By Abhoud Syed M. Lingga

Institute of Bangsamoro Studies

[Paper for presentation during the International Conference on Peace Building in Asia Pacific: The Role of Third Parties, on July 1-3, 2006 in Khon Kaen, Thailand, organized by the Institute for Dispute Resolution, Khon Kaen University, and Southeast Asia Conflict Studies Network, with the support of The Japan Foundation.]


            The conflict in Mindanao between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Bangsamoro liberation fronts has been going on for more than three decades. Although it has been violent but most of the time the protagonists are engaged in peace talks. Every time shooting war between the protagonists erupts, which usually take place in short span of time; it is always followed by lengthy negotiations, though every time war break out the consequences is painful and the costs are tremendous.[1] 

            Every time the GRP and the Bangsamoro liberation fronts talk peace, a third party is always involved. In the negotiations between the GRP and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) had been actively involved. In the on-going talks between the GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Malaysia is the facilitator. Lately, the United States got the interest to be actively involved in finding peaceful solution to the Mindanao conflict. This paper attempts to find out the roles of these third parties in the peace process, specifically in the areas of peace making and peace keeping. The role of third parties in the peace building phase can be a subject of separate enquiry. 

            In this paper, peace process denotes the efforts of settling the conflict in Mindanao through peaceful means. This specifically refers to the negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF and the on-going peace talks between the GRP and the MILF, the two mainstream Bangsamoro liberation organizations.[2] The negotiations between the Government and the MNLF started in January 1975 and lasted until September 1996. The peace talks with the MILF started after the conclusion of the GRP-MNLF negotiations and still going on as of this writing. [3]       

Third Party Intervention 

            Third party intervention is the usual response to violent and persistent conflicts when parties involved are unable to manage their differences. More often in the past, this was used in intervening inter-state conflicts. Third party intervention in intra-state conflicts was not welcomed because it was perceived by states as interference in their domestic affairs. This attitude is changing as in recent years major violent conflicts originated at the domestic level within the state, rather than between states. These are conflicts “in the form of civil wars, armed insurrections, violent secessionist movements, and other domestic warfare.” (Harris and Reilly 2003: 9)    

            Pacific interventions of third parties are in various forms. Fisher and Keashly developed a classification of primary methods of intervention (see Fisher 2001:10-11) and produced a six-fold typology.  

1.      Conciliation – the third-party provides an informal communication line between parties to identify the issues, lowering tension and encouraging direct interaction, usually in the form of negotiation. 

2.      Consultation – the third-party facilitates creative problem-solving through communication and analysis.  

3.      Pure Mediation – the third-party facilitates a negotiated settlement on substantive issues through the use of reasoning, persuasion, effective control of information, and the suggestion of alternatives. 

4.      Power Mediation – includes pure mediation and use leverage or coercion in the form of promised rewards or threatened punishments. It may also engage the third-party as monitor and guarantor of the agreement. 

5.      Arbitration – the third-party “renders a binding judgement arrived through consideration of the individual merits of the opposing positions and then imposes a settlement which is deemed to be fair and just.” 

6.      Peacekeeping – the third-party makes available military personnel to monitor a ceasefire or an agreement between disputants, and may also conduct humanitarian activities designed to restore normalcy.           

The use of these forms of intervention will not necessarily result to the same outcome because they are planned to produce particular outputs.  For example, mediation is designed to produce agreement while third-party consultation is not. This makes the assessment of third party intervention complicated.  Fisher (2003: 21) suggests that the evaluation of effectiveness must first consider the differing objectives of the forms of interventions.  

On the whole, the obvious indicator of success is the outcome with respect to the satisfactory resolution of the conflict. In terms of outcome, settlement, compliance with agreements and satisfaction of disputants are important considerations. (Fisher 2003: 9) Other matters being taken into account include the pace of settlement process, the cost of the course of action, and the savings from costs of continuing conflict. 

Background of Mindanao Conflict

The core issue of the problem in Mindanao is the continuing assertion of the Bangsamoro people for restoration of their independence. Problems of land, mass poverty, neglect and underdevelopment and other social inequities are serious problems that need attention of the national government but it is the issue on the political relationship of the Bangsamoro people with the government that needs serious and immediate attention because aside from its historical roots it is being perceived as the major cause of other social, economic and religious problems (Lingga 2005b).


Before the arrival of the Spanish colonialists the Bangsamoro were already in the process of state formation and governance. In the middle of the 15th century Sultan Shariff ul-Hashim established the Sulu Sultanate followed by the establishment of the Magindanaw Sultanate in the early part of the 16th century by Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuwan. Their experience on state formation continued with the establishment of the Sultanate of Buayan, the Pat a Pangampong ko Ranao (Confederation of the Four Lake-based Emirates) and other political subdivisions. These states were already engaged in trade and diplomatic relations with other countries including China. Administrative and political systems based on the realities of the time existed in those states. In fact it was the existence of the well-organized administrative and political systems that the Bangsamoro people managed to survive the military campaign against them by Western colonial powers for several centuries and preserve their identity as a political and social entity.


For centuries the Spanish colonial government attempted to conquer the Muslim states to subjugate their political existence and to add the territory to the Spanish colonies in the Philippine Islands but history tells us that it never succeeded. These states with their organized maritime and infantry forces succeeded in defending the Bangsamoro territories thus preserving the continuity of their independence. That is why it is being argued, base on the logic that you cannot sell something you do not possess, that the Bangsamoro territories are not part of what where ceded by Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1898 because Spain had never exercise effective sovereignty over these areas.


The Bangsamoro resistance against attempts to subjugate their independence continued even when U.S. forces occupied some areas in Mindanao and Sulu. Although at this time the resistance of the Bangsamoro governments was not as fierce as during the Moro-Spanish wars but the combined resistance of group-organized guerrilla attacks against American forces and installations and what remained of the sultans’ military power, compelled the U.S. government to govern the Moro territories separate from other territories of the Philippine Islands. Even individual Bangsamoro showed defiance against American occupation of their homeland by attacking American forces in operations called prang sabil (martyrdom operation).


When the United States Government promised to grant independence to the Philippines, the Bangsamoro leaders registered their strong objection to be part of the Philippine republic. In the petition to the United States President on June 9, 1921, the people of Sulu archipelago said that they would prefer being part of the U.S. rather than to be included in an independent Philippine nation (See Appendix C, Jubair 1999: 293-7). Bangsamoro leaders meeting in Zamboanga on February 1, 1924, proposed in their Declaration of Rights and Purposes that the “Islands of Mindanao and Sulu, and the Island of Palawan be made an unorganized territory of the United States of America” in anticipation that in the event the U.S. would decolorize its colonies and other non-self governing territories the Bangsamoro homeland would be granted separate independence. Had it happened, the Bangsamoro would have regained by now their independence when the United Nations decided in favor of decolonization of territories under the control of colonial powers. Their other proposal was that if independence had to be granted including the Bangsamoro territories, fifty years after Philippine independence a plebiscite be held in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan to decide by vote whether the territory would be incorporated in the government of the Islands of Luzon and Visayas, remain a territory of the United States, or become independent. The proposed fifty-year period ended in 1996, the same year the MNLF and the Philippine government signed the Final Agreement on the Implementation of the Tripoli Agreement. The leaders warned that if no provision of retention under the United States would be made, they would declare an independent constitutional sultanate to be known as Moro Nation (See Appendix D, Jubiar 1999: 298-303). In Lanao, the leaders who were gathered in Dansalan (now Marawi City) on March 18, 1935 appealed to the U.S. Government and the American people not to include Mindanao and Sulu in the political entity to be organized for the Filipinos.


Even after their territories were made part of the Republic of the Philippines in 1946, the Bangsamoro people continue to assert their right to independence. Congressman Ombra Amilbangsa filed House Bill No. 5682 during the fourth session of the Fourth Congress that sought the granting and recognition of the independence of Sulu. When the bill found its way to the archive of Congress the then provincial governor of Cotabato, Datu Udtog Matalam, issued the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) manifesto on May 1, 1968 calling for the independence of Mindanao and Sulu.

When it became evident to the Bangsamoro leaders that it would not be possible to regain independence through political means because of lack of constitutional mechanism, the MNLF was organized to pursue the liberation of the Bangsamoro people and their homeland from the Philippine colonial rule through revolutionary means.

The repressive reactions of the government to a peaceful independence movement and the emergence of anti-Muslim militias that harassed Muslim communities triggered the violent confrontations between the Bangsamoro forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao.    

The Third Parties Involved

1. Immediately after the conflict flared up, OIC had taken interest in the resolution of the conflict. The Third Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1972 took cognizant of the problem and decided “to seek the good offices of the Government of the Philippines to guarantee the safety and property of the Muslims” as citizens of the country. It authorized the OIC Secretary General to contact the Philippine government. From thereon until the final peace agreement was signed on September 2, 1996 in Manila, the OIC had been actively involved in the negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF. The involvement of Libya and Indonesia had always been part of the OIC engagement. Although Libya was active participant in negotiating the 1976 Tripoli Agreement but officially it acted as OIC representative. Indonesia’s involvement in crafting the 1996 Peace Accord was because it chaired the OIC Committee of the Eight.

OIC’s interest in the peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict that involves the Muslim minority and predominantly Christian national government, Wadi (1993) argues, was because part of its mandates as pan-Islamic organization are to promote Islamic solidarity and peaceful settlement of disputes. As reflected in its various resolutions, the OIC is of the opinion that peaceful settlement of the dispute will be to the best interest of the Muslims in South Philippines. 

2. Malaysia’s involvement in Mindanao peace process started at the time when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was consolidating her power after she assumed office in January 2001 when President Joseph Estrada was deposed by EDSA II people power revolution. President Arroyo sought the assistance of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and Indonesian President Abdulrahman Wahid to convince the MILF to resume the stalled negotiations. The MILF withdrew from the talks it had with the government after government forces launched an all-out war against the secessionist movement in the year 2000. The formal negotiations between the GRP and the MILF started in January 1997 after the conclusion of the peace talks between the GRP and the MNLF.

Kuala Lumpur responded positively to Manila’s request as peaceful and progressive neighbors will be to the interest of Malaysia’s fast developing economy. The Sipadan kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf Group showed the capability of terrorists to cross borders and caused harmful effect to Malaysia’s tourism industry. The State of Sabah has been host to hundreds of thousand of refugees from South Philippines since the war broke out in 1971 and this has caused security problem to the state.

3. Despite the long historical relations of the United States and the Philippines, the former did not have the interest in the Mindanao conflict other than seeing it as domestic problem. The post 9/11 developments made U.S. policy makers realized the danger that Mindanao might become a sanctuary of terrorists.[4]  U.S. interest is to deny the “terrorists” the condition they can exploit. President Bush’ remarks before the Philippine Congress on October 18, 2003 is clear on this: “As we fight the terrorists, we’re also determined to end conflicts that spread hopelessness and feed terror.” The U.S. strategic objective is to prevent terrorist infrastructure from developing in the dense jungles of Mindanao.

Auspiciously, MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim wrote President Bush on January 20, 2003 explaining the MILF position and requesting for the U.S. assistance in peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict. President Arroyo made the same request during her visit to the U.S. in May. On this basis, the State Department tasked the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to play facilitating role in the negotiations between the GRP and MILF without supplanting the role of Malaysia. (Martin 2006)

Assessing Third Parties Involvement

            Third parties have been helpful in bringing the GRP and the Bangsamoro liberation fronts to the negotiation table and keeping them in the course of negotiations even if situations where talks reached stalemates and hostilities broke up sometimes happened. It was through the mediation efforts of the OIC that brought representatives of the GRP and the MNLF in a meeting in Jeddah on January 18-19, 1975, which ushered in the start of the formal talks between the two parties. The persistent endeavor of the OIC and the diplomatic efforts of Libya kept the negotiations going until a milestone agreement, the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, reached on December 26, 1976. The 1976 Tripoli Agreement embodies the general principles for autonomy and its institutional mechanism that have to be established. The details were to be discussed later by a mixed committee composed of the representatives of the government and the MNLF. The succeeding discussions reached a deadlock and it was Indonesia, acting under the auspices of the OIC being the chair of the Committee of the Six, and later change to Committee of the Eight, that revived the stalled talks leading to the signing of the 1996 Peace Accord.

There was an attempt on the part of the GRP and MILF to do away with third party when they started formal talks in 1997 but as the talks progressed the GRP forces launched massive attacks against the MILF camps, including Camp Abubakare, in 200 that lead to the MILF withdrawal from the negotiations, and to the extent of disbanding its negotiating panel.

            It was only after the GRP invited Malaysia to facilitate the negotiations that the MILF agreed to go back to the negotiation table. The shuttling diplomacy of Malaysia’s representative broke the impasse. MILF chairman Salamat Hashim agreed to resume talks with the government when assured by the Malaysian representative that the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines and other constitutional issues will not be raised in the negotiations, at the same time the MILF will not bring up the issue of Bangsamoro independence. He sent his top deputy Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim,[5] the MILF Vice Chairman for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), to Kuala Lumpur to meet the Philippine Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita. The meeting was kept secret that even the chairman of the new Philippine peace panel was not informed.

As the talks moved forward, the Armed Forces of the Philippines attacked the MILF positions in Pagalungan-Pikit area in February 11, 2003, but despite of that breached on the existing ceasefire Malaysia was able to maintain communication line open and later was able to bring them together to talk in a creative manner called exploratory talks.

For more than three years of negotiations without third party participation, the GRP and the MILF had not discussed any substantive issue. Talks were just on implementation of the ceasefire reached on July 18, 1997 in Cagayan de Oro City. With the facilitation of Malaysia after the resumption of talks in April 2000, the negotiations inched higher towards substantive issues on rehabilitation and development of conflict-affected areas and ancestral domain.

            Organization of Islamic Conference 

            The OIC used mixed methods of intervention in the Mindanao conflict. Wadi (1993) categorized them as employment of good offices, mediation, inquiry and conciliation, and sanction. After the news on the situation of the Muslims in South Philippines reached the Arab world, the OIC meeting in Jeddah on February 29 to March 4, 1972 passed Resolution No. 12 which expressed “serious concern for the plight of the Muslims living in the Philippines, to seek the good offices of the Government of the Philippines to guarantee the safety and property of the Muslims …” Wadi (1993: 174) said that his use of the term good office is for the purpose of making a point of contact between two parties – the GRP in one hand and the representative organization of the Muslims in South Philippines on the other.   

            In its meeting the following year, the OIC decided to send to Mindanao a fact finding delegation composed of the foreign ministers of Libya, Senegal, Somalia and Saudi Arabia.  It also urged Indonesia and Malaysia to exert their good offices to help find solution within the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In August 1973, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Omar Al-Shakaff, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulati Al-Obeidi, Somalian Foreign Minister Arteh Ghalib and Senegal Ambassador to Egypt Moustapha Cisse visited the Muslim communities in Mindanao and Sulu. Foreign Minister Al-Shakaff was in Manila again on March 9-13, 1974 to follow up earlier efforts of the OIC delegation. President Ferdinand E. Marcos met President Suharto on May 29, 1974 in Menado, and among the issues tackled in the summit meeting of the two ASEAN leaders was the problem in Mindanao

The OIC started to assume mediation role after the Kuala Lumpur meeting on June 21-25, 1974. It also went to the extent of suggesting a framework of resolving the conflict, and that is through negotiation with the MNLF to arrive at political and peaceful solution within the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the GRP.

The OIC used also power mediation. During its meeting in Benghazi, Libya in 1973 the OIC created the Quadripartite Ministerial Committee[6] with the mandate of looking into the conditions of the Muslims in South Philippines, a signal to the GRP that it was not taking the situation of the Muslims lightly. This was reinforced with the recognition of the MNLF as sole legitimate representative organization of the Muslims in the Philippines and its acceptance as observer in the OIC in 1977.

As incentives, the Islamic world body established in 1974 the Filipino Muslim Welfare and Relief Agency the purpose of which was to extend welfare and relief aid direct to Muslims in Southern Philippines so as to ameliorate their conditions and enhance their social and economic well-being. The Islamic Solidarity Fund provided one million U.S. dollars for the agency released to the government. There were also promises of more economic assistance once agreements were reached[7].

Peacekeeping was also undertaken by the OIC. To monitor the ceasefire forged by the GRP and MNLF in January 1977, the OIC sent a small contingent coming from the Quadripartite Ministerial Committee. Probably because the OIC had no troops on the ground, the monitoring team failed to prevent resumption of hostilities in later part of 1977, and ultimately they all went home. When the GRP and MNLF renewed their ceasefire agreement, Indonesia sent small contingent to monitor the truce but they were scarcely visible.  

As grouping of Muslim states carrying out its mediation tasks is a complex procedure. This was simplified by assigning the mission to small grouping of countries. But it is observed that results are assured if a member country is assigned to facilitate the negotiations. The GRP and the MNLF were able to agree on the terms of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement mainly through the diplomatic efforts of Libya. Indonesia’s focused efforts were helpful to both the GRP and MNLF reached the 1996 Peace Accord.

The OIC mediation was fruitful in the sense that it was able to bring to conclusion the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MNLF. “The GRP-MNLF peace agreement is a trophy the OIC proudly holds”, Vitug and Gloria (2000:7) commented. But the fruits of two decades of negotiations did not solve the Bangsamoro problem. This is the observation of the OIC Secretary General: [8]

“With regard to the Philippines, ten years have elapsed since the final peace agreement was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996. Regrettably, this peace agreement did not bring real peace. Disagreement on the interpretations of some provisions of the agreement led to the resumption of hostilities.”

The area of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other conflict-affected areas remain the poorest provinces in the country. In fact, average income of people in conflict-affected areas declined after the 1996 peace agreement was signed. According to the World Bank (2003: 11), “Without exception, all the conflict-affected areas experienced a fall in average per capita incomes from 1977 to 2000.” The same report states that, with the exception of North Cotabato and Davao del Norte, “the incidence of people falling below the poverty line and depth of poverty in these provinces rose dramatically from 1977 to the year 2000.” 

As far as success in the resolution of the problem, the OIC intervention in the Mindanao conflict was a failure. It deserves the accolade for brokering the agreements but it was unsuccessful in making parties to comply with the terms.    

The time spent before settlement was attained is utterly long. If we reckon from the time the OIC took cognizance of the problem in 1972, around twenty four years were spent before final agreement was inked in 1996. When counting starts from 1975, the start of the formal negotiations, that is around twenty one years. Judging from either calculation, it was indeed a lengthy negotiation.   

The lesson learned from the OIC intervention is third parties should not be concern only of reaching agreements; equally important is the faithful compliance with the terms of the agreement. Salmi, Majul and Tanham (19980: 174) observe that in dealing with the problems of the Muslims in the Philippines, “the OIC did not spare funds, time, or effort to find a peaceful solution”, but surprisingly, no extra effort was done to ensure that the provisions of the agreements were complied, or at least the implementations are closely monitored. 

After an agreement is signed, a road map of implementation has to be worked out. It is a tedious work, but the parties have to do it to ensure success that whatever agreement reached will solve the problem that fuelled the violent conflict. It will be useful if the conflicting parties, with the assistance of the third party intervener, can come out with benchmarks in determining if agreements are implemented or not.  


            Malaysia’s third party involvement in the talks between the GRP and the MILF is mainly facilitation. Santos (2005: 23-24) describes this role as follows: 

“Malaysia’s facilitation, aside from being host, usually involved the following functions: go-between conveying positions of the parties; providing a conducive atmosphere and facilities; presence in the talks as ‘referee’ and to witness commitments and understandings; help bridge differences by shuttling between the parties; administration of the talks; and record and keep minutes, to detail what had actually been agreed upon.” 

While maintaining its facilitation role, Malaysia is at the same time doing mediation. This may not be obvious because of Malaysia’s preference to “silent diplomacy”. Every time the GRP and MILF negotiating panels reached a point of disagreements that might lead to a stalemate Malaysia has been helpful in suggesting alternatives. Malaysia’s mediation works not much during meetings of the two negotiating panels but more at a time when the peace panels are not talking with each other. These are observed in the frequent visits of Malaysia’s representatives to Manila and Camp Darapanan[9].  

            Malaysia has been creative in handling the negotiations. When the GRP Panel would not sign the implementing guidelines on the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development aspects of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001, it used back channel negotiations to break the impasse. After government forces attacked the MILF positions on February 11, 2003, Malaysia invited the two parties to exploratory talks for the purpose of exploring new ideas on how the formal negotiations would resume. Instead of convening the resumption of formal negotiations it is now using exploratory talks as venue of discussions on substantive matters related to ancestral domain. Obviously, the intention is when formal talks resume there is assurance that an agreement will be reached since contentious issues were ironed out already during exploratory talks. It will also dispel impression that the negotiations bogged down when no agreement is reached since it is just exploratory in nature.  

            Another important role of Malaysia is leading and providing the biggest contingents in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which is tasked to monitor the ceasefire and the implementation of other agreements. The smaller contingents come from Brunei and Libya.  

            How Malaysia performs its facilitative and mediation roles have been working well. Under its facilitation the talks move towards discussions on substantive issues. There were agreements on the framework of the negotiations, ceasefire, and the rehabilitation and development of conflict affected areas. The important achievement so far is the ceasefire is now in place and holding. This is significant because as talks on substantive issues go on there is need for relative peace on the ground. The presence of the IMT reduced significantly hostile encounters between government and MILF forces. But whether Malaysia can broker a deal that will put an end to the Mindanao conflict remain to be seen.  

            Around nine years have passed after the start of the GRP-MILF peace talks. Unless Malaysia can find creative ways of fast-tracking the negotiations, it might also take twenty, or more years, to arrive at a settlement.    

            As Malaysia’s involvement in the peace process is welcomed by both sides, Philippine civil society and media is grumbling on what they perceived as stringent rules on confidentiality. While this maybe normal in Malaysia but NGOs and media outlets in the Philippines find the strict rules on confidentiality unusual.           

            United States 

            Instead of the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Manila being engaged in the peace process, the task is given to USIP. The reason for this, according to Martin (2006), is “because it would be difficult for the USG (United States Government) or its official representatives to play a neutral role between a government with which it has diplomatic relations (Manila) and a revolutionary organization like the MILF.”   

            This is true but what the U.S. overlooked is third parties involvements in the peace process have always been at the official level. Introduction of Track II diplomacy is seen by many as downgrading the status of the peace process. When Libya and Indonesia were asked to mediate in behalf of the OIC, the foreign ministries of Libya and Indonesia were directly involved. At one time, President Qadhafy of Libya went to the extent of exchanging note verbale with President Marcos to resolve certain issues. Malaysia’s involvement is at the level of the Office of the Prime Minister. 

            The U.S. Government decision to get involve came at a time when Malaysia is already engaged in the peace process. The decision not to supplant Malaysia was indeed appropriate. Since Malaysia employs Track I diplomacy, its hesitant to work with Track II is understandable.   

            The expectations from the U.S. when it decided to get involved in the peace process was it would bring in new formula to resolve the problem. Chairman Hashim wrote President Bush to answer the points raised by Ambassador Ricciardone during his talk before FOCAP in January 2003 that the U.S. Government wants to know what the MILF wants or how the conflict would be resolved, and he looked forward to a U.S. initiative. The expectation from President Bush statement that the United States will provide diplomatic and financial support to the renewed peace process was more on official involvement rather than Track II initiatives. There was a $32 million promised development aid once agreement is signed, but this was not received well because a political formula on how to end the conflict was not clear.  

            The U.S. commitment to the territorial integrity of the Philippines, and at the same time recognizing that the Bangsamoro people have serious legitimate grievances that must be addressed is a welcome policy initiative.[10] It is seen by many as an opportunity to explore new formula. This was the first time the U.S. made clear were it stands in relation to the Mindanao conflict notwithstanding that the Philippines was a former colony and the U.S. had long historical engagement with the Bangsamoro people.


Involvement of third party, as experience in Mindanao peace process demonstrates, is valuable to bring together conflicting parties to talk peace. When negotiations are at a stalemate, third party intervention is useful to break the deadlock.

The role of the third party does not end at the signing of settlement. It is important to see to it that every provision is implemented not just for compliance but with the spirit of addressing the causes of the problem in order to avoid a relapse into conflict and to build and consolidate sustainable peace. Equally important, is a road map of implementation and benchmarks to guide parties to the agreement, third parties intervener and funding institutions in the implementation phase. 


            The GRP and MNLF submitted conflicting reports on the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement. When the OIC will convene the tripartite meeting,[11] it will be useful if it will direct discussions towards coming up of implementation plan rather than allow the two parties hurl accusations against each other. To monitor compliance, it will be effectual to assign a member country to do it rather than assigning it to a collegial body like the Committee of the Eight.  

            Malaysia should continue its role of facilitating the GRP-MILF peace talks, as Secretary Albert noted, “Malaysia remains crucial to the search for peace in Southern Philippines,”[12] and should continue its engagement up to the post-conflict phase. It is imperative that Malaysia shall remind always the GRP and MILF on the importance of a road map and benchmarks in the implementation of whatever agreements reached. Equally important is a monitoring group that shall keep an eye on compliance with the terms of agreements and see to it that they are implemented in accordance with the road map. How to fast track the negotiations so it will not take as long as the GRP-MNLF talks is a valid concern that Malaysia, the GRP and MILF should seriously consider.  

            The U.S. should keep up its policy not to supplant Malaysia in its role in the GRP- MILF peace talks. Better still the United States Government shall raise to the level of the State Department its involvement in the peace process. By so doing, I guess Malaysia will be comfortable partnering with the U.S. in the search for peace given that their dealings will be on government to government level. Likewise, the MILF will feel confident that any agreement reached will be implemented given the strong political influence of the U.S. in the Philippine power structure. On the part of the GRP, involvement of the U.S. in the peace process will certainly be welcomed. The USIP, with its rich experience in conflict management will be indispensable in providing support to the State Department.            

            Many European countries have rich experience in assisting states that suffered from internal conflicts rebuild their societies. The involvement of these countries, either unilaterally or through the European Union, in the peace process will certainly add to chances of success in peace building efforts, particularly in the post-conflict reconstruction phase. And Japan, which has been invited to join the IMT, at least in the civilian component, should give favourable consideration to the request because it can contribute so much to the success of the peace process.  


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Santos, Jr., Soliman M. 2005a. “Peace negotiations Between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front: Causes and Prescriptions.” Working Papers No. 3. East-West Center Washington. 

Santos, Jr., Soliman M. 2005b. “Malaysia’s Role in the Peace Negotiations Between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.” In The Mindanao Conflict, Kamarulzaman Askandar and Ayesah Abubakar, eds. Penang, Malaysia: The Southeast Asian Conflict Studies Network. 

Wadi, Julkifli M. 1993. “Islamic Diplomacy: A Case Study of the O.I.C and the Pacific Settlement of the Bangsamoro Question (1972-1992).” Master of Arts thesis, Institute of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines. 

Vitug, Marites Danguilan and Glenda M. Gloria. 2000. Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Social and Public Affairs and Institute for Popular Democracy.  

World Bank.  2003. Social Assessment of Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao, Summary. Pasig City: World Bank Office, Manila.


[1] It is estimated that more than 100,000 people died and hundreds of thousand more were injured. More than 2000,000 Bangsamoro sought refuge in the Malaysian state of Sabah and have not yet returned home.

For a period of 26 years (1970-1996) the government spent around 76 billion pesos in fighting the Bangsamoro secessionist movement. In year 2000 alone when the Armed forces of the Philippines attacked the MILF strongholds, the government spent no less than six billion pesos.

Former Presidential Assistant for Regional Development Paul Dominguez, quoting “very preliminary” findings from a World Bank study, revealed that “the present value of the economic cost of a never-ending conflict would be at least US$2 billion over the next ten years.”

[2]The MNLF was once a monolithic organization. In December 1997 a faction headed by Salamat Hashim broke off from the mainstream MNLF and that faction evolved into what is now the MILF.

[3] On December 1, 1993 Salamat Hashim issued this statement: “The MILF is maintaining a consistent policy towards the peace process. We will reject any attempt by the Philippine Government to open separate negotiations with the MILF unless the GRP-MNLF talk is finally concluded.”

[4] Nichiporuk, Grammich, Rabasa, and DaVanza (2006) identify the U.S. economic and security interests in maritime Southeast Asia, where Mindanao is strategically located, as follows: “First, the United States seeks to maintain open sea lanes through the region, especially through the Straits of Malacca, through which much Persian Gulf oil is shipped to East Asia. Second, the moderate Islam practiced in the region can help offset radical Islamist movements elsewhere. Third, Washington seeks to prevent terrorist infrastructure from developing in the dense jungles of the region. And fourth, the United States needs to build strong strategic relationships in the region to assure access for American air and naval forces.” 

[5] He succeeded Salamat as chairman of the MILF central committee after the latter’s death in July 2003.

[6] The members were Saudi Arabia, Libya, Senegal and Somalia. Later the membership was increased to six, thus the name was Committee of the Six. Now there are eight members and is called Committee of the Eight. The member countries are Saudi Arabia, Libya, Somalia, Senegal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. 

[7] The use of power mediation by Libya was vividly described by Rodil (2000: 36-37) in his account of one incident during the official trip of the First Lady Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos to Libya in 1976. Very revealing also how Libya used power mediation is found in the official impressions of the GRP Panel of what transpired during the December 1976 negotiations in Tripoli, Libya. (Rodil 2000: 45-49)

[8] Opening speech of OIC Secretary General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu during the 33rd Session of Foreign Ministers at Baku, Azerbaizan on June 19-21, 2006. See

[9] One of the major MILF camps where MILF leaders receive visitors.

[10] In reply to the second letter of Chairman Salamat Hashim to President Bush dated May 30, 2003, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly, on behalf of the United States Government and upon the instruction of President Bush, wrote Chairman Hashim. In that letter Secretary Kelly outlined the U.S. policy on the Mindanao conflict.

[11] Meeting of the three signatories to the 1996 peace agreement – the OIC, GRP and MNLF.

[12] Lecture by the Hon. Delia Domingo Albert, Secretary of foreign Affairs, for the Third University of the Philippines Public Lecture on the Philippine Presidency and Administration, UP Faculty Center Conference Hall, February 23, 2004.

Timeline: GRP-MILF peace process

Lei Chavez,
Posted at 08/15/2008 3:24 PM | Updated as of 08/15/2008 3:24 PM


March 24 – Presidential adviser on the peace process Eduardo Ermita and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice-chair for military affairs Al Haj Murad Ebrahim sign the Agreement of the General Framework for the Resumption of peace talks between the GRP and MILF. Malaysia assists in the peace talks by brokering between the two parties.

March 31 – President Arroyo signs Republic Act 9054, an amendment of Republic Act 6734. The act aims to strengthen and expand the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

June 22 – The ancestral domain aspect of the GRP-M ILF Tripoli Agreement is signed in Libya. The following day, the military attacks the MILF in Basilan due to allegations that the latter is helping the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which was then keeping a number of American and Filipino hostages in Basilan.

August 2 – Six municipalities in Lanao del Norte vote for inclusion in ARMM. These municipalities are Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkol.

August 14 – Phe people of North Cotabato vote against the plebiscite and refuse to be included in ARMM.

October 29 – The MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) hold unity talks. The MNLF had already signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 under the Ramos administration.

November 26 – Former MNLF governor Nur Misuari starts a rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, derailing the ARMM elections.


January 7 – Misuari is deported from Sabah, Malaysia and faces rebellion charges in the country.

May 6 – The fourth round of formal peace talks between the government and the MILF begins. The talks produced the following agreements: 1) Joint Communique to veto criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups in Mindanao; 2) Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian Rehabilitation and Development aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001. These agreements became controversial because Norberto Gonzalez, the President’s adviser on special concerns, and not Jesus Dureza, leader of the negotiating panel, signed the documents.


February 10 – The government peace panel led by Dureza presents a draft of the final peace agreement to House Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

February 11 – A military campaign is launched in the Muslim village of Buliok during the end of the Hajj. This offends the MILF and other Muslims, igniting a clash between the two parties that lasted for a week.

March 27 – Exploratory talks take place in Kuala Lumpur.

April 2 – Davao is bombed twice and grenades are hauled in three mosques. The government blames the MILF for these commotions. The latter denies the allegations.

May 6 – President Arroyo cancels peace talks.

May 25 – MILF declares a 20-day ceasefire that extends until June 12.

July 13 – MILF chair Salamat Hashim dies of a heart attack and Ebrahim Murad takes over. Mohagher Iqbal becomes the chairman of the MILF peace panel.

July 19 – In the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, the government and the MILF panels agree on a “mutual cessation of hostilities.” The Abaya Doctrine, or the AFP guidelines on the primacy of the GRP-MILF peace process, is formulated.

September 5 – Exploratory peace talks in Kuala Lumpur yield the following: 1) gradual pull-out of the troops in Buliok; 2) deployment of the Third Party Monitoring Team to Mindanao; 3) formation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG); and 4) ancestral domain is set as next agenda for the peace talks.


January 18 – Sixty peace monitors from Malaysia, Brunei, and Libya are deployed to Mindanao to monitor the five-year truce between the two parties. Malaysia sends 41 unarmed soldiers.

December 20 – The discussion on ancestral domain, the last of the three major agenda items, is divided into four strands: concept, territory, resources, and governance.


April 16 – The seventh round of exploratory talks in Malaysia concludes the discussion on concept, territory, and resources.

September 17 – Silvestre Afable, head of the GRP panel, and Iqbal say the panels successfully finished the “most difficult hurdle in the ancestral domain agenda.”


February 6 – Peace negotiators promise to draft an overall framework of the ancestral domain by late March.

March 6 – Malaysia cancels the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF because of the political situation in Manila. Arroyo declared a state of emergency on February 24, which was lifted a week after.

August 31 – Japan sends a delegation to Manila to talk about Japan’s contributions to the peace process.

September 3 – The peace talks between GRP and MILF resume but will possibly extend beyond September. Difficulties in the talks arise as both parties do not agree on the areas to be placed under the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity (BJE).


May 12 – Arroyo instructs the AFP to “work closely with the mechanisms of the peace process to keep combatants in place.”

June 16 – Silvestre Afable resigns reportedly because of lack of support from the government.

July – 10 Marine officers are beheaded in Basilan after skirmishes with the MILF.

August 13 – Arroyo calls for a “pilot implementation of the envisioned Muslim ancestral domain regime.”

August 17 – Arroyo calls “urgent” peace talks with the MILF to resolve the Basilan situation.

August 19 – The government cancels a scheduled meeting with the MILF in Malaysia. Peace talks scheduled to resume in September.

October 24 – The government panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and MILF peace panel chair Iqbal say in a joint statement that formal talks on ancestral domain can be finally be concluded, ending the 13-month impasse between the two parties.

November 15 – The parties agree to the scope and boundaries of the ancestral domain and affirm “all previous points of consensus on the core items of the territory issue.”

December 16 – Peace talks are stalled due to constitutional issues between the two parties. The ancestral domain negotiations reach a deadlock.


April 21 – Malaysia, a member of the International Monitoring Team, starts to pull out their soldiers in Mindanao.

May 10 – The Malaysian troops withdraw from Mindanao. British experts promise to help in the peace talks.

July 9 – An informal emergency meeting between the GRP and MILF is called to defuse tension between the two groups. Here, MILF complains about the deployment of troops near their bases, claiming the move is “a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement.”

July 17 – A deal on ancestral domain of some local Muslim communities is made between the two parties in Kuala Lumpur.

July 21 – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of North Cotabato passes a resolution opposing to be included in the ARMM homeland.

July 24 – GRP and MILF start their talks in Kuala Lumpur. In Manila, pro-government legislators in the House of Representatives file a bill to postpone the August 11 elections in ARMM.

July 25 – After two days of negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, the ancestral domain deal fails to be signed.

July 27 – The two groups sign a joint communiqué on the Muslim ancestral domain. The MOA provides that about 700 villages in Mindanao will hold a referendum within 12 months (of the MOA signing) if they want to join the Muslim homeland. The signing of the agreement is temporarily set on August 5. Formal peace deal scheduled to be concluded in November 2009.

August 2 – Local officials from North Cotabato ask the Supreme Court to block the signing of the agreement between GRP and MILF.

August 4 – The Supreme Court issues a Temporary Restraining Order for the signing of the ancestral domain in Malaysia on August 5.

August 11 – Sen. Mar Roxas and former Senator Franklin Drilon file petitions with the Supreme Court to stop the Philippine government from concluding the MOA with the MILF.

August 15—The Supreme Court holds oral arguments on the GRP-MILF MOA.

-Research by Lei Chavez/


[Paper read during the Round Table Discussion on Updates on Muslims in Mindanao, sponsored by the Institute of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines on February 7, 2002 at Romulo Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City.]


The MILF-GRP Negotiations

Abhoud Syed M. Lingga

Executive Director

Institute of Bangsamoro Studies



For more than three decades war is raging in mainland Mindanao, in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi archipelago and in the islands of Basilan and Palawan between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the military arm of the Bangsamoro liberation fronts. The Philippine government views this war as an attempt of the Muslims in the South to secede from the Philippine republic. On the other hand, the Bangsamoro liberation fronts contend that this is not a war of secession for they consider the incorporation of their homeland into the Philippine republic as illegal and immoral since it was done without their plebiscitary consent but a continuation of their struggle for the decolonization of their homeland. They see the Philippine government as the successor-in-interest of the Spanish and American colonialists who for centuries ruled the Philippine islands.  

Attempts to resolve the war through negotiations started on January 13-27, 1975 when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) representatives met the Philippine government delegations in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The succeeding negotiations that lasted for more than two decades resulted to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement on December 23, 1976 and the Final Agreement on the

Implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) last September 2, 1996 in Manila. But formal negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the GRP started only on January 7, 1997 at the Da’wah Center, Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Updates on the negotiations are presented in this paper.

Peace Overtures

Before the signing of the final agreement between the MNLF and the GRP on September 2, 1996, negotiations to solve the Mindanao conflict were confined with the MNLF. Peace overtures to the MILF were limited to informal contacts. This is understandable because the MNLF was signatory to the Tripoli Agreement which was the basis of the peace talks. Likewise, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), under whose auspices the negotiations were carried out, recognizes the MNLF as the representative organization of the Muslims in South of the Philippines. These legal and technical constraints forced the OIC and the Philippine government to skirt the realities on the ground and negotiated only with the MNLF despite the fact that the MILF is a strong force as the MNLF and there are many areas, like mainland Mindanao, where the MILF is dominant.

Cognizant of the realities on the ground but constrained by technicalities the Philippine government limited its contacts with the MILF to informal talks and making peace overtures. Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos sent emissaries to Cairo to meet the MILF leadership. During the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mamintal Abdul Jabbar Tamano was dispatched to Saudi Arabia to meet Chairman Salamat Hashim. During that meeting held at the Office of the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Minister Tamano extended the invitation of the Philippine government to the MILF chairman to participate in a peaceful dialogue to resolve the Mindanao Problem. Salamat Hashim replied that the MILF is always desirous of attaining honorable peace and the MILF has been clear and consistent in its position on how to achieve peace. On the issue of ceasefire that Minister Tamano raised during the meeting, Salamat made it clear that the MILF was not bound by the GRP-MNLF ceasefire since it was not represented when the truce was negotiated. Salamat expressed to Minister Tamano his wish to have the opportunity to welcome President Aquino to Camp Abubakar and show her the hospitality of the Bangsamoro people

Following that meeting, National Affairs Secretary Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and MILF Vice Chairman for Military Affairs Al Haj Murad Ebrahim entered into an informal agreement on February 8, 1987 for the cessation of hostilities between the government troops and the MILF forces. After that, contact between the two parties was frozen. It was revived on November 24, 1992 when Haydee B. Yorac, chairperson of the National Unification Commission, met Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and invited the MILF to join the exploratory talks for the purpose of establishing a just and lasting peace in the Philippines. The MILF was asked to form a panel but the talks were discontinued.

Realizing that as long as the GRP-MNLF talks were going on no formal negotiations between the MILF and the GRP would take place, the MILF was hesitant to respond seriously to the peace overtures and contacts initiated by the Philippine government. This is reflected in the statement of Chairman Salamat Hashim last December 1, 1993: “The MILF is maintaining a consistent policy towards the peace process. We will reject any attempt by the Philippine government to open separate negotiations with the MILF unless the GRP-MILF talk is finally concluded.”

Formal Negotiations

When the Philippine government was sure that final agreement with the MNLF would be reached it renewed its contacts with the MILF. It started when House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong met the amir of the Bangsamoro mujahidin Salamat Hashim at the latter’s office at Camp Abubakar. Except for the statement that the meeting was an effort in search for a peaceful and political settlement of the Mindanao problem, the details of what had been discussed are not available.

On August 3, 1996 former Executive Secretary Ruben Torres met the MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar in Davao City. Secretary Torres relayed the desire of the Philippine government to enter into formal negotiations with the MILF. Another meeting was held last September 9-10 at Cagayan de Oro City where issues on cessation of hostilities and the creation of technical committees from both sides to draw the talking points and the guidelines of the proposed ceasefire were discussed. After exchanges of communications the technical committees of both parties were organized.

The first meeting of the technical committees of the MILF and GRP panels was held on January 7, 1997 at the Da’wah Center, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. The technical committees on agenda setting agreed on the nature and scope of their assigned task that is to identify and clarify the issues and concerns that shall become the agenda for the formal peace talks. The MILF technical committee presented a single talking point: “To solve the Bangsamoro problem.”

The technical committees on the cessation of hostilities exchanged position papers on the ceasefire, which was intended to generate favorable atmosphere for the formal peace talks. The GRP proposal contains among others the following: “subject to the constitution and sovereignty of the government; no display of flag; no collection of revolutionary zakat; no military training and procurement of firearms.” On the other hand the MILF proposal calls for the recognition of MILF camps and territories and recognition and observance of both parties of the Geneva Conventions on Articles of War, stop the deployment of AFP forces in MILF controlled territories and adjacent areas, and pull out of government troops in MALMAR (Malitubug-Maridagao) area in Carmen, Cotabato Province, in Sultan sa Barongis, Maguindanao, and Tipo-Tipo and Tuburan, Basilan Province.

Although the first meeting was very cordial it adjourned without reaching any agreement except to meet again on February 25-26, 1997.

But before the second meeting was held, armed confrontation between the two protagonists erupted in Buldon, Maguindanao from January 16 to 27, 1997 when the AFP attempted to intrude into what the MILF claimed as perimeter defense of Camp Abu Bakr. To prevent the conflict from spilling over to other areas, the GRP-MILF Technical Committees on Cessation of Hostilities met on January 27 and signed the interim cessation of hostilities in Buldon.

On June 17, 1997 the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched massive military operations in the municipalities of Pagalungan and Sultan SA Barongis in Maguindanao and Pikit in Cotabato Province. Consequently the MILF refused to return to the negotiation table until the situations in the area normalize. Normalization of the situation as proposed by the MILF means: “Stop to AFP military operations in Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces; pull out of government troops from Pikit area, Cotabato; stop of AFP hostile and provocative acts; and the return of evacuees to their places of origin.”

The worsening situation prompted Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar and then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres and their respective parties to meet in Cagayan de Oro City on July 17-18, 1997. At the end of that meeting the agreement for general cessation of hostilities was signed. The two parties agreed, among others, “To commit the armed forces of the GRP and MILF to a General Cessation of Hostilities.” On same day another agreement was signed which provides that the Armed Forces of the Philippines would withdraw from Rajamuda, Pikit on July 23 and the MILF committed not to reoccupy the area in order to normalize the situation in Pikit, Cotabato after the heavy encounters between the two forces. Upon the request of the Philippine government, the second agreement was not released to the media.

Subsequent meetings of the GRP-MILF Technical Committees were focused on the cessation of hostilities. Agreements were mainly on the operational guidelines of the general cessation of hostilities, administrative procedures, monitoring mechanism and identification and acknowledgment of MILF positions/camps.

The agreement signed in Marawi City on November 14, 1997 identified the following as hostile and provocative acts:

Prohibited hostile acts:

  1. Terroristic acts such as kidnapping, hijacking, piracy, sabotage, arson, bombings, grenade throwing, robberies, liquidation/assassinations, unjustified arrest, torture, unreasonable search and seizure, summary execution, as well as burning of houses, places of worship and educational institutions, destruction of properties, and abuse of civilians.


  1. Aggressive action such as attacks, raid, ambuscades, landmines, and offensive military actions such as shelling, reconnoitering, and unjustified massing of troops.


  1. Establishment of checkpoints except those necessary for the GRP’s enforcement and maintenance of peace and order, and for the defense and security of the MILF identified areas.

Prohibited provocative acts are:

  1. Display of MILF flag in non-identified MILF areas.


  1. Providing sanctuary or assistance to criminal or lawless elements.


  1. Massive deployment and/or movement of GRP and MILF forces, which are not normal administrative functions and activities.


  1. Public pronouncements that will tend to undermine the sincerity or credibility of either party in implementing the cessation of hostilities.


  1. Other acts that endanger the safety and security of the people and their properties; and/or that which contribute to the deterioration of peace and order, such as blatant display of firearms.

After the assumption of President Joseph E. Estrada to office, an agreement was signed on August 27, 1998 that reiterates the commitment of both parties to pursue the peace negotiations and pledge to implement the joint agreements/arrangements previously signed, and to protect and respect human rights. Both parties recognized that there would be lasting peace in Mindanao when there is mutual thrust, justice, freedom and tolerance for the identity, culture, and ways of life and aspirations of all the peoples of Mindanao.

On the identification and acknowledgment of MILF positions/camps, out of 46 major and satellite camps only Camp Abu Bakr as-Sidique, Camp Bushra, Camp Darapanan, Camp Omar, Camp Badre, Camp Rajahmuda and Camp Bilal were acknowledged. The other 39 camps were scheduled for verification and acknowledgment before the end of December 1999 but overtaken by the all-out war.

After twenty months of talks at the technical committees level, the formal negotiation was opened on October 25, 1999 at the Da’wah Center, Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguidanao. Then on December 17, 1999 both peace panels met and agreed on the rules and procedures on the conduct of the formal peace talks.

The peace panels were supposed to tackle the substantive issues but the all-out war posturing of the military diverted the attention of the peace panels to salvage the ceasefire.

All Out War

Substantive issues were tabled for discussion but never been tackled seriously because of reported ceasefire violations in Maguindanao, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Norte provinces.

The two peace panels met on April 27, 2000 in Cotabato City and before midnight signed an Aide Memoire enumerating what steps they would take to defuse the tensions but at dawn the following day the AFP launched an attack against Camp Abubakar opening the start of the all out war policy of the Estrada Administration.

In response to the call of the different sectors of society to save the peace process, a meeting between the two peace panels took place on June 1, 2000 where the GRP peace panel presented a political package as solution to the problem. The political package was a draft of the amendments to the ARMM Organic Act, which was earlier rejected by the MNLF. After the meeting of the Technical Committees on June 15, 2000 the MILF central committee decided to withdraw from the talks, and the16th MILF General Assembly held in September of that year confirmed that decision. The MILF would only return to the negotiations if it would be held in a foreign country, all previous agreements would be respected and implemented and it would be under the auspices of the OIC or mediated by an OIC member country.

Resumption of the Negotiations

After President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office, she sought the assistance of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and Indonesian President Abdulrahman Wahid to convince the MILF to resume the stalled negotiations. Prime Minister Mahathir sent his top aide to talk with Chairman Salamat Hashim. After series of trips of the Malaysian emissaries to the MILF camp, Salamat Hashim agreed to resume talks with the government and sent his top deputy Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, Vice Chairman for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), to Kuala Lumpur to meet the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita. The meeting was kept secret that even Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza, was not informed. On March 24, 2001 Murad and Ermita signed the agreement for the resumption of the talks.

The Murad-Ermita agreement provides for the resumption of the peace negotiations and “continue the same from where it had stopped before April 27, 2000 until they shall have reached a negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro problem.” It also provides a commitment “to honor, respect and implement all past agreements and other supplementary agreements signed by them.” Both parties agreed to undertake “relief and rehabilitation measures for evacuees, and joint development projects in the conflict affected areas.” The MILF and the GRP “commit themselves to negotiate with sincerity and mutual trust, justice and freedom, and respect for the identity, culture and aspirations of all peoples of Mindanao.”

Following the Kuala Lumpur talks, the MILF declared the suspension of offensive military action (SOMA) against the AFP forces on April 3, 2001. Earlier, the government declared its suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) against MILF forces.

The MILF and the GRP reorganized their respective negotiating panels. The MILF panel is headed by Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, the vice chairman for military affairs and chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), and the GRP panel is chaired by Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza.

For the venue, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Tripoli were considered, but the strong Libyan lobby influenced the choice of Tripoli as the venue of the first meeting of the peace panels. The meeting in Tripoli on June 19 – 22, 2001resulted to the signing of the Agreement on Peace Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, otherwise known as the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001.

The agreement calls for discussion of three issues: 1) Security aspects (ceasefire); 2) Rehabilitation and development of conflict affected areas; and 3) Ancestral domain.

Although basically it is a bilateral agreement between the MILF and the GRP, the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 has international recognition. The negotiations was mediated and facilitated by Libya, Malaysia and Indonesia, and its signing was witnessed by representatives of other countries.

The agreement recognizes the distinct identity of the Bangsamoro as a people occupying a definite territory, referred to in the document as the Bangsamoro homeland, and the inherent right of the Bangsamoro people over their ancestral domain. It also acknowledges the fundamental right of the Bangsamoro people to determine their future and political status, and therefore the problem is political in nature that needs a comprehensive, just and lasting political settlement through negotiations, and that negotiations and peaceful resolution of the conflict should involve consultations with the Bangsamoro people free of any imposition. The agreement allows the evacuees to be awarded reparations for their properties lost or destroyed by reason of the conflict.

While previous agreements do not mention of participation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), this time the MILF and the GRP want the OIC to act as observer and monitor implementation of all agreements, not just the ceasefire agreement.

The talks in Kuala Lumpur in August 2001 focused on the implementing guidelines of the ceasefire. At the end of the meeting of the two peace panels agreement on the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001 was signed on August 7, 2001 at Putrajaya, Malaysia.

The third round of the formal peace talks in October 2001 was supposed to tackle the issue of the rehabilitation of refugees and development of conflict-affected areas. Since there was no agreement on the agenda, the GRP panel presented the Manual of Instruction for CCCH and LMTs for consideration. The contents of the manual were culled from provisions of previous agreements. The manual was signed on October 18, 2001 at Mines Resort, Selangor, Malaysia.

Since then, no announcement was made when the panel will meet again. Even the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), which is tasked to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire, met for the first time only on January 12, 2002. The Local Monitoring Teams (LMTs) are not yet organized.


Both parties, as provided in the Agreement of March 24, 2001, are committed to “negotiate with sincerity and mutual trust” and to continue the negotiations “until they shall have reached a negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro problem.” But there are intervening events that might affect the progress of the negotiations.

Mindanao Balikatan 02-1

The U.S.-Philippine joint military exercise, code-named Mindanao Balikatan 02-1, is being held in Zamboanga peninsula and Basilan. In previous years the joint military exercises were held in various parts of Luzon and Mindoro and avoided areas where rebels are actively operating to prevent U.S. forces involvement in internal conflicts. This time, 1,200 Philippine troops and 660 U.S. troops are engaged in six months joint operations against live targets, the Abu Sayyaf.

Although the MILF forces are not the targets, at least in official statements, but the refusal of the military to identify MILF camps in Basilan to facilitate coordination as provided in the ceasefire agreement and to prevent mis-encounter increase the risk of involvement of U.S. troops in the conflict between the MILF and the government. If there will be mis-encounter between MILF forces and government troops and accidentally an American soldier is killed, how would the U.S. react? Certainly, the U.S. commander will call for operation against the MILF and will start the cycle of attacks and counter-attacks. We can only wish that this will not happen.

The presence of U.S. troops in Mindanao may strengthen the position of those who want to solve the Mindanao Problem militarily. My fear is that the negotiations would be sidetracked in favor of military action. The deadlock in the third round of talks in Kuala Lumpur and the seemingly lack of interest on the part of the government to resume immediately the peace talks are signals of the dominance of the military approach in solving the Mindanao Problem within the circle of government decision making. Military solution has been tried several times before and it always failed, and to use it again would only bring more destruction to lives and properties of Bangsamoro civilians.

All-out war posturing of the military  

The present posturing of the military is similar with their posturing before the 2000 all-out war against the MILF. The accusations against the MILF that it has connections with al-Qaida and the Abu Sayyaf are meant to get the U.S. support once the government decides to launch another all-out war. The military insistence that the MILF is harboring the “Pentagon Group”, despite reports that the “Pentagon Group” is the creation of the Philippine National Police (PNP), is to influence public opinion in favor of an all-out war approach.

It will not surprise us if the government will announce that it will suspend or totally abandon the negotiations for the military posturing is leading towards that direction.

Lack of interest of the OIC to organize the monitoring team

There seems to be lack of interest of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to be directly involved in the peace process. Probably it does not want to repeat the experience with the MNLF-GRP peace process that was brought to conclusion but it did not solve the Mindanao Problem.

The Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 provides that the OIC has to organize a monitoring team to monitor implementation of the ceasefire and other agreements. Both the MILF and the GRP have sent officially requests to that effect but until now the OIC has not organized its monitoring team.

The OIC monitoring team can play important role in preventing incident that would violate the ceasefire and other agreements. In the absence of the OIC monitoring team, accusations and counter accusations will be sensationalized in the media instead of being investigated.

Even if the negotiations will proceed smoothly and agreements are reached on the agenda items in the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001, there is no assurance that solution to the Mindanao Problem will be reached. The issue on the political status of the Bangsamoro people is not in the schedule of discussion between the two parties.

I understand that the Malaysian go-betweens struck the compromise between the MILF and the GRP, just to have the talks started, that the issue of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity over the Bangsamoro homeland as well as the use of the Philippine constitution as basis of the negotiations should not be raised by the Philippine peace panel. On the other hand, the MILF should not table the discussion on the issue of Bangsamoro independence.

It should be noted that the core issue of the Mindanao Problem that has to be addressed is the continuing assertion of the Bangsamoro people for their fundamental right to freedom and independence. Unless this is being discussed and agreement is reached, negotiations like the ongoing MILF-GRP peace talks will just be another exercise in futility.

Binay to MILF: Resume peace talks with GRP

August 12, 2010, 5:42pm

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Thursday appealed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to resume peace talks with the Philippine government (GRP).

“I appeal to the MILF to give the peace talks a chance. Countless innocent civilians, both Muslims and Christians, have suffered from the conflict,” Binay said.

“Economic growth has been elusive, especially in Muslim Mindanao. It is time for us to come together and arrive at a shared agreement that would lead to lasting peace and development,” he added.

MILF Chairman Al-Haj Murad had earlier said that the MILF is not “optimistic” about the resumption of the talks after the holy month of Ramadan and had warned that it is ready to resume the armed conflict.

Binay however said the month-long Ramadan is an opportunity to reflect on the issue of peace and brotherhood. “I am sure that we are all committed to the development of Mindanao.

The end of armed conflict is the key to bringing development and economic growth to the region,” he said. “Exploring peaceful means to end the decades-long conflict would benefit us all, especially the future generations of Filipinos.”

As Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman, Binay also vowed to improve housing sector in Muslim Mindanao.

“We will address the housing problem of Muslim Filipinos, especially in rebuilding the homes that were destroyed in the past conflicts,” Binay said.

It will be recalled that the Vice President has tapped actor Robin Padilla as a special assistant to the housing sector in Muslim Mindanao in a bid to reach out to Muslim communities in need of decent housing.

During the Arroyo administration, the GRP and the MILF had resumed its peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 8 and 9, 2009 after a postponement in 2008 due to decision released by the Supreme Court (SC) deeming the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA –AD) as unconstitutional.

On June 3 of this year, the GRP, then headed by peace panel chairman Rafael Seguis, and the MILF had signed a Declaration to work on previous gains as foundation for future negotiations under the new administration.

This developed as an informal off-the-negotiating-table peace talks have started between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with GRP chief negotiator Marvic Leonen responding to MILF Chairman Al-Hajji Murad Ebrahim who said negotiations should start where it stopped.

“We have to move forward and moving forward means moving from where we stopped,” said Ebrahim.

“Definitely, it is not the intention of the government’s panel to start from scratch. Neither do we want to start without a viable proposal,” Leonen, dean of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, retorted.

The bone of contention seems to be what would be the role of the ill-fated memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MoA-AD), which was initialed but not signed by the two sides, when talks resume. It is because President Aquino has ordered the review of all past agreements.

Meanwhile, Hadji Akmad Bayam, former chief propagandist of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), said resuming the peace talks would be a better course than engaging in new hostilities, particularly with the onset of the Ramadan fasting month either August 11 or 12, depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.

He warned of the “drivers of war” in Mindanao, who are out to sabotage efforts to end the Mindanao conflict.

The Spratly agenda

The Spratly agenda

By Perry Diaz

“]President Hu Jintao (R) shakes hands with Philippine President Benigno Aquino during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, August 31, 2011. [Photo/Xinhua

Three days before President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III embarked on a four-day state visit to China, it was reported in the news that the Philippine government had agreed to allow the Chinese government-owned China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) to conduct oil exploration in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

According to Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio, Sinopec would invest $1 billion for joint oil exploration, which is a part of the $7-billion investment package that is expected to be signed during P-Noy’s state visit.  Panlilio said that they didn’t expect any problem with the “deal” because Sinopec had already agreed to conduct the oil exploration – conveniently — “under Philippine law.”

They were optimistic of the deal pushing through that Sinopec didn’t waste any time looking for a local partner.  The deal was scheduled to be signed on the first full day of P-Noy’s state visit.  But on the eve of P-Noy’s departure, the deal fell through because Sinopec failed to secure the permission of the Chinese government.

“Lutong Macau”

What is strange was the speed of which the deal was put together.  But what is strangely contradictory was the fact that from the get-go, P-Noy declared unequivocally that the Spratly dispute would not be brought to the table in Beijing.  The official Malacañang line was: “The trip would focus primarily on boosting trade, economic cooperation and tourism between the two countries.”

But what P-Noy didn’t publicly declare was that his administration had already worked out a deal with Sinopec.  Should I presume that P-Noy didn’t know what Panlilio and his boss, DTI Secretary Gregory L. Domingo, were doing under his nose?  Or, should I say that P-Noy was privy to the deal, which seems to have been “pre-cooked”  — or as we say it in Pilipino, “lutong macau” behind closed doors?  If so, then he was not being forthright with his “bosses” – the people.

Although the oil exploration deal had gone sour, the Spratlys and the South China Sea are still very much at the top of China’s political and economic agenda.  Why not? According to the Chinese Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources, the area around the Recto Bank — which is within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the island of Palawan — is estimated to have oil reserves of 17.7 billion tons or approximately 126 billion barrels.  China estimates that $50 billion worth of oil could be extracted annually.

China is aware that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the 200-mile EEZ on December 10, 1982.  Part V Article 57 of UNCLOS clearly and unequivocally states: “The exclusive economic zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.”

China’s foreign oil dependency

With the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa heading towards the removal of authoritarian regimes – Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were already liberated from dictators and Syria and Yemen coming next – it’s very likely that the new governments in these countries would align with the United States and her NATO allies. And that would be bad news for China who had spent years developing strong ties with the likes of Muammar Ghadaffi of Libya.  The new government of Libya — a major oil supplier to China under Ghadaffi — would most likely redirect its oil exports to NATO countries that helped the Libyan rebels bring down the Ghadaffi dictatorship.

With at least 60% of China’s oil consumption coming from foreign sources — 80% of which are from the Middle East and North Africa — China’s leaders are jittery about losing a good amount of its foreign oil supply.  With the Spratlys much closer to home, drilling for oil in the Spratlys would be a major geopolitical victory for China.

Spratly dispute

It is interesting to note that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) with China and Vietnam in 2005-2008 in which 80% of the area covered by the JMSU was within the Philippines’ undisputed territory.  It didn’t take too long for the situation to spiral into a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

Soon after the JMSU was signed, China started claiming the Recto Bank and other parts of Philippine territory as part of her “core national interests,” which means that it is non-negotiable.  The Recto Bank is just 80 nautical miles from the province of Palawan — within the 200-mile EEZ – and 575 nautical miles far away from Hainan Island in China.

The fact that China ignored the provisions of UNCLOS of which she was a signatory, reinforces the notion that China is desperate for oil; therefore, she would do everything in her power – including military — to take over the entire South China Sea.  As Mao Zedong once said, “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” It worked during the Chinese communist revolution; it should still work today in China’s quest – and thirst — for oil.

Spratly agenda

Had the Sinopec oil exploration deal gone through, it would have been an extension of the JMSU agreement with China… with Vietnam out of the picture.  And to think that P-Noy allowed the behind-the-scene negotiation with Sinopec to progress while he publicly stated that the Spratly issue would not be brought to the table in Beijing, makes one wonder what P-Noy’s real Spratly agenda is?  When Gloria signed the JMSU in 2005, she was accused of selling out the Spratlys to China.  Had the Sinopec deal gone through, would it have been perceived as a sell-out, too?

There’s absolutely no reason why we should jointly explore with China what is rightfully ours.  As the old Filipino adage says, “Lulutuin tayo sa sarili nating mantika” (They’ll cook us with our own oil), the Sinopec deal would have done exactly that.

On August 31, the bilateral meeting between P-Noy and Chinese President Hu Jintao produced no concrete agreement on the Spratly dispute other than “to agree to disagree.”  P-Noy told Hu the position of the Philippine side that “this is a regional problem, and it requires a regional solution.”  Hu, on the other hand, was steadfast on China’s position that “the issue should be resolved peacefully, and that Beijing would encourage the development of the South China Sea.”

It’s interesting to know, however, that China has been unwavering in its position that the territorial dispute should be settled bilaterally with each of the claimant-nations as opposed to the Philippines’ position that all the six claimant-nations should all come to the table to settle the territorial dispute.

Other than the aberrant Sinopec “misdeal,” I hope that P-Noy would bring home the bacon, not a Peking duck marinated in Spratly oil.


Royal communiqué: Royal Grant of Knighthood as Datuk/ Knight Grand Commander

Royal communiqué: Royal Grant of Knighthood as Datuk/ Knight Grand Commander (KGCMRSS) of The Royal Order of Sulu & Sabah to The Honorable Commodore Datuk Sir Patrick Lami, KGCMRSS (Brigadier General U.N. International Police Commission)

31 August 2011

Royal Maimbung, Sulu

A Royal communiqué from His Royal Highness Prince Omar Kiram Dux de Legazpi Duque de Vivar-Maniquiz, Grand Prince & Prince Marshal & Grand Master of the Royal Orders.

“Be it hereby duly known with the most gracious Royal assent and approbation, and after due deliberation by the Royal Council which unanimously agreed and recommended to His Majesty Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdulla Kiram the First, The Sultan of Sulu & The Sultan of Sabah, Head of Islam & Head of Sultanate, The 35th Reigning Sultan – for the select personage to be granted the illustrious and honorable rank and title of Datuk/ Knight Grand Commander (KGCMRSS) of The Royal Order of Sulu & Sabah today.”

Citation reads:

For exemplary achievements in humanitarian service and bringing closer understanding between Christians and Muslims and other races without distinction of any kind and for unquestioned patriotism the Royal grantee of honors and distinction shall become Datuk/ Knight Grand Commander (KGCMRSS) of the Royal Order of Sulu & Sabah with immediate effect as from today namely:

The Honorable Commodore Datuk Sir Patrick Lami, KGCMRSS (Brigadier General United Nations International Police Commission (UNIPC), Member of Peace Panel Philippines & MILF Peace Talks and Vice President-International Chairman of Alpha Omega Anti-Crime International Task Force with direct links to all Philippine enforcement agencies i.e. NBI, PNP and others).

Your personal Knightly coat of arms as KGCMRSS is to be designed and marshaled by the Royal College of Arms for your sole and exclusive use as per Laws of Heraldry.

His Majesty Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdulla Kiram the First thereafter ordered and issued a Royal Edict to be signed and sealed today at Royal Maimbung, Sulu this 31st day of August in the year 2011.

This Royal Edict appears as a matter of public records and to be made known accordingly and we congratulate the well-deserving Royal awardee and grantee.

Note: This grant of Knighthood is free and without any fee or payment from the grantee as Knighthood is based on achievements and contributions to society and not the ability to pay for the recognition.  We have over 200 Knights globally and no one paid any fee to us to receive the recognition as Knights and to be accepted in the Royal Orders from the beginning up to now.  The grant is free.

We are:

HRH Prince Omar Kiram Dux de Legazpi Duque de Vivar-Maniquiz
Grand Prince & Prince Marshal & Grand Master of Royal Orders
The Royal Hashemite Sultanate of Sulu & Sabah

Audit result

COA unearths P2.6-B ‘ghost’ deals in ARMM
By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated August 30, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) has unearthed “ghost” deals involving a total of at least P2.6 billion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and in the province of Maguindanao.

COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan reported to the House appropriations committee that the irregularities took place last year.

She said the office of the regional governor (ORG) entered into transactions amounting to P1.003 billion which cannot be considered legitimate because these were supported by “spurious” documents.

“Funds received by the ORG for its operations were not properly utilized and managed, taking into consideration applicable laws, rules and regulations,” she said.

In Maguindanao, the COA discovered the occurrence of transactions amounting to P856.887 million which may be considered “fictitious” because these were either denied by suppliers or supported with spurious documents.

“Likewise, 99 projects costing P873.448 million were found deficient by P841.925 million as these were either not implemented or implemented but validated accomplishments were way below the reported accomplishments,” Tan said.

She did not indicate in her report under whose leadership in ARMM and Maguindanao in 2010 the spurious transactions were made.

Since the Maguindanao massacre in November 2009, Ansaruddin Adiong has taken over as acting ARMM governor.

In Maguindanao, two officers-in-charge were appointed before Esmael Mangudadatu was elected governor in May 2010.

Tan reported that aside from spurious deals entered into by the regional governor’s office and Maguindanao officials, the ARMM public works office had more than P1 billion in questionable payments.

“The validity and legitimacy of payments amounting to P1.123 billion to 112 suppliers and contractors may be considered questionable,” she said.

She promised to provide details on the questionable transactions in a subsequent report to the appropriations committee.

President Aquino has vowed to curb corruption in the ARMM, for which he is seeking fresh funding of more than P12 billion for 2012.

This is one of the reasons why he pushed for the postponement of the election of new regional officials, scheduled early this month, to May 2013.

The window of more than two years would give the officers-in-charge he will soon appoint time to straighten things out. The President wants the OICs to be “clean,” as far as financial dealings are concerned. Mangudadatu is one of the aspiring OICs.

Aquino also wants to introduce political reforms in the autonomous region.