GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 December) – If realities on the on-going peace process in Mindanao are as smooth as the rhetoric from peace negotiators and as bright as the apparent optimism, Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front may be able to sign a political settlement agreement within the first quarter of 2012. What do notes from the 23rd Kuala Lumpur Formal Exploratory Talks, December 5 – 7, 2011, indicate?
From Government-MILF Joint Statement …
In their Joint Statement, Government and MILF reaffirmed “their commitment to move the peace process forward” and agreed to continue “their discussions of the substantive points for purposes of crafting a framework agreement”. This joint resolve is elucidated in their separate statements at the opening session of the talks and later to the press.
In their opening statements, the chairs of Government and MILF panels affirmed their adherence to negotiated political settlement and comprehensive agreement as the prime paths of the peace process. Government’s challenge: “…let us complete our task within the first quarter of this year”. MILF’s response: “The people of Mindanao want peace now, not later.” What they exactly mean is also elucidated in their statements.
From Leonen’s Opening Statement …
In his opening statement, Government Panel Chair Marvic Leonen emphasized the two essential features of the peace process on their part: First, its primacy is consistent with the policy of all-out justice, not all-out war. Second, its overriding hope is to achieve peace through a comprehensive agreement.
He stated what a peace agreement must be: (1) “… it … can sincerely be implemented by the administration that promises it.” (2) “It … serves as a framework for all parties to work with each other under a regime of mutual respect.” (3) “It should reflect a genuine knowledge of history and a true understanding of the current and future needs of our people.”
Leonen added two more characteristics: (4) “It should be flexible enough” containing provisions contingent with and “malleable to their contemporary realities” – a tacit negation of the rigidly structured MILF peace draft proposal centered on the Bangsamoro Sub-State political settlement; and, (5) “…a negotiated political settlement … that … should be able to address the legitimate interests of all those we represent” – briefly, a peace agreement acceptable to and supportable by all.
Behind the fine rhetoric, Leonen essentially reiterated the “GPH ‘3 for 1’ Solution” in conjunction with the ARMM Reform Agenda under RA 10153 – already three months behind launching schedule — as the substance of the Government’s political settlement and comprehensive compact. In two press releases posted at its website on December 5 and 7, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process repeated Leonen’s challenge to MILF: “…peace deal in 2012”.
From Iqbal’s Opening Statement …
In his opening statement “Let us call a spade a spade”, MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal reaffirmed the urgency of “signing a comprehensive agreement” stating that the MILF’s “expectation [from this agreement]is not hard to fulfill … because all the issues … are already put on the table” — obviously referring to their peace draft proposal.
The MILF option is not to secede but to have a “real self-governance in the Bangsamoro state … within the larger Philippine state” as explained in their state-sub-state proposal. Emphasizing the primacy of this option, Iqbal urged Government to stop “attempting to integrate the Moros into the national body politic” – with reference to the “partnership” offered in the “GPH ‘3 for 1’ Solution” – a scheme tried in the past and proven a failure.
In a strongly- but carefully-worded December 8-14 editorial entitled “Grand Offer”, Luwaran.com, the official website of MILF Central Committee on Information, obviously clarified Iqbal’s opening statement to mean: The talk is moving forward but on the part of MILF nothing is moving away from its original position of asymmetrical state-sub-state political settlement that will address the Moro right to self-determination.
Two closing statements of the editorial must be noted: (1) “If the Aquino Administration wants to solve the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao, let it be done by genuinely empowering the Moros, not through the policy of interference into their internal affairs;” (2) for Government to offer to MILF “something …like the flawed formula the MNLF accepted … will only prolong the peace negotiation and the chance of signing one will never happen under the Aquino administration”.
From MindaNews Reports …
In her December 6 story, Carolyn O. Arguillas reported that from the conduct of the negotiation and of the negotiators and with representatives from all parties in the talks repeatedly saying the discussions have been ‘positive’ and ‘we’re moving forward’, it is apparent that a new peace formula is emerging from the seven-hour discussion on Monday and the two-hSour executive session on Tuesday morning although no one would want to be quoted.
MindaNews sources said “that what was discussed Tuesday morning would be reported to their respective principals – President Aquino and the MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim – for consideration”. It is understood, nothing will be known about the matter until after the two panels have met again in January 2012.
In her December 8 report, Arguillas quoted Iqbal’s four-paragraph statement on their “moving forward” with the fourth paragraph saying all: “We were immovable in August. Understanding each others’ minds was not there. Now, we tried to level off. While there is no movement yet, they understand our minds, we understand their minds and from there if there is an adjustment, we expect to move forward.” (Bold supplied)
Note well: The positive is in the understanding; the moving forward is only expected, premised on “if there is an adjustment” ” that each Party must make.
Final Notes …
In their opening statements, Leonen reminded MILF to comply with the Ceasefire Agreement and all corollary agreements by “more actively identifying and assisting in the arrest of many lawless elements”. Iqbal deplored the facts that Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Rommel Jalosjos defied Government’s order to let the International Monitoring Team investigate ceasefire violations in his province; and, while “people in Mindanao want peace now and not later …the voices of war are more numerous” in Manila.
MindaNews editor Carolyn O. Arguillas covered the event together with Malaysian and the international press. Did Manila newspapers, radios and televisions send reporters and correspondents to Kuala Lumpur? However, there appeared to be a dearth of reports about the 23rd GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks in the websites of the major Manila media establishments.
We reserve our comments on these notes later. (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City. [email protected]/MindaNews)