Lessons learned from 1993-96 GRP-MNLF peace talks to guide ASEAN in resolving conflicts

Published September 24, 2019, 2:54 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Dennis Legaspi 

JAKARTA, Indonesia – The lessons learned by the participants and observers of the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippine (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that was mediated by Indonesia in 1993 to 1996 should give direction to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in formulating their programs and policies in the promotion of peace in the regional community.

Muslimin Sema (MNLF Panel) listens intently as Nabil Tan (GRP Panel) reflects on his role in the Peace Talks (DENNIS LEGASPI / MANILA BULLETIN)
Muslimin Sema (MNLF Panel) listens intently as Nabil Tan (GRP Panel) reflects on his role in the Peace Talks (DENNIS LEGASPI / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was the consensus reached by the discussants and attendees of the seminar on “the Outcome of the ASEAN-IPR Research Project ‘Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front as mediated by Indonesia (1993-1996)’ “held Monday (September 23, 2019) at the ASEAN Hall in Jakarta.

The research project was initiated by the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR). It started in October 2018 with the support of the Government of Japan through the Japan ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF). It was carried out jointly by a team of researchers from Indonesia and the Philippines. It is also the first research project to be conducted under the peace institute.

The seminar was held to present and disseminate the findings to all relevant stakeholders in the ASEAN region. Around 100 delegates from ASEAN-IPR Governing Council and Advisory Board members, ASEAN dialogue partners, diplomatic corps, government officials, academe and think-tanks attended the seminar.  The book containing the report was also launched in a simple ceremony during the seminar.

Rezlan Ishar Jenie, Executive Director of ASEAN-IPR, opened the forum with the message that the mission of the institute is to look for positive resolution of disputes.  Accepting that no two conflicts were exactly alike, he maintained that the research project can contribute to the awareness and the development of the IPR as a platform for member states and other stakeholders who seek solutions for peace and reconciliation.

Dr. A.M. Fachir, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, encouraged the ASEAN-IPR to conduct more activities similar to the research program to maintain ASEAN’s centralism and leadership in accessing the mechanisms of peace.

Fachir was joined by Ambassador Noel Servigon, Philippine Permanent Representative to the ASEAN; Dr. Hoang Anh Tuan, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for APSC; and Setsuko Miyakawa of JAIF in keynoting the discussions.

Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia Leehiong Wee and Philippine Business Club Indonesia Secretary General Norvin Mark Castro joined representatives of Filipino communities based in Indonesia, as well as those who flew in from Mindanao and Manila to participate in the forum.

Jamil Maidan Flores, Research Project Manager and Main Author, presented the findings which he summarized in the eight lessons of 1) nurture the human factor; 2) organize for collaboration; 3) to hear the voice of reason, silence the gun; 4) resistance is everywhere. Do not underestimate it; 5) the message is the thing. Keep communication flowing; 6) when you need help, get a mediator; 7) engage in diplomacy or perish; and, 8) it’s the people, stupid.  Flores stressed that the eighth lesson is the most important as it is really the welfare and will of the people affected by the conflict that dictates inclusion.

Flores was in a unique position during the peace negotiations. A Filipino, Jamil was actually with the Indonesians under the late Foreign Minister Ali Alatas who was instrumental in providing the framework of the peace talks.

On the other hand, another former Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik’s interventions were crucial in allowing for peace discussions and the Philippines maintaining sovereignty over Muslim Mindanao by speaking in behalf of the Philippines at the Organization of Islamic Conference when the MNLF lobbied for its inclusion in OIC.  The Philippines is not a member of the OIC.

In the final rounds of the discussions, the audience heard first-hand accounts of the talks from key personalities in the negotiations.

Hassan Wirajuda, Facilitator/Chairman of the Mixed Committee of the Peace Talks between GRP and MNLF (1993-1996) represented the Indonesian diplomats who handled the mediation.  Mr. Muslimin Sema and Atty. Jose Iribani Lorena (now in BTA-Parliament, BARMM), both members of the MNLF panel, led a contingent from the MNLF.  Atty. Nabil Alfad Tan, member of the GRP Negotiating Panel (1993-1996), represented the Philippine government side.

Kathy Quiaño-Castro, project senior researcher, summed up the atmosphere in the event in her Facebook post which read:

“In 1996, the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front initialed a peace agreement, in Jakarta. Indonesia acted as facilitator.

“23 years later, some of the key players: former rebels, government negotiators and facilitators reunite, greeting and hugging each other like long-lost friends. It was an honor to witness it. Listening to their back stories was a real treat.

“Will there be lasting peace in Mindanao? It was easy to share everyone’s optimism. But as our project manager and writer, Jamil Maidan Flores said, “Peace is not a destination; it’s a journey”.