Negotiating an Agreement is Difficult: Implementing it is Much Harder

One of the hardest lessons learned during the peace process with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) is that it is difficult to negotiate an agreement in the first place, but then the implementation of the agreement is much harder to realize. Agreements are pieces of paper that will not implement themselves, but implementation involves definitive and corresponding actions and programs for the Parties, as part of their commitments and obligations, including legal processes on the part of the government. Besides, there are also so many players of varied orientations, approaches, and motivations.

The two concluding agreements, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which are political documents that seek to create genuine autonomy for the Moros, cannot be implemented unless an internal legal process through the enactment of a law, in this case, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), is passed by Congress. This legal process is the unilateral responsibility of the government, which the MILF has no direct or official participation in. I will discuss this in more detail:

Let us discuss the negotiation first

Negotiation, as the word implies, is not an easy matter. Getting people to compromise is usually not a wholesome offer. An idea you think will work might not click with others. The challenge is rendered more difficult if the agenda of the negotiation is not about simple matters, like changing office rules or making some adjustments to the salary scale for employees, but, in the GPH-MILF peace negotiation, it was about solving the Bangsamoro Problem or Question, which is about “historic injustice” committed against the Bangsamoro people. This is practically a centuries-old conflict which is complex and knotty, encompassing many political structures, the military, religious matters, social and cultural affairs, and economic issues, to name just a few.

In this engagement, it took the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) seventeen long and harsh years of negotiation, 11 governments and four MILF negotiators, virtually involving five Philippine presidents, and this engagement was interspersed with three major wars before they were able to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.

To illustrate one instance of this prolonged hard negotiation is the case of the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was first tabled for deliberation in December 2004 and only to be initialled on July 27, 2008. It took the Parties three years and eight months before they agreed on the final text of the document. But their efforts were in vain because the Philippine Supreme Court subsequently declared it unconstitutional. As a result, war ensued and around one million people were displaced.

Our negotiation with the government passed through difficult processes and bitter experiences, such as impasses, withdrawals, cancellations, delays, walkouts, shouting matches, no-shows, proximity engagements, and back-channelling, etc. Even the choice of negotiators and the personality of the facilitators were not totally left to the discretion of the concerned party. Worse, sometimes while we were facing each other at the negotiating table, the armies of both Parties were already engaged in battles on many Mindanao frontlines. From 1997 up to the remaining period of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2010, the ceasefire agreement was breached more than it was honoured, and, as expected, violations were mainly at instances of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its allies, the Police and paramilitary forces.


Mohagher Iqbal, Chief Negotiator, MILF Peace Panel, speaking at the open public seminar “The Peace Process in the Southern Philippines: Its Challenges and Prospects” which took place November 15, 2015, at, Rikkyo University, Tokyo

The harder part of the peace process in Mindanao:
The implementation of agreements

Since we started the peace negotiation in 1997, the government and the MILF signed around 100 agreements or documents, which culminated in the signing of the two most important ones namely, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014. All these agreements including the FAB and CAB are political documents and therefore, as far as the establishment of the autonomous Bangsamoro is concerned, as proposed in the FAB and CAB, legal instruments, in the form of a law, hence, the proposed BBL, should be enacted into law by Congress. This legal process is the sole responsibility of the government and the MILF has no direct role in this stage.

Up to now, the BBL is still languishing in the halls of Congress and under the mercy of lawmakers, and oftentimes, tyrannized by anti-Moro lawmakers through their endless and sometimes pointless interpellations. Clearly, some of them are already filibustering the passage of the BBL.

Let me further explain in details this difficulty, especially in term of the legal process, as part of the implementation of the political agreements. Here is the road map of that legal process:

  1. The 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) was created through an Executive Order signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012. Its tasks, among others, is to draft the proposed BBL, which will be the governing law for the Bangsamoro political entity;

  2. The BBL was submitted to the Office of the President (OP), which, after two months, revised about 60 percent of the original draft; returned it to the BTC, which in turn elevated it to the MILF and GPH peace panels to settle the outstanding differences; and like the BTC, the peace panels have attempted but in vain to fix the differences. Subsequently, the OP headed by the Executive Secretary and the Chair of the BTC and MILF peace panel assumed the discussion. After four meetings, two in Davao City and another two in Manila, they have settled all, except seven, items which were elevated to President Aquino and Chairman Murad to settle, which they did in September 2014;

  3. On September 10, 2014, in a formal ceremony in Malacañan Palace, President Aquino, together with the Chair of the BTC and other high government officials, officially turned over the BBL to the leaders of Congress, both the Senate and the Lower House. This signalled the official legislative process to enact the BBL, but until now Congress is still deliberating on BBL with very little hope of passing it soon. November-December 2015 is the fourth and probably the last deadline Congress can still meet before President Aquino leaves office on June 30, 2016;
  4. Granting the BBL should pass in Congress and be signed into law by the President, this would still be subject for ratification by the people of the proposed autonomy. If they ratify it, then it becomes law; if not, then the law is dead;

  5. Upon ratification of the BBL, immediately the BTC will be phased out and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which is vested with legislative and executive powers, will be organized and which will act as the government, during the transition period. Similarly, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will also be abolished; and

  6. The BTA will exit immediately after the election for the regular Bangsamoro Government takes place.

Clouds of uncertainty

The status of the BBL, as pointed out earlier, is clouded with uncertainty. We do not know whether it will pass Congress or not or whether a bad BBL is in the offing. The main reason for this, citing the statement of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, is the fears, hatred, prejudice, and paranoia of the majority Christian populations against the Moros which are shared by many if not most lawmakers. They fear that once Moros are given powers and access to resources, they will secede from the Philippines and form an independent state.

In the House, it is plagued with continuous lack of quorum. Sometimes, out of more than 240 members only 12 or 30 have appeared in sessions. In the Senate, several senators asked so many questions, some of which were very basic and should not have been asked at all.

If the BBL does not pass, the political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao will also be put on hold. Consequently, frustrations of the people especially Moros will also rise up which can lead to many uncertainties.

Of course, both Parties are expected to pursue the path of peace and maintain the ceasefire on the ground, but the legal process will not take place immediately after the new president gets into office in July 1, 2016. The new president might change policy, one that could be radically different from his or her predecessor.

The MILF’s clout and legitimacy will also be put into question. Frankly, the decision of the MILF to enter into negotiation with the government has not had universal consensus. Many viewed the government as “enemy” and therefore could not be trusted. Expectedly, the so-called radicals and foes of the MILF will take advantage of this situation to denounce the government claiming insincerity and the MILF for adopting the wrong approach in settling the conflict in Mindanao.

Chairman, Mohagher Iqbal
Chief Negotiator, MILF Peace Panel
Chairman, Bangsamoro Transition Committee

(A Paper Read by Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the MILF Peace Panel and Bangsamoro Transition Commission, in a Forum Sponsored by Osaka University, Japan on November 13, 2015)






Mohagher Iqbal graduated from Manuel Quezon University in Manila: Bachelor of Science in Political Science in 1969; Master of Arts in Political Science in 1972. He joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1972, and the MILF in 1977. He has been the chief negotiator of the MILF peace panel since July 29, 2003. After long enduring negotiation, he and the MILF had signed with the Philippine Government the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014. The two landmark agreements provided for the road-map toward the establishment of final peace in Mindanao. He is the Chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee which had been tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. He is one the senior leaders of the MILF. He appears in the Philippines newspaper daily especially during the congressional investigation of the Mamasapano Incident where 44 Police commandos and 18 MILF fighters died during a fierce fighting in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015. His publications include; The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process, and Bangsamoro: A Nation under Endless Tyranny by the name of alias Salah Jubair. He has also written several pamphlets or articles on the Bangsamoro.

Read a brief chronology of the conflict in the Southern Philippines, by Masako Ishii.