GPH chair says patience, openness needed during exploratory talks with MILF PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 August 2011 14:02

By Ben Cal

The government’s chief negotiator said patience and openness will be tested to the litmus to resolve thorny issues during the exploratory talks with Muslim rebels to reach a consensus that would lead to a genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.

Prof. Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), made the statement at the opening of the 22nd exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

“I am sure that our patience will be tested as we go through each other’s proposals. Perhaps, even in this meeting, when we propose to talk about the procedure on how to proceed to craft a settlement, we can find that we will be at some cross purposes,” referring to the MILF proposal to carve out a sub-state in southern Philippines for the Bangsamoro people.

Leonen submitted the government’s counter-proposal called “3 for 1,” referring to the “three important components for one solution to the Bangsamoro problem.”
“These components include: a political settlement or a peace accord with the MILF, massive economic development in Mindanao and cultural-historical acknowledgement,” he said.

In a separate report, the GPH panel provided 11 characteristics that define the proposal such as practicality, partnership arrangements, political comprehensiveness, implementability, good governance, continuous dialogue, empowered autonomy, system of cooperation in ecological and cultural issues, normalization through weapons disarmament and demobilization, public support and historical appreciation.

“But patience and the openness to consider each other’s point of view may be the bedrock of building a true consensus,” Leonen said, adding that “we never promised that our negotiations be easy or simple; we do however guarantee that it is sincere and earnest.”

Leonen reiterated that “we intend these negotiations to be fast tracked, but never at the expense of being truly analytical.”
“The Government proposal took a lot of views into consideration. It seeks to trigger conversations about what is critical to our principals and the constituencies that they represent,” he added.

“We hope that the rationale behind these proposals be addressed in earnest. Together we should examine their viability and if indeed they are reasonable, find our way to accommodate them,” the GPH panel chair said.

Leonen made his opening statement by saying that he brought with him “warm greetings of peace from His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and his cabinet.”
He also recalled the meeting between the President and the MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo early this month which he said “underscored the reality that although the approaches of our respective principals may currently be different, peace is still realizable within the next year. That is, if we are willing to work with patience and with a lot of understanding.”

Leonen was the note taker of the President during the latter’s face-to-face meeting with Murad.
“Having been present in that meeting, my impression was that there seemed to be a consensus as to an objective. A meeting of minds also exists in terms of some principles that could be used to guide us in choosing options for meeting the interests also of our constituencies,” he said.
“Both were eager to see the benefits of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace within the next few years,” he said.

Leonen also stressed that the “common objective is to find some fundamental and workable agreement that can pave the way to meeting the just aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

This will not only augur well for conflict affected areas in Mindanao, but will reverberate to the entire country, he added.
At the same time, Leonen, during the Tokyo meeting that lasted for two hours, said both the President and Murad “agreed that as a matter of principle, we would have to confirm agreements based on the consent of the governed.”

“Both saw that any political re-arrangement initially still requires an effective national government empowered not only to assist underdeveloped regions but also to ensure the viability of the entire Republic as one whole,” Leonen said.

He said the President and the MILF chairman understood the need to continue to build confidence in each other’s capacity and trust in each other’s sincerity. The meeting was facilitated in Japan.

Japan is a member of the International Contact Group. GPH chief negotiator Marvic Leonen described the proposal as “honestly different” from the MILF’s framework. Leonen adds that it “is more in keeping with what the honorable chair of the MILF Al Haj Murad Ebrahim refers to as a problem solving approach.”

The President went out of his way to meeting Murad in Tokyo “as a show of government’s sincerity to move the peace process forward,” Leonen said.
“The government proposal took a lot of views into consideration,” Leonen said as he emphasized the extensive consultations done by the Panel, citing that “this is still a first document, a work-in-progress.”

After the negotiations, the GPH panel is expected to undertake further consultations with its stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Leonen asked the MILF on the status of renegade MILF commander Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato and his group - the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who mounted attacks on fellow MILF members due to land conflict.

“We cannot accept that he is still part of the MILF,” Leonen said, as he described the atrocities committed by Kato.
Leonen also condemned Kato’s recruitment of child soldiers.

“If he is truly a splinter group, we would have to assess the situation together in a very serious and sensitive manner,” he said.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, in his opening statement said that Kato remains to be a “challenge for the MILF.”

In a resolution filed by the MILF Central Committee, Kato has been declared as a “bougat or one who defies or does not obey an order.
The MILF formally asked the government to give them 10 days after Eid’l Fitr to resolve the Kato issue.

Leonen also asked the MILF to address the rido among its base commands.

“A total of 17 rido related incidents involving at least a commander of the MILF base command has been recorded,” Leonen said.

“In the rido between some members of the 105th base command against some members of the 104th base command, a total of 1,596 families or 7,980 persons from six barangays in Palembang, Sultan Kudarat were displaced,” he said.

A total of 695 families have also been displaced in Datu Piang, Maguindanao due to the fighting between the 106th base command and Kato’s group.
Fourteen people from each side have been killed in the latest spate of fighting.