DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 Oct) — My previous work as “negotiator” was varied. Let me recall some. I dealt with   hostage takers at the Davao Penal Colony where eight hostage takers were “neutralized” and the stand-off resolved; I helped in the surrender of prison escapee “Bucay” Manero; the peaceful surrender of high-value suspect Datu Unsay Ampatuan in the Maguindanao Massacre; the surrender of armed rebel commanders in Lanao; the pacification of    desperate and hungry farmers at Sultan Kudarat during the El Nino in 1998; the handling of angry and grieving families of plane crash victims in Cagayan de Oro; the release of an Army general Obillo and his junior officer by NPA Kumander Parago in Davao after a trip to the Netherlands and meeting with Joma Sison; the safe return   of Marine  General Ben  Dolorfino and OPAPP undersecretary Mon Santos from the hands of MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) Commander Habier Malik in Sulu who figured recently in the Zamboanga siege, handled the return of MNLF’s Nur Misuari back to the country from Malaysia where he was arrested after a failed uprising in Sulu.  And a few others.

Of course, (and thisis true for husbands) I have to mention the never ending and most inscrutable of : “negotiations” with our dear wives on matters that are conjugal in nature. This is one area where husbands (including myself) may not claim much success! (oooops. Haha ha! )

WITH REBELS. But here’s an undisputable fact: negotiating with rebels in peace talks, getting agreements done is something else. They are more complex to handle given that there are principled positions and grievances, mostly generational, that have to be addressed.  I had the privilege (and agony) of being part of the peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army/National Democratic Front) while I was Davao Congressman as House representative in the government panel during the Ramos administration;  and as chief negotiator with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front); and I  dealt  with implementation issues with the MNLF while serving  as presidential adviser during the Arroyo administration overseeing the whole peace process, not to mention CPLA (Cordinllera Peoples Liberation Army) and other so-called “breakaway” groups.

No doubt , dealing with armed rebels who have waged rebellion against government to seek peace is totally a different story from those cases which are purely criminal like hostaging or bringing in of suspects or resolving issues. Peace negotiations are not only about pacification and law enforcement. This genre has deep political dimensions that must be carefully navigated and adroitly handled. Let me share with you some insights.

BEYOND GOVERNMENT. First, rebels by taking up arms and rising up against government , impugn, reject and even challenge the legal order. They are outside the ambit of our laws as they do not operate under the Philippine legal  framework. In fact, they rise up in arms against it. Hence they claim that they are  beyond the reach of the laws and the government. So people should not take it against them or be surprised if they refuse, during negotiations and in signed agreements to make reference to the Constitution or the laws of the land. To do so is to impose on them prematurely what they reject. To do otherwise is, to them,  early capitulation and a betrayal of what rebels fought for in the first place.

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AS EQUALS. In negotiations across the table,  the principle of parity or of equal status between negotiating parties is assumed. Of course government does not concede this but being on a high moral ground than rebels, it temporarily suspends disbelief and allows the rebels to negotiate under those parameters. So one party, in principle, cannot admit being subsumed or of lower status than the other.  For instance, as a result of this, signed agreements with the MILF or the MNLF for that matter, make direct reference to and use as framework international protocols or mutually agreed references and the Philippine Constitution is obviously not one of them.
CALIBRATION PROCESS.   But the signing of the FINAL Peace Agreement and the IMPLEMENTATION phase signal a strategic shift in this calibration process. At this point, the primacy of the basic law of the land is a “GIVEN”  simply because implementing the terms of  any peace agreement  must be done within the context and confines of the internal laws and under the coercive force of the government. Even the MILF recognizes this as a reality and will have to submit to this unequivocally as the peace process mutates and takes its inevitable course under the good offices and graces of the established regime of the government.

I refer to this as a  “calibration process” that everyone must understand. This is something that Congress must first understand as they now scrutinize the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Absent this insight, we may unnecessarily dwell and focus and find fault and at every turn quibble on every word or phrase or provision– or look for what is not there — in the agreement and its annexes, looking at them through the conventional prism of constitutionality and legality.

Just to illustrate:  the “annexes” of the agreement were signed in the course of negotiations and BEFORE the final peace agreement and they were done so during the ” calibration” stage. So it is important that the contemporaneous stage at which those vital agreements were signed and sealed had to be seen in this light. Congress and the public must understand this in this light.  I need not explain more.

INCREMENTAL. Thus, I cringed and squirmed in great discomfort when I heard one congressman insisting that the BBL must contain a commitment from the MILF that it would not at go back to the hills again and rebel again.  Peace agreements, although the ultimate repository of what was mutually agreed are not self-executing. They are merely pieces of paper, although sacrosanct, that will raise expectations among expectant stakeholders. They have to be implemented in time — –on a long-term basis. The process is incremental.

We need not say here but it is obvious  that failing in keeping true to the government commitments will drive them back, maybe not , to fight government again and continue their struggle. No amount of cautionary words in the BBL foreclosing their right to rebel again will remedy this. What is key is implementing the terms of the peace agreement, which is not only to show sincerity, but more importantly, we  improve forthwith  the lives of our own disadvantaged  Filipinos who felt that they were excluded from the mainstream.

DISARMAMENT.I had reason to also feel discomfort reading the blaring media headlines, courtesy of OPAPP statements, bannering disarmament or decommissioning protocols well ahead of progress in the congressional work on the BBL. I find this imprudent, although the purpose may be to make the public feel good that the armed rebels will eventually get rid of their firearms.  I heard already audible grumblings on the ground from some MILF elements on this. Let us not forget that the MILF agreed to this but only on a phased basis, depending on the implementation outcomes. It can happen only when there are significant progress in agreement implementation and when a” firearms-less” enabling environment  is at hand, which requires disarming of warlords, politicians and other criminal elements. Absent this development on the ground, do you think the MILF will voluntarily disarm? Think again!

MILF PARTICIPATION. I was even surprised to see the MILF, through Panel Chair Mohaqher Iqbal gamely participating in the congressional hearings. Although this is a positive development for government, I thought the MILF would have been better off leaving the government panel to defend and advocate for the CAB. To be subjected to the rigors and discomfort of congressional scrutiny is something the MILF will definitely not relish organizationally, given that they have not forsaken their bottom-line positions while the  final form of the BBL is still unclear. In my humble view, that canalizes MILF’s remaining options. On a positive note, it can be interpreted to mean that MILF will eventually accept and submit to whatever final decision Congress will arrive at — which augurs well for peace in the land. But will it? That we still have to see! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jesus “Jess” Dureza served in various capacities under the nine-year Arroyo administration, including the posts of government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003 and as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process).

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