Philippine military armor in Mindanao alongside civilians on a horse

While required, signing a peace agreement does not automatically keep the peace among combatants.  In truth, two agreements—the 1976 Tripoli Agreement (under President Ferdinand Marcos) and the 1987 Jeddah Accord (under President Corazon Aquino)—led nowhere.  True, there were occasional skirmishes and dissatisfaction amongst some MNLF fighters.  In addition, a key provision of the 1996 FPA, that the MNLF’s right of representation in the national government and in all organs of state—was never implemented.  Nonetheless, the 1996 FPA could be deemed a success.  Among the key indicators of success are the absence of large-scale warfare between the MNLF and government troops, the co-optation of the MNLF leadership into a pre-existing autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu islands, the integration of many MNLF combatants into the government’s security services, and the release of local and foreign funds for the region’s development.

Nur Misuari

However, the Asian financial crisis adversely affected the Philippine government’s capacity to provide funds and led to discontent within MNLF ranks.  To be fair to the Philippine government, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was not blameless with his profligate and biased spending.  He was continuously travelling within the country and abroad with a huge entourage and concentrated resources for his fellow-Tausogs. Ultimately, the MNLF leadership may be successful rebels but were poor administrators.

The power asymmetry against the MNLF is the bottom-line reason for the success of the peace agreement. Militarily, the MNLF had reached its peak in the 1970s and lost its fierce fighting edge.  It remained a stubborn and enduring military force (Vitug and Gloria 2000).  The MNLF cannot credibly commit to renege on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and return to full-scale warfare since it was weakened by splits, casualties, desertions, tribal differences, etc.  Its foreign supporters and backers are not keen to support a military effort (Iribani 2006; Vitug and Gloria 2000).  In that sense, it did not have trump cards.

Even the remaining MNLF fighters were not threats credible enough for the Philippine government to offer concessions.  These combatants tried a mini-rebellion in November 2001 after Misuari lost his positions in the autonomous regional body but it was nipped in the bud.  Misuari escaped to Malaysia but was handed back to Philippine authorities by Kuala Lumpur.  Upon his return to the Philippines, he was incarcerated. In 2008, he was allowed to post bail and talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA were resumed by the Arroyo and Aquino governments.

Another imbalance characterizes the relationship between the MNLF and the Philippine government.  The MNLF’s constituency expects it to produce the deliverables promised in the 1996 FPA.  If it fails to do so, the MNLF loses its political luster and its followers may gravitate to its rivals, specially the MILF.  The Philippine government is not in the same predicament.  It has already delivered a clear good–cessation of hostilities—save for a few skirmishes here and there.  That appears to be what matters most to ordinary Filipinos.  As long as hostilities do not resume, ordinary Filipinos will not normally care if the Philippine government kept its side of the bargain in the 1996 FPA.  In effect, there is greater political pressure on the MNLF than on the Philippine government.

Since 1986, both sides observed a ceasefire agreement.  So both MNLF and Philippine government troops have not fought each other for a decade before a final agreement was reached.  Agreeing to a ceasefire before a comprehensive agreement can be interpreted by the other side as a sign of weakness.

Prior to the assumption of talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA, the MNLF also lost traction vis-à-vis the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) largely due to Misuari’s plummeting fortunes and splits within the organization.  With two ascendant interlocutors, Misuari’s faction played the role of heckler and spoiler.  At times, it raised bids to unify with the MILF and repair splits within the MNLF.  Heckling and spoiling are tactics of a party that feels it was being neglected by another notwithstanding an outstanding agreement.  Unification bids are attempts to enlarge the pie that will eventually be shared by Bangsamoro people.  They also used to communicate to government that it is negotiating with a stronger force.  These tactics did not help the MNLF one bit and like a chastened schoolboy, Misuari returned to talks with government.

In hindsight, it can be said that there was diminished urgency on the part of the Philippine government to fully implement the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) after it was signed in September 1996.  A good part of the MNLF leadership and fighters were incorporated into the Muslim regional bodies and government security forces.  The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s compelled government to husband its resources carefully.  As long as Misuari and his commanders were comfortably ensconced in their offices, the MNLF will not rebel again.

President Joseph Estrada

Attention will soon be directed elsewhere–to the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), a split from the MNLF.  In 2000, President Joseph Estrada launched several attacks on MILF camps to shore up his sagging political fortunes in Manila.  While government troops succeeded in capturing some MILF camps, Estrada was unable to win a decisive military victory over the MILF.  Furthermore, he also enraged not a few Muslims for insensitively eating pork with government troops within the ruins of a mosque.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The all-out war tack of Estrada was changed by the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  With Misuari was in prison and the MNLF weaken by further splits, Arroyo endeavored to have the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) controlled by warlords who could deliver votes in her favor (Lara 2010).  Arroyo concentrated in delivering a peace agreement with the MILF—the so-called MOA-AD.  When the MOA-AD was rejected by the Supreme Court, Arroyo’s government released Misuari from detention and started talks to for the final implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement (FPA).  These talks are being continued by the government of President Benigno Aquino III through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), headed by Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles.

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Comments
  1. bongmendoza says:

    Reblogged this on bong mendoza's blog.

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