The Wrong Assumptions in the GRP-MILF Negotiations

By Jamil Matalam, MA
Ateneo de Davao University

The peace talks concerning the insurgency problem in Mindanao always had the character of a negotiation. It is a matter of offer on the one side, a counter-offer on the other, and then impasse and then armed encounters. This has always been its character and will always be because the parties to the negotiations have their own non-negotiable matters to bring into the negotiations, those that cannot be compromised. No doubt it is doomed to failure, if the goal is peace; for peace, and the current events surrounding the issue tells us so, is not a matter of negotiations. Peace is about the truth and is real; it is not a matter of compromise or simply a result of agreement. Peace is not a matter of give and take but the truth.


The way the GPH and the MILF are handling the peace in Mindanao, and it is sad that they are the only ones who does so, assumes that peace is matter of cessation of hostilities and economic opportunities. The MILF would agree to drop its claim for independence and the GPH would agree to give greater leeway for an autonomous government with other conditions, like disarmament. If they both do this then there will be cessation of hostilities and then economic development would set in, and then everybody will be happy; otherwise there shall be hostilities and poverty. I do not doubt that this is a good formula, that indeed if both parties agree to the offers then there will be no more hostilities and economic development will exist. But I doubt if such a formula would find application with the Mindanao problem.

The recent event that has unfolded tells us that such formula finds no good application, e.g. the breakaway of the group of Amir Umbra Kato from the MILF. It just ultimately ends with hostilities and misery. Why is this so? Precisely because the real issues are those that cannot be subject to compromise; the Philippine Constitution and its claim over the Moro lands, on the one hand, and the separate nationhood of the Moros, on the other. What therefore must be discussed is the truth of these matters, i.e. the claim over the “Independence” of the Moros from the Filipinos. They should be brought out to the open for discourses in the public and scrutiny, rather than be kept out of talks.

I do not claim whatsoever that the negotiations between the GPH and MILF is not good or worthless, on the contrary it is of great importance and consequence. It has saved and will save many lives. But the problem really is that the issue with the peace in Mindanao is beyond political-legal, or governmental, actions; no doubt what is asked is beyond them, thus to ask this from them is also too much. It must be sought from other influential social institutions in the Philippine society, e.g., the universities and the modern social media.

If it is about the Independence of the Moros then it is largely within the domain of the social sciences and social actions. The task really is to unveil the falsehoods that have surrounded the issues and to bring forth the truth of the matter. What is greatly required therefore is to bring the matter about the Independence of the Moros into scientific or academic discourses, teach the young about the genesis and the truth about them, and end the propagandistic approaches to the history and identity of Moros and the bigotry that has oppressed it. This matter is demanded primarily from those who claim that they are Moros; that is, that they are the ones to really have to work for peace in their homelands.

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