Building the Peace

The Whole of Nation Approach

Simultaneous armed rebellions confronted President Ramos when he assumed office. The Philippines was riven by ideological, sectarian, and cultural conflict with economic stakes, much of which were exacerbated during the long years when the country was under martial rule. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were on the third decade of their war to secede from the republic. Also on their third decade of waging war, the ideologically-driven rebels of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) increased their capacity to mount simultaneous urban and countryside operations. Soldiers and officers of the mutinous Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM, formerly the Reform the Armed Forces Movement), Kawal ng Sambayanang Pilipino (KSP, or Soldiers of the Filipino People), and the Young Officers Union (YOU) were restive and continued their destabilization plots.

In his Inaugural Address on 30 June 1992, President Ramos addressed these rebellions with an overarching policy framework to which his administration committed. He described the multi-pronged track he designed to win peace and stability, after decades of armed confrontations, thus:

To this work of empowering the people, not only in their political rights but also in economic opportunities, I dedicate my presidency.

…First, we must restore civic order.  For without stability, businesses cannot run; workers cannot create wealth; liberty cannot flourish; and even individual life will be brutish and precarious.

…I call on our mutinous soldiers and radical insurgents to give up their armed struggle.  I will work with congress in fashioning an amnesty policy that will enable errant reformists to re-enter civil society.

The authors of an evaluation of this framework47 observed that [w]hen Ramos came to office, the framework around which he would establish his very presidency was more than usually clear for its detail and guiding principles.      

Ramos had equated national security with effective and equitable development, aligning the zeal and commitment of the military ethos and mission with what were effectively the root problems of Philippine society.

[H]e never swerved from his core idea, which was restoring security, and forging the domestic consensus that was a sine qua non of foreign support and investment, thriving on the level playing field he was convinced would provide the hitherto absent platform for democratic development. And this would encourage, secure and sustain the political, institutional, economic and social reforms required.

The priority that President Ramos set for peace building as foundational to economic development was expressed during his first one hundred days in office, when he gave this report:

I am proud to say that despite the many obstacles, we have had steady gains in the first one hundred days of my Administration. My main objective for this initial phase has been to set the course of my Administration and lay the basis for effective governance.      

I had begun by restoring political stability and enhancing our national security.    

In the pursuit of peace, our offer of amnesty and the legalization of the underground Communist Party has recovered for government the moral high ground in the struggle against the insurgents. Even as we peacefully erode the bastions of leftist and rightist rebels, we continue reaching out to various sectors that they may commit themselves to government's agenda for peace.

Crucially, President Ramos foregrounded the relation between insurgencies and poverty.

Today the tyrannies we struggle against are different.  The chief one is poverty, which in our country oppresses more than half of all our people.    

For this new war we need new heroes -- heroes who will live for their country, not die for it.    

Who, if not us, shall set things right? If we should default in this civic obligation, that is the reproach which the dead might say to us. That is the question we have to answer before history, before our children, and before our consciences -- if we do not set down, in our time, the foundation for Philippine progress.    

…[K]ung hindi tayo, sino pa? I pray (to) God we answer this question as gallantly as these soldiers did when it was asked of them.

Addressing the 94th anniversary of the Department of Justice on 25 Sept 1992, President Ramos gave another diagnosis for a body politic wracked by rebellion:

…[I]njustice was the principal motivation of the Philippine revolution… while Filipinos could bear poverty and deprivation, they could not ever live with injustice.    

And what is justice? …[T]he Greek philosopher Plato defines it simply and briefly as: “justice is to give every man what is his due.”    

…{T]his Department therefore is the vehicle by which government renders to every citizen what is his or her due—the protection and enforcement of his or her rights, under the constitution and the laws of the land.    

We know that there can be no peace in this land for as long as our people do not have faith that the rule of law applies equally to all.    

When no redress can be had in the legal system, the aggrieved seek solutions elsewhere; oftentimes resulting in insurgency.    

Our appeal to the left and to the right of the ideological spectrum to return to the folds of the law and our desire for our common masses to trust us in resolving their grievances shall be in vain if the state of our administration of justice remains wanting.    

Let us redouble our efforts to pursue our campaign against crime and our program to end insurgency and rebellion, for a just, comprehensive and enduring peace to finally reign in our land.    

As justice prevails, progress and prosperity for all should not be far behind.

Recognizing the rootedness of rebellion and strife in underdevelopment, he gave equal measure to the recognition of the Filipino soldier, from whose ranks he emerged.

I cannot allow this occasion to pass without telling you of Eddie Ramos' dream.  
Whenever we speak of heroism anywhere in the world, it's a truism that the images readily conjured are those of the battlefield, of ruins, of men, women and children suffering and dying.  It is as if our concept of heroism is that of destruction and death alone, and nothing else.    

If we are to be true to the honor we repose today on the accomplishments of Alay sa Kawal, then we must begin to define the heroic and the hero in terms that transcend the 'blood, sweat and tears’ of war.  We must begin to look at deeds that celebrate the spirit, labor and joys of peace.    

I like to think this thought acquires special significance in the light of my administration's recent efforts to take those extra steps toward ending the PROTRACTED ARMED STRUGGLE in our countryside, and to coax in the process all those brothers and sisters of ours who have taken arms against the state, to respond to our challenge  of peace.    

We need a nation of living heroes.  A nation in which every Filipino, whatever his circumstance, simply does what has to be done for the sake of God, country and fellow Filipino. There have been shining examples of such heroism, to be sure, but they have not been enough.    

I dream of a nation in which those who plow the fields, who run the engines, who serve the people, who heal the sick and mold the minds perform their tasks without thought of self-aggrandizement and self-gratification, but only the wish to work for the welfare of a friend, a neighbor, A COMRADE and a stranger in need.    

I can envision us building that kind of a nation. I AM CONFIDENT THAT IT CAN BE DONE IN OUR TIME. That nation shall be built on the foundation of the rebirth of the Filipino spirit. That nation shall be one in which every Filipino is a living hero.

The former soldier and veteran of war understood that lasting peace and the freedoms guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution are a reiterative process with a multi-generational scale.

To recall to ourselves these Stories of battles of long ago is not to waste ourselves in idle homage. It is to renew in ourselves the resolves and the loyalties that have made our nation. For if history teaches us anything, it is surely the deathless lesson that freedom is not won once and for all time. The trials and the challenges recur and recur. The call to the best of our manhood are repeated. And every generation of our people must fight in their own time the struggle for freedom and independence.    

This is the way it is for us today. And I would like to think that in this new time of challenge before our country and people, we too will be no less selfless in dedication as the men who fought the battle of Taguig and Fort McKinley. And having remembered the past we will also crown our present with valor and glory.    

[A]s we admire this beautiful piece of architecture and engineering work which is the memorial that we unveiled today… a greater memorial than this made out of stone and steel should be the  memorials that we shall build for our young people in terms of a stable country, a free and independent country, an adequate livelihood for all Filipino families including the veterans and a nation that is prosperous, that is capable, that is self-reliant and in the end a nation that is strong and progressive.

The President’s speech upon the signing of the Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front on 2 September 1996 encapsulated the vision for peace and development, and the gains achieved by his administration midway through his term:

Here in our own land, this agreement falls squarely into our aspiration of total peace and development for all, especially the millions of poor and destitute masses in our southern regions. That we have made Mindanao the focus of our concerns fittingly demonstrates its vital role in the overall enterprise of nation building. We must forge the peace first in Mindanao because it has suffered the most and harbors many of the most depressed communities in the land.    

The cycle of poverty and conflict must finally be broken, and this peace agreement is the cutting edge of our determined efforts. And it is bound to succeed not merely by force of the noble intentions of its participants, but because it rides the crest of mankind’s universal aspirations    

Today we reclaim for ourselves and for one another—as well as for all those who will come after us—the blessings and the bounties of enduring peace, social justice and people empowerment, which this agreement promises.    

The root causes of the problems that led to these decades of conflict in Mindanao will not go away with this agreement. Left unattended, they can worsen and undo much of the confidence and optimism created by the goodwill between us.    

By this agreement, however, we have resolved to deal decisively with those problems—to do battle against poverty and injustice—together, as one people and one national team.    

We have come to share this common vision because we have come to see and to accept—with pride and with affection—our common lot as Filipinos. It is not only the great island of Mindanao that all Filipinos share, but the entire Republic and our people’s future. Whether we are Christian, Muslim or indigenous peoples, we face the same challenges and opportunities in the new century of growth. Our collective responsibility now is to ensure that we can enter the 21st century together, vigorously—on the same footing—with  stronger capabilities to make the best of our potentials–and to compete successfully with the rest of the world.    

Development cannot be an exclusionary process. If the nation is to progress, it must do so as a whole—and to do so as a whole, it must think and act as a whole, as Filipinos, and not just as Christians or Muslims or individuals of other backgrounds or beliefs.    

We have fought hard for peace in Mindanao—for genuine and lasting unity among all our people—so that we can devote our energies to our most cherished goals, employing our most positive qualities. There is too much at stake in the Filipino future for us to impair our chances with continued partisan conflict and discord.

The success of the Ramos administration’s peace building efforts is widely understood as the substratum of the economic, financial, and social development of the Philippines. Years after his term, the Ramos presidency is recalled well by analysts.

Philippines has had four leaders in the two decades since the fall of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but only one who did not disappoint. During his tenure from 1992 to 1998, Fidel Ramos got the economy moving, broke up several powerful monopolies, tempered corruption and contained the communist and Muslim rebels in Mindanao. He left office as his country's most effective modern leader, and one of the region's strongest advocates for greater economic and polity unity.54

The main peace-building developments in the Philippines emerged during the presidency of Fidel Ramos (1992-98).

In 1992 Ramos promoted an ambitious process of national dialogue for the drawing up of a national peace policy. The result of this consultation was a conceptual framework that identified the structural problems affecting the country and defined ‘six paths to peace’. The conceptual framework emphasises negotiations between the government and the insurgency as one of the paths to peace, but states that a peace process must necessarily be wider and more inclusive than mere peace negotiations. This innovative national peace policy has coexisted for years in contrast to (and in conflict with) a classic national security doctrine focused on defeating the internal enemy.53

A changing of the guards.
Filipinos the world over witnessed the peaceful transition of power from President Corazon C.Aquino to President-elect Fidel V. Ramos after more than 20 years.
Ramos family archives

A vision for peace and development.
For most of my public life, I have been mainly a citizen soldier, wanting in eloquence compared to those who have preceded me in this rite of democratic transition. But I share their vision of what our nation can become. This nation will endure, this nation will prevail and this nation will prosper again–if we hold together.”
Ramos family archives

Kaya Natin ‘To!
“To this work of empowering the people, not only in their political rights but also in economic opportunities, I dedicate my Presidency.”
Ramos family archives

From soldier to statesman.
From a Lieutenant in the 1950s, Fidel V. Ramos rose to the highest office of the land when he was sworn in as the 12th President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Ramos family archives

Winning the future.
“Before us lies the challenge: Come then, let us meet it together. With so much for us to do, let us not falter. With so little time left in our hands, we cannot afford to fail. And with God’s blessing for all just causes, let us make common cause to
win the future.”
Ramos family archives

Coalition Building

The 1992 Presidential election was a seven-way race with then-candidate Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos winning with 23.6% of the total votes cast. Having barely garnered a fourth of the electorate, he was a minority president, leading his two closest contenders by slim margins, so it was politically important for him to build a broader coalition to actively support the priorities of his incoming administration. He set out early to articulate the steps he intended towards binding the social wounds created by the election campaign, and to restore civility to political competition. By reaching out to his opponents in the presidential race (dubbed the “amity talks”) and the nation’s leading figures who opposed his candidacy, the new President Ramos built an early reform constituency.

In his first State of Nation Address, President Ramos affirmed his commitment to pursue a partnership of patriotism and progress between the executive and the legislative branches of government. In the name of serving the national interest, he cultivated the support of Congress and underplayed rivalry for power. The 1987 Philippine Constitution had already started altering the political landscape, having replaced the two-party system with a multi-party system. As a consequence of this amendment, the elections yielded no single political party dominating Congress with an outright majority.

At the outset, initiatives to build consensus and to consult and form alliances seemed to be succeeding. However, with only a handful of allies and absent a ruling party in Congress, the Ramos administration faced a lack of momentum with its legislative reform package and priority bills. It was clear that to move its socio-economic agenda forward, the administration needed a coalition led by President Ramos’ LAKAS Party. Following an analysis of the prevailing political factors and players, a strategy of “power-sharing and burden-sharing” was devised, with the Executive and the leadership and members of both Houses coming together on specific agenda items. Soon called the Rainbow Coalition, this coalition thus built did take off.

This political work gained ground but President Ramos needed a concrete stakeholder engagement mechanism to build consensus and drive swift action. Discussions with coalition members centered on the President’s idea of enacting a law to achieve that specific objective. This resulted in, with the enactment of Republic Act 7640 in December 1992, the creation of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to ensure consistency in policy development, planning, and budgeting. LEDAC held weekly meetings and engaged in high level policy discussions involving the administration’s highest-tier legislative and executive officials. While the law mandated quarterly meetings, the President convened LEDAC weekly to track the status and progress of proposed legislation; address issues and gaps relating to priority legislative measures; and deliberate on related proposals for inclusion in the Common Legislative Agenda (CLA), a list of priority legislative measures that LEDAC agreed to submit to Congress to ratify and pass into law. By the end of the Ramos presidency, the Rainbow Coalition had enacted two hundred and twenty-eight reform laws that lent cohesion to national development strategies.

With LEDAC in place, President Ramos could attend to the precision targeting of challenges, among which was the alarming decline of human and ecological security. This area of urgent concern demanded global attention and commitment, and brought together more than a hundred heads of state and multi-national organizations to the first international assembly of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Rio Summit or the Earth Summit. Landmark agreements—the Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Rio Declaration, the Forest Principles, and Agenda 21—that addressed urgent problems of environmental protection and socio-economic development were signed and adopted in a remarkable display of support, establishing UN’s leadership in this advocacy.

The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was the Philippine response to the Rio agreements immediately upon their signing. The multi-stakeholder, participatory body was to chart the country’s environment and sustainable development initiatives operating on the principles of consensus building and the engagement of members of civil society as counterparts of government representatives. More than any other government organization, the Council operationalized President Ramos' program of people empowerment through the authentic participation of non-government organizations and peoples organizations, resulting in their significant contributions to the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21), adopted as the national blueprint for sustainable development.

Subsequent to these developments, a Peoples' Covenant Towards a Transition to Sustainable Development was signed. The PCSD’s functions were expanded to institutionalize mechanisms that further ensured dynamic interlinkages among the legislative, executive, local government units, non-governmental organizations, local and international organizations, business and other sectors, in policy formulation and decision-making on sustainable development concerns. Increased authority meant that the Council was mandated to review, monitor, formulate, and recommend policy reforms, programs, and legislation on the environment and sustainable development, including mechanisms or strategies to increase output efficiency and timeliness of execution.

President Ramos’ focus on economic growth that was sustained by consensus building was a singular driving idea since his experience as a soldier on anti-Huk missions in the Sierra Madre. As he recalls his transformation, then-Army Captain Fidel V. Ramos came close to the poverty that he clearly saw as the principal driver of rebellion against the state. The professional soldier in the battlefront had ample opportunity to experience the circumstances that turned peace-inclined Filipinos into renegades sacrificing their lives and their future. Poverty aggravated by social injustice and inequity fomented discontent. Conversely, he understood that peace was possible only through social reform.

Decades later, President Ramos’ key anti-poverty program was articulated as a Social Reform Agenda (SRA). The SRA was a systematic, comprehensive, and coordinated package of initiatives that sought to address the minimum basic needs of the Filipino poor. This agenda was co-produced by government and the adversely affected social sectors, and had both a geographical and a sectoral focus. It worked with the nineteen provinces surveyed to be the poorest in the Philippines, and which were understood to have historically received less than their due in government attention. The SRA brought about the creation of the Social Reform Council (SRC). Organized to bring together the public sector and leaders of the basic sectors—farmers, fisherfolk, urban poor, rural poor, workers, women, youth, the elderly, the handicapped—the SRC worked on the proposition that the Filipino people have to be at the center of development, and that the well-being of ordinary Filipinos is the real measure of growth. A systematic and coherent effort to enable Filipinos to help themselves, the SRA was not limited to goals alone. It devised strategies and specific programs of action, defining practical and achievable reform measures, and facilitated public-private partnership.

Earlier work50 showed the nature of the problem: that people with low incomes also tended to have little education, poor health, marginal shelter, no land, less access to economic opportunities, and more children. This guided the development of strategies and programs together with government’s package of interventions—action in education, health, family planning, community development, access to credit and livelihood opportunities, job generation, and public safety. The Agenda identified the need for government and basic sectors to work closely with the private sector to maximize the impact of their separate—but aligned—initiatives. Harmonizing efforts and consolidating resources and sharing of information and expertise mitigated challenges that showed up while the reform interventions were implemented. During the Social Reform Summit in 1994, President Ramos proposed a multi-sectoral alliance of private and public sectors and leaders of the basic sectors, to work together in realizing a social justice agenda, where every citizen is at the frontline of national development—equally as participant and as beneficiary.

The relationship between poverty and peace building was enshrined in the Ramos administration, which recognized the Filipino’s quest for stability and progress in the daily battles against poverty, ignorance, disease, apathy, and powerlessness. Lasting peace, in President Ramos’ view, is only realized when the root cause of social discontent is resolved: the absence of basic needs. These needs—health, nutrition, water and sanitation, income security, shelter, peace and order, basic education, and political participation—can be met through government programs. However, the most disadvantaged Filipinos have endured decades of want, with no resolution. Thus, the action program focused on farmers, landless rural workers, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, small entrepreneurs, overseas workers, women, students, children and the youth, the handicapped, the elderly, and victims of disasters and calamities.

Buoyed by the steady progress in economic recovery efforts, palpable political stability, and social optimism, the SRA was adopted by every sector of society and every branch of government responding to the call to commit to and participate in one all-encompassing program—the war on poverty. The SRA and this formidable entente were further strengthened with the signing of Republic Act 8425, institutionalizing the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Program and the creation of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). Republic Act 8425, the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, was one of several flagship bills under the SRA. While it was signed into law by President Ramos on 11 December 1997, it took effect only during the first month of the term of President Ramos’ successor.

Touching base with the future generation of leaders.
The President’s Social Reform Agenda focused on the overall welfare of the youth; the Ramos administration endeavored to address the gaps in the availability and efficient delivery of basic needs and services particularly to areas that require the full attention and intervention of government. 
Ramos family archives

Taking a dive for the environment.
President Fidel V. Ramos manifested commitment to environmental protection and conservation in this rare and unprecedented gesture.  
Ramos family archives

The productive Rainbow Coalition of President Ramos, a partnership of patriotism and progress,
legislating into law 228 reform bills.
President Ramos, a minority president, cultivated the support of Congress to move his socio-economic agenda forward
in the name of serving the national interest,
and underplayed rivalry for power.
Ramos family archives

A working partnership for progress. 
In the name of serving the national interest, President Ramos affirmed his commitment to pursue a partnership of patriotism and progress between the executive and the legislative branches of government, cultivated the support of Congress and underplayed rivalry for power.
Ramos family archives

The Peace Agenda at Home

Upon his election to the presidency, Fidel V. Ramos faced the challenge of peace building with different belligerent groups: the dissatisfied faction of the Armed Forces; the conjoint Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabayan-Soldiers of the Filipino People-Young Officers Union (RAM-SFP-YOU), which mounted coup attempts against his predecessor, President Corazon C. Aquino; the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA); and the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and later the Moro Islamic Libration Front (MILF), both of which demanded the independence of majority Muslim areas in Mindanao from the Philippine Republic.

In September 1992, President Ramos established the National Unification Commission (NUC) to create a comprehensive and participatory consultation process and develop strategies for exploratory talks with all armed rebel groups. The NUC was to formulate "a viable general amnesty program and process that will lead to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." To head the NUC, President Ramos appointed the University of the Philippines law professor and former lead elections commissioner, the widely respected Haydee Yorac. Under her leadership and with the President’s full support, the NUC conducted wide-ranging consultations with all concerned sectors, notably members of the MNLF and the CPP-NDF-NPA. The Philippine military and police were likewise part of these consultations, undertaken from November 1992 to March 1993. Also participating were  national formations such as large multi-sectoral coalitions like the National Peace Conference and the People's Congress.

Committed to an adequately national scale in its efforts, NUC structured the consultations as a series of meetings on the provincial, regional, and national levels. Religious and civil society personalities and groups took principal roles in the meetings; their participation as leaders conveyed to the general public the over-arching message of inclusivity in the construction of the peace process. The prevailing idea shaped during this period was that of a consultative process on the local and regional levels led by civil society rather than government. Aside from invitations to a multi-sectoral range of participants, combatants intending to participate in the regional consultations were issued safe conduct passes. By the end of its mandated lifespan in June 1993, the NUC had conducted seventy-one provincial and fourteen regional consultations nationwide. The outcome was a set of recommendations that collectively came to be called the “Six Paths to Peace.” It became the framework for the Ramos administration’s national peace process and is embodied in Executive Order No. 125.

Upon the termination of the NUC’s institutional life, President Ramos created in its stead the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). On September 1996, OPAPP assumed an advisory role to the president in the further conduct of the peace process. The new office commenced exercising coordinative functions to drive the implementation of the Ramos peace agenda by all relevant government agencies. OPAPP organized and supported the Government Peace Negotiating Panels for the peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA, the MNLF, MILF, and the military rebels.

OPAPP initiated discussion with the leadership of the conjoint military rebel groups, the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (formerly the Reform the Armed Forces Movement), the Soldiers of the Filipino People, and the Young Officers Union (RAM-SFP-YOU). Recognizing the group’s composition of mostly bright and promising members of the military, OPAPP found it essential to construct a mechanism to fully reintegrate them into the Armed Forces. The government and the rebels shared the aspiration “for a principled peaceful resolution of all armed conflicts with dignity and honor to all concerned,” and the desire to establish a “genuine pluralistic society where all individuals and groups are free to engage in peaceful competition for the attainment of their political goals.” In the spirit of this shared desire, the peace talks were conducted in a respectful and amicable atmosphere. A Preliminary Agreement between the two parties was signed on 23 December 1992, followed on 24 June 1993 by a Memorandum of Agreement on the Conduct of the Peace Talks, and the Agreement on Electoral Reforms on 26 August 1994.

President Ramos granted amnesty to the RAM-SFP-YOU through Proclamation No. 723, which he signed on 17 May 1996. The Proclamation effectively created an amnesty program that extinguished any criminal liability for acts committed by members of the RAM-SFP-YOU in their “pursuit of political belief, without prejudice to the grantee’s civil liability for injuries or damages caused to private persons whose right to be indemnified is fully recognized herein. The grant of amnesty shall also effect the restoration of civil or political rights suspended or lost by virtue of criminal conviction.” The amnesty program provided organizational or individual grants to former military rebels through the National Program for Unification and Development for livelihood support, material and technical assistance. However, most of them opted to return to their respective branch of service.

In the latter part of 1993, a Government Peace Negotiating Panel (GRP) was organized in response to conciliatory overtures from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The MNLF is regarded as the first Muslim liberation front, although the short-lived Mindanao Independence Movement was established earlier. The resulting peace talks drew significantly from the assistance and support of the OIC and the Indonesian government, both of which facilitated trust-building and pragmatic build-up of negotiations.

The Peace Agreement was signed on 2 September 1996 by Ambassador (and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff) Manuel T. Yan as Chairman of the GRP, and the MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, a Tausug former student leader in the University of the Philippines. Hamid Al-Ghabid, Secretary-General of the OIC, was also a signatory. President Ramos, present during the signing ceremony, was a principal witness. The conclusion of the 1990s peace process was regarded as a historic moment for the Philippines, as it marked the end of a twenty-four-year secessionist war, and, during the next decade, a war for autonomy. The significance of the event was marked globally when both President Ramos and Mr. Misuari were awarded the Félix Houphouët-Boigny UNESCO Peace Prize in 1997, by a unanimous vote of the whole UN membership.

The peace agreement with the MNLF provided for a two-phase roll-out. Phase I was a three-year transition period during which government was to undertake a program of significant scale to give momentum to the socio-economic development of Muslim Mindanao, by then already called Bangsamoro. Phase II was to enable the geographic expansion through a popular plebiscite of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao beyond the four provinces it originally covered.

To accomplish the work set forth in Phase 1, President Ramos issued Executive Order No. 371 to establish the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD). Managed by the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), the geographic coverage of SZOPAD were the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Saranggani, and Palawan, as well as the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Zamboanga, and Puerto Princesa.

In support of the Philippine initiative to reintegrate former MNLF combatants and their families to social mainstreams, financial assistance was received from multilateral agencies, notably, the United Nations Multi-Donor Program (UNDMP) under the Action for Conflict Transformation (ACT) program, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Berger group under the Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) program. The SZOPAD Social Fund was the repository of funds from foreign and local donors as well as governmental allocations. An Executive Committee and Executive Management Office ensured the efficient management of the Fund. Meanwhile, the reintegration assistance program and its projects were designed to provide livelihood training for some 70,000 former MNLF combatants and their families who were not integrated into the Armed Forces or the National Police. The program was to transition ex-combatants into farmers, and to increase literacy in their communities. In January 1998, President Ramos also approved a program to hire former MNLF combatants to build one hundred sixty-three “peace bridges” in Southern Philippines.

While still campaigning for the presidency, the would-be President Ramos had already initiated exploratory talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), led by the Maguindanaon religious scholar from Cairo University, Salamat Hashim (also known as Hashim Salamat). But further talks with the MILF only prospered after the peace agreement with the MNLF was signed. The meetings transitioned into formal negotiations, for which the MILF demanded focus on a single talking point for discussion: the solution to the Bangsamoro problem. The MILF asserted the problem’s complexity, which encompassed social, cultural, economic, and political issues, included the recognition of the ancestral domains of Muslim communities; their displacement and landlessness; reparations to war victims and for the destruction of property; human rights violations; Islamophobic social and cultural norms; government policies with a morally corrupting effect among Muslims; economic inequality manifested as widespread poverty; natural resource exploitation of Muslim homelands by outside entities; and, the need for genuine agrarian reform.

The MILF de-emphasized its secessionist agenda, and instead commenced demanding the formulation of a system of governance that gave true autonomy to Muslim Filipinos, and a comprehensive response to their issues and concerns. However, no peace agreement was executed between the Ramos administration and the MILF. The positive outcome of the peace talks with this group was a mutual cease-fire agreement in 1997, allowing the return of evacuees and displaced families to their homes.

Formal talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) opened in 1995. In 1998, shortly before the end of President Ramos' term, an agreement was reached but remained inoperable. The Ramos administration’s Government Peace Panel (GRP) did sign agreements with the CPP-NDF-NPA, notably including the Hague Joint Declaration in the Netherlands in September 1992, which set the framework and agenda of the peace talks; and the Breukelen Joint Statement, an agreement issued on 14 June 1994 to create safety and immunity guarantees for individuals joining the peace talks as negotiators, consultants, and other personnel.  A Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) was signed on 24 February 1995 to provide safe passage and guarantees for the people involved in the peace negotiations. The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), signed on 16 March 1998, was the first major agreement to cover issues on the substantive agenda of the negotiations.

After President Ramos’ term, the administration of President Joseph E. Estrada formally terminated the peace talks and invalidated the JASIG on 31 May 1999. But prior to that pivot, labor leader Ruben Torres51 wrote about the continuing efforts:

In 1996, when I was the Executive Secretary, President Ramos sent me to the Netherlands to talk to [CPP Founder Jose Maria] Sison about continuing the peace talks in the Philippines. President Ramos thought then that any peace talks with the CPP-NPA should not be conducted in a foreign country as it would internationalize the dispute. Despite guarantees to his personal safety, Sison refused.

Apparently, he was enjoying his exile in the Netherlands far from the hostilities in his own country. In the Netherlands, ‘Joma’ does not ask his comrades in exile to ‘pass the ammunition’ but rather to ‘pass the beer.’ What a way to lead a proletarian revolution! While Sison is alive and the leader, albeit not officially, as he claims that he is just a consultant of the CPP-NPA, I believe there is no bright future for peace through negotiations. He is a firm adherent of the theory of protracted struggle and guerrilla warfare. It is apparent that Sison is using the principles and tactics of protracted war and guerrilla warfare in negotiations with the government.    

The Government subsequently declared the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization. This categorization is a barrier to any peace negotiations. The firm policy of the administration of President Ramos was not to negotiate with terrorist organizations. In late 1996, when the Abu Sayyaf, through an emissary, wanted to negotiate peace, President Ramos told me not to entertain any talks with the terrorists.      

L to R: Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Hamid Al Ghabed, Philippine Ambassador Manuel T. Yan, President Fidel V. Ramos, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas.
The conclusion of the 1990s peace process was regarded as a monumental historic moment for the Philippines, and the beginning of meaningful peace and development in Mindanao.
Ramos family archives

Signing of the Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front,
02 September 1996.
President Fidel V.Ramos concluded twenty-four years of negotiations with MNLF founder Nur Misuari, and after decades of war.
Ramos family archives

Achieving amity in the South.
The Peace Agreement, a historical document that opened doors for peace and development for Mindanao.
Ramos family archives

Inscription of the honor given Fidel V. Ramos by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1997.
The highly significant Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize recognized President Ramos’ successful
prosecution of peace in Mindanao.
Ramos family archives
Pursuing peace and development in Mindanao.
President Fidel V. Ramos provided the impetus for Mindanao’s initiatives under the leadership of Nur Misuari 
by providing operating funds to support the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Ramos family archives

47 W. Scott Thompson and Federico M. Macaranas, Democracy and Discipline: Fidel V. Ramos and His Philippine Presidency (Manila: UST Publishing House, 2007).
48 “Fidel V. Ramos: We Were the First Iraq,” Newsweek, January 21, 2007,
49 Khristian Herbolzheimer, The Peace Process in Mindanao, the Philippines: evolution and lessons learned (NOREF Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution, 2015),
50 During the Ramos administration, the National Unification Commission (NUC) conducted a series of consultations at the provincial, regional, and national levels as inputs to the peace process. A notable observation, consistent throughout the consultations, was the direct link between the high incidence of poverty and the presence of conflict.  This direct correlation between poverty and conflict as a result of discontent in the Philippine context redefines real peace beyond the absence of war but in addressing the problems and issues of poverty.
51 Ruben Torres, “Peace talks with CPP-NPA doomed,” The Manila Times, June 18, 2021,