro, or devolved to Bangsamoro exclusively.

The Bangsamoro will have a council of leaders chaired by the chief minister and composed of local government unit officials and a representative of the non-Moro indigenous communities.

The BBL shall also likewise spell out the creation of a judicial system wherein existing civilian courts will continue to exercise jurisdiction over non-Muslims, and Shariah courts will cover Muslims.

The Bangsamoro judicial system will be under the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The FAB also calls for a gradual laying down of arms by MILF. It likewise spells out the timetable for the crafting of the BBL.

The central government will retain powers on defense and external security, foreign policy, common market and global trade, coinage and monetary policy, citizenship and naturalization, and postal service.

Controversial provision

One controversial provision of the FAB is the function of the transition commission to work on proposals to amend the Constitution for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements.

While the Bangsamoro has exclusive powers over trade, registration of businesss names and other items relevant to trade, the national government retains powers to enter into international agreements.

Likewise, loans requiring a sovereign guarantee must be done by the national government.

The annex on revenue generation and wealth sharing gives the Bangsamoro powers to exercise powers over taxes and revenue generation already devolved to the ARMM.

In addition, they may impose capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, donors’ tax and estate tax. Income derived from Bangsamoro GOCCs and GFIs go to it.

The Bangsamoro will be funded from a bloc grant from the national government that will be automatically appropriated from the annual national budget.

The BBL will provide the formula for computing the amount which should be no less than the last budget of the ARMM.

Around 75% of national taxes collected by Bangsamoro goes to it and 25% goes to the national government. It covers income taxes, VAT and percentage taxes but excludes tariff and customs duties.

For natural resources, 100% of revenues from non-metallic minerals will go to the Bangsamoro. For metallic, 75% goes to Bangsamoro, 25% for central, and for fossil fuels, it’s 50-50.

Revenues from additional taxes beyond those devolved and the share in revenues derived from exploration, development and utilization shall be deducted from the bloc grant.

Transition to peace

The annex on normalization provides for the MILF's transition to a peaceful civilian life, including putting thir weapons beyond use, redress of grievances, and rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas.

It provides that an independent decommissioning body will oversee the decommissioning, with the time frame in 2016.

The Bangsamoro will have a police force civilian in character and responsible to both Bangsamoro and the national government.

Law enforcement will be transferred from the Armed Forces to the Bangsamoro police.

However, the agreement doesn’t explicitly say that it will be under the PNP---even if the 1987 Constitution says there shall only be one national police.

During the transition, a joint peace and security team of the PNP, AFP, and MILF will maintain peace and order.

The annex on transitional arrangements and modalities provides for the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.

It has 4 bodies: the Transition Commission (TC), the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the third-party monitoring team, and the joint normalization committee.

The TC will draft the BBL, submit it to the Pesident who will certify it as an urgent bill, and submit it to Congress.

Once enacted, the BBL will be put to a plebiscite.

The TC may also work on proposals to amend the Constitution.

The ARMM will then give way to a BTA that will govern the interim ministerial government.

Local governments and local government officials will stay in place. Civil servants with tenure will also remain.

The BTA officials will be appointed by the President.

The 5-man third party monitoring team will be composed of representatives from international and domestic groups.

Their main task is to monitor the agreement's implementation.

The joint normalization committee will ensure the coordination between the government and the MILF during the transition.

The exit document terminating the peace negotiations will be crafted and signed only once all the provisions are implemented.

It is hoped that the BBL will be enacted by year end to pave the way for a plebiscite in early 2015 and the regular elections of the Bangsamoro in 2016.

ARMM failure

The Bangsamoro came up after the ARMM was dubbed as a failed experiment by President Aquino in 2012.

The ARMM supposedly is not as inclusive as it should be. The ARMM was expanded after a 1996 peace agreement was signed by the Ramos government with the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari, which began to push for an independent Moro state in Mindanao.

The 1996 peace agreement paved the way for Misuari’s election as ARMM governor.

The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the 70s over differences between Misuari and Salamat Hashim, who eventually became MILF chief.

The MNLF had accepted autonomy but Salamat’s faction persisted until it agreed to start negotiations with the Ramos government.

In a separate press briefing, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma assured that the government is prepared to defend the pact from any constitutional challenges before the Supreme Court.

Coloma said the agreement is one of the most outstanding achievements of the administration but he maintained the administration only facilitated the talks—giving credit to the people of Bangsamoro and the country for its aspirations for peace.