Government needs political negotiators in Talks with MILF

Upon the invitation of the British Embassy in Manila, International Alert and AIM, I listened to Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy, former Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, share his experiences and thoughts on “Post-settlement and Powersharing in Divided Societies: The Experience of Northern Ireland and Insights for Mindanao and the Philippines” at the Asian Institute of Management.

Paul Murphy shared a lot of interesting insights that could trigger our thinking on the Mindanao peace process. One of these is that the negotiators must have the trust and confidence of the real stakeholders. Fact is that in the Northern Ireland case the negotiators were elected. Now, that seems to be an interesting idea.

Of course, we cannot have “elected” negotiators representing the Filipino people but the core idea is that those negotiating must have the mandate, the trust and the confidence of the real stakeholders. There must be no doubt on the part of the people that those who are negotiating in their behalf are people who would have to live with the consequences. The negotiators must be THEIR negotiators. The negotiators must be of their own.

One of the problems of the peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine Government (and this applies not just the present but also to the past negotiations as well) is that the negotiators are mostly non-stakeholders in the real sense of the word, i.e. they will not have to live or be affected directly by the consequences of their actions.

We take for granted this essential element of trust and confidence of stakeholders in their negotiators. The legal logic is that since the President has the mandate of the people, therefore his appointed negotiators and peace advisers, by extension, have this mandate as well. Logical in theory but not true in reality. They may have the mandate of the President but they do not necessarily have the mandate of the people.

As I see it, the people in Mindanao do not trust Manila and its negotiators to negotiate in their best interest. They are wary of Manila and its negotiators because, while clearly they want to do good and solve the problem, they are, on the whole, disastrously naïve. Having not lived in Mindanao, they do not understand the problems, the hopes and the fears of the real stakeholders. These Manila negotiators would have to rely on a bevy of consultants and third parties to give them a sense of the situation and the probable solutions. They do not have a constituency to back them up. They would have to rely on others, especially the President, to back them up. These Manila negotiators have no capacity to mobilize political support for any agreement. While the people in Mindanao respect the prerogative of the President to appoint his negotiators, the people in Mindanao seriously doubt their capacity to understand the problem. For them, the actions of Manila negotiators will lead to more harm than good because their perspective would largely be academic, second hand and disconnected from Mindanao’s complex reality.

While finding a durable solution for peace in Mindanao is national concern and therefore, must involve the whole country, it is first and foremost a problem of the people of Mindanao (and not even of the whole of Mindanao at that but to the people in the ARMM, in North Cotabato, in South Cotabato, in Lanao del Norte, in Iligan City, in Zamboanga City.) The rest of the country (Luzon, Visayas, and christian Mindanao) has a weak attachment to the issues on the table. They do not really care. While they support a vague view of “peace and harmony” and thus would attend peace concerts, do peace art or wear peace baller bands, their lives are not directly affected by whether the negotiations succeed or fail, whether hostilities erupt or not, whether there are a million of internally displaced persons or only a few thousands.

In the next round of negotiations, the President may consider appointing as negotiators people who clearly have the trust and confidence of the non-Moros of Mindanao (and not just a general mandate by legal extension). Thus, the President may consider appointing as government negotiators MinDA Chair Lu Antonino or even her daughter, Gensan Mayor Darlene Antonino Custodio, former South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance Fuentes, North Cotabato Governor Lala Talino, former North Cotabato Governor Manny Pinol, Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz, Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and Zamboanga City Representative Beng Climaco. Perhaps the President can also consider a high cabinet official to lead the talks, somebody in the stature and caliber of a Mar Roxas or even Vice President Jejomar Binay, who both clearly have the trust and confidence of the President and the non-Moros of Mindanao.

If any of these persons are appointed as negotiators, I am sure that, while the negotiations may be hard and difficult, it will have movement and traction and that any future agreement hammered will have less possibility of being brought to the Supreme Court. The non-Moros of Mindanao consider these people – Binay, Roxas, Antonino, Fuentes, Talino, Pinol, Cruz, and Lobregat – as their champions. From their point of view, these champions are not naïve, understand their hopes and fears and, more importantly, is one of them. xxx

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Author: Bong Montesa

I teach children how to think. I am engage in the work of ending armed conflicts and bring about a just, inclusive and sustainable peace in the Philippines and in the world.

1 thought on “Government needs political negotiators in Talks with MILF”

  1. Assalamu alaykum Atty. Bong Montesa, thank you for sharing such a lecture of the Right Honorable Murphy. I agree with him and you also, except for the appointment of Pinol and Roxas, for it defeats the purpose of getting onboard the negotiations people with “existing mandates” from their constituents. Both Pinol and Roxas don’t have “existing mandates” from the Filipino people, much more the Bangsamoro people, for the people did not anymore gave them mandate to lead them by not voting on them as GOVERNOR OF NORTH COTABATO NA VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES despite their winning the controversial MOA-AD case. The Senate President and the House Speaker as well as the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao are logical, mandated persons to replace Pinol and Roxas in your list. Personal view ko lang po ito, Sir. Shukran. Wassalamu alaykum

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