23rd GPH, MILF exploratory talks resume in Kuala Lumpur PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 17:18

Formal exploratory talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed Monday in Kuala Lumpur with the hope of reaching a genuine and lasting political settlement soon to the long-drawn Mindanao conflict.

In his opening statement, Prof. Marvic Leonen, chairman of the government peace panel, stressed to the MILF: “On behalf of the government, let me now state this challenge: let us complete our task within the first quarter of next year.”

During their 23rd formal exploratory talks, Leonen reiterated the government’s proposed political settlement, pointing out that “besides providing for a pragmatic framework workable within the next few years, it also provides a platform to pave the way for true deliberative democracy among all our peoples.”

However, he added two more points.

“First, our proposed agreement should be flexible enough. Our collective human abilities to find a solution to fundamental problems are fallible. Our foresight can err. Thus, the solutions that we attempt should always benefit from constant evaluation.”

He said that “the solutions that we attempt, the cornerstones that we put on the ground, should be flexible,” adding that “they should be amenable to adjustment after objective assessment. During the implementation, they should be malleable to their contemporary realities.”

“Second, our constituencies are complex. A fundamental axiom of finding a negotiated political settlement of armed conflict is that the solutions that we find should be able to address the legitimate interests of all those we represent here in the table,” Leonen said.

“We both may represent the same constituencies; but, it is possible we do so in different capacities. We should build on the commonality of their legitimate interests: political empowerment, economic development, ecological viability, cultural respect and democratic toleration. Our solution should be as pragmatic to these myriad interests as it is principled. Hence, we should also take advantage of what each of our principals could deliver. Complicated problems in our part of Mindanao benefit from our partnership,” he said.

Leonen assured that the GPH peace panel ”is ready to move forward.”

The last time the GPH and MILF panels met was last November 3, also in Kuala Lumpur.

Leonen recalled that the “news in the national media during that time proved challenging to the government, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and, generally, the peace process. Many who are cynical to our present processes as well as those who simply wish ill of this administration started then what seemed to be a consistent campaign to embarrass the achievements of this peace process.”

However, he said “we did our part to fend off these attacks, so did the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”

“There were loud voices who consistently took the misguided view that our differences can be resolved fully by armed conflict. We listened to them, careful to note that they too form a constituency that should be won. We tried to meet their assumptions and premises carefully underscoring that there was still the possibility to honorably achieve peace with justice,” Leonen said.

No less than President Benigno S. Aquino III announced that the current policy of government is all-out justice, not all-out war.

“This policy is consistent with the primacy given to our peace process and the overriding hope that peace can better be achieved through a comprehensive settlement,” he stressed.

“Our view of a peace agreement is that it is one that can sincerely be implemented by the administration that promises it,” Leonen said, adding “it is an agreement that serves as a framework for all parties to work with each other under a regime of mutual respect.”

“It should reflect a genuine acknowledgment of history and a true understanding of the current and future needs of our peoples. Certainly, the grandest of our hopes can only be achieved if we start with the practical issues that can be accomplished today while dreaming of what our worlds will be in the future. The grandest edifice can only rise by first addressing the mundane, by putting in place its cornerstones,” said Leonen, a law professor at the University of the Philippines.

Leonen said that “we must be cognizant that there is aneed to make some adjustments. Clearly, there may have been circumstances that changed since these agreements were signed. Clearly, both sides can benefit from constant assessment based on objectively conducted fact-finding missions of incidents in the recent past where government will participate in the right manner.”

At the same time, Leonen said that the government is satisfied with the current ground conditions in southern Philippines and reiterated the commitment of the government to respect the GPH and MILF agreements relating to the cessation of hostilities as well as those in relation to the setting up and maintenance of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.

He noted that “none of these agreements did government seek to weaken its ability to enforce the law. We also agree that coordination within our mechanisms (is) essential.”

At this point, Leonen called on the MILF “to show more of its commitment by more actively identifying and assisting in the arrest of many lawless elements.”

“Let us prove that our ceasefire mechanisms are not havens for kidnappers, murderers and terrorists,” he said, apparently referring to the recent attack by combined MILF renegades and lawless armed groups in Al-Barka, Basilan where 19 Army Special Forces were killed and 14 others wounded.

Leonen expressed the government’s “willingness to revisit the operational procedures if necessary. But, we also are of the strong conviction that these changes should not be initiated from the panel level.”

“It should emanate first from the CCCHs (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) working with each other making recommendations to the IMT (International Monitoring Team) and to the panel,” he added.

Leonen also said that “the work of our panels should be focused. Ours is to bring about a negotiated political settlement within the soonest possible time.”

Present at the exploratory talks were Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed of Malaysia and Mohagher Iqbal, the head of the MILF peace panel.

Leonen said Tengku “has done a lot in bringing the parties together during the informal talks.”

According to Leonen, Tengku “has ably, actively and accurately communicated the sentiments of both sides and because of that facilitation, (and) we were able to come together in Kuala Lumpur last Nov. 3 for informal talks” which he described as “frank and candid.”