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Shifting from Negotiating Mindanao Peace Deal to Monitoring its Implementation

July 10, 2013

As the focus of building peace in Mindanao shifts from negotiating details to the actual implementation of agreements between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), The Asia Foundation has been asked by both parties to join the five-person Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT). This team, meeting for the first time this week alongside the 38th Exploratory GPH-MILF talks, will independently monitor and evaluate the implementation of all agreements, assess progress, and submit reports, both confidentially to the two sides and more broadly to the public.  For nearly four years now, since the institution of an International Contact Group (ICG) for the GPH-MILF peace negotiations, I have been privileged to be a formal part of this exciting and historic process. Now, with somewhat mixed emotions, it is time for me to change roles.

In 2008, negotiators thought they were close to an agreement, dubbed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), but when the terms were revealed in August 2008, a debacle ensued. While the government panel and witnesses were in the air, flying to Kuala Lumpur to witness the signing of the agreement, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the MOA-AD, and eventually declared it unconstitutional. There was an upsurge of violence in which some 750,000 people were internally displaced.  After a few months, the government and the MILF began to search for a modality that would allow them to return to the negotiating table, to talk rather than to fight. At the same time, many countries and organizations concerned with the peace process were offering advice, making suggestions, and pointing to experiences around the globe. In the end, when hostilities formally ceased in July 2009, a new institution in the peace process was born: the International Contact Group, consisting of four countries (United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and four international nongovernmental organizations (The Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and Mohammadiyah). The ICG has since been striving to encourage progress in the talks by providing advice and expertise, and by working to build trust.

Participation in this “hybrid” ICG has been rewarding. Witnessing at close range how diplomats work through their official contacts, their communication with their home offices, and their understanding of protocol has been an enlightening experience (and debunked many stereotypes we hold about diplomats). My INGO colleagues, with their experience and knowledge base of other conflicts and peace processes, have brought wider perspectives into the peace process. At the beginning of our tenure, for a couple of years, we often felt that our job was to help maintain confidence in the peace process – particularly when bumps in the road occurred. For more than a year now, though, since the parties began to move relatively rapidly toward a comprehensive agreement after signing decision points, I can confidently say that we have made substantive contributions from the sidelines as GPH-MILF working groups tackled hard issues on transitions, wealth- and power-sharing, and normalization.

Malaysia’s leading role as facilitator since it was invited by the Philippine government in 2001 has had an enormous role in moving the peace process forward. The resources and skills of the secretariat staff provided necessary logistics and continuity. Then, in mid-2011, when the euphoria of the meeting between President Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim was followed by the lows of “rejections” by each side in the negotiating room and the tragic Al Barka incident in Basilan, skillful facilitation restored confidence in the negotiation process and laid the groundwork for the successful breakthroughs of 2012, culminating in the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October 2012.

Since that time, there has been long, and sometimes slow, negotiation over details. The seriousness with which both panels and their respective secretariats take this process is heartening to an observer. Many are worried that the time is growing short since the timetable for implementation has the new Bangsamoro being a fully operational elected government by July 2016. For me, knowing the dedication and sincerity of the people inside the negotiating room, I am confident that a comprehensive agreement will be reached in the near future.

Previous agreements, such as the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), did not have a systematic monitoring apparatus acceptable to all parties. This GPH-MILF peace process tries to learn lessons from the past (and from global experiences), and thus has set up this Third Party Monitoring Team led by former European Union ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald, and consisting of representatives from two domestic organizations (Mindanao Human Rights Action Center and Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute) and two international organizations (The Asia Foundation and the Turkish Human Rights and Freedoms (IHH) Humanitarian Relief Foundation).

I, like many, experienced the emotional high of the signing of the Framework that held out the prospect of peace between Filipinos and Moros. This is motivation enough to spend the next three years monitoring implementation of the Bangsamoro with a view to helping the process along.

Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines, has been representing the Foundation in the ICG since 2009, and is now the TPMT representative from the Foundation. He can be reached at srood@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

One comment on this post:

  1. sittie sarah:

    The peace agreement between GRP and MILF if realize certainly will minimize trouble in Mindanao region but it will not 100% give peace to the region without first implementing the previous agreement of Philipppine government with the MNLF. likewise it is an exercise of futility if the Tausug ” Sultanate of Sulu problem on Sabah claim is taken for granted.
    MILF problems is only partial of the moro struggle for self determination and contained only in the Central Mindanao Area ( the Maguindfanao and Maranao ) It does not include the Muslim in the South western Mindanao such as ZAMBOANGA, SULU TAWI-TAWI and BASILAN PROVINCE.

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