MIND DA NEWS: Core of the Tokyo Meeting

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 August) – Much has been written about the historic meeting of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo last August 4. The news stories were bits of the official statements on the meeting and the opinions were based on the news stories. Bit-by-bit news stories rehashed for days intrigued; opinions echoed the biases, prejudices, fears and perceptions of their makers concerning the MILF, the peace problem and the approach in solving it.

Lost in the excitement was what really transpired between the President and Murad. The meeting took place in the evening of August 4. On the following day, the Government and the MILF issued separate but essentially identical official statements emphasizing three significant points:

First, the President and Murad were cordial, intimate, frank, candid and honest in their exchange of views. They covered a wide range of issues and concerns related to the negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro Question. These included the frames of continuing peace talks and some possible approaches that the parties can take to bring about a peaceful settlement.

 Second, all substantive and outstanding issues discussed by the President and Murad will be taken up by the peace panels for deliberation on the negotiating table.

 Third, the negotiation will be fast tracked; any political settlement agreed should be implemented within the Aquino III administration.

These three points are the core of the historic meeting. There are other important notes.

According to the Government’s statement, the meeting was the President’s idea – later clarified to have been reluctantly allowed by the Cabinet [philstar.com: MILF meeting was P-Noy’s own idea, says Ochoa. August 8]. This was hatched before the scheduled June 27 Government-MILF Exploratory Talks and it was to precede the submission by the Government of its peace draft agreement to the MILF.

The June 27 exploratory talk was converted into an informal executive session to discuss the proposed Aquino-Murad meeting which must have been handed to the MILF long before that day; at the session, the MILF panel conveyed the Central Committee’s view that the proposal was a “grand gesture” on the part of the government and the historical meeting an “honor”.

The MILF statement noted more. President Aquino confidentially invited Chairman Murad last June to a personal meeting – initially anywhere in the Philippines – through the Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ ab’Ja’afar Tengku Mohammed. The MILF Central Committee accepted the invitation “provided that it would be held in any of the member states of the International Contact Group” – hence, the eventual choice of Japan.

Despite earlier assurance by Government Panel Chair Leonen to the MILF and Malaysia, the MILF Peace Panel further clarified “that the meeting … does not supplant or replace in any way the current peace negotiation … facilitated by Malaysia”. For that reason “and as a matter of established protocol,” the Malaysian facilitator was invited to be present at the meeting venue last June 4.

The significance of the meeting should not be misunderstood. The Supreme Court, in its October 14, 2008 MOA-AD decision, stated that the solution of the “conflict between the Government and the MILF” lay in the hands of the President: “Being uniquely vested with the power to conduct peace negotiations with the rebel groups, the President is in a singular position to know the precise nature of their grievances which, if resolved may bring an end to the hostilities.”

President Aquino exercised this “unique power” and in inviting Chairman Murad, he must have wanted to know more about “the precise nature” of the Moro grievances in order to have more insight into their ultimate solution. The “issues and concerns” they discussed noted by the chairs of the two negotiating panels were expected to become the negotiation guidelines.

The Tokyo meeting should impress upon the negotiating panels the need to modify their frames of mind, positions and negotiation structure and jointly explore the issues to agree on the suitable solutions – not just to compromise. As Camilo “Bong” Montesa opined, “After the meeting … the real work for peace begins [consisting] of looking for new, fresh and effective ideas to consider and build an agreement.” [MindaNews: Escape the clutches of negotiations to obtain peace, by Camilo “Bong” Montesa. August 8]

The core of the Tokyo meeting and the complementing points of understanding viewed positively and objectively are encouraging. Unfortunately, media gave more importance and space to intriguing implications and minor details in the Government and MILF official statements – wittingly or unwittingly, more to fan conflict than to unite in order to solve the Bangsamoro Question with the blessing of justice and peace. (Patricio P. Diaz / MindaNews)