COMMENT: Keeping ALL in the Dark?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 July) — Five days have elapsed since the 29th Exploratory Talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Kuala Lumpur ended last July 18. We are still in the dark as to what truly and really transpired. All we got were motherhood statements and jaded rhetoric. We are told: All went well but “devils” lie in ambush on the road ahead.

Luwaran, the website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, posted on July 19: “MILF, gov’t express ‘modest’ breakthrough in recent talks in Malaysia” – a half a page, three-paragraph report signifying nothing much to talk about happened, the true meaning of “modest”. Nowhere could be found the usual joint and the MILF chief negotiator’s opening and closing statements.

Paragraph 1 of the “modest” report mentioned “the discussion of the mechanism in the creation of the transition commission for the establishment of a provisional government”. Paragraph 3 described the “discussion” as “ticklish” and a “long and difficult bargaining”. Paragraph 2 said “the Parties hoped” to conclude their negotiation before 2012 ends.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process posted in its website four items:

July 17: “Let us build a working relationship based on trust”, the opening statement of GPH Panel Chair Marvic Leonen. The two-page, 14-paragraph piece commended the MILF for holding the Bangsamoro General Assembly; to expound his title, rehashed the oft-repeated assurances of the Aquino administration’s good intentions and plans; then clinched, ”We are at the door of an agreement.  Let us persevere.  Now is indeed the time for peace.”

July 17: “Leonen to MILF: ‘We are at the door of an agreement. Let us persevere’.” This is a two-page, 14-paragraph news report mainly repeating Leonen’s opening statement.

July 18: “Joint Statement of GPH-MILF on the 29th Formal Exploratory Talks.” Of the talks, the Parties jointly said:

“The 29th round of Exploratory Talks … successfully ended … with both sides expressing confidence in wrapping up discussions on mechanisms towards the realization of a new political entity….

The Parties continued discussions on power-sharing and other related matters, and agreed to meet again in August 2012.” 

July 19: “GPH, MILF end talks successfully; mechanisms for new political entity discussed.” Besides rehashing the three earlier items as the title states, the two-page, 20-paragraph report reveals: (1) to Leonen, “there are still many issues to be resolved”; (2) to the Malaysian facilitator, the Parties are “closer to the vision of the Final Peace Agreement” yet “there are a lot of work to be done”; and (3) to Iqbal, “the devils are in the details … waiting in ambush” so the last stage of the negotiation is difficult and under wraps.

In her July 18 report, “ARMM polls to proceed as scheduled; GPH, MILF now inching ‘closer to the same paragraph,’” MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas, who has religiously covered the exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur, observed:

“While the talks did not yield a major breakthrough, the two panels managed to reach several consensus points during the talks held mostly in executive session and both agreed to continue discussions next month.

What these consensus points are, the Joint Statement, the shortest in the 10 times the two panels held “exploratory talks” under the Aquino administration (the 29th since 2003), does not say. GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal also declined to say what these are, explaining that other issues have yet to be resolved. (Emphasis supplied)

“The Joint Statement merely said the discussions were on “mechanisms towards the realization of a new political entity that would replace the ARMM,” referring to the transition, and that they “continued discussions on power-sharing and other related matters.”

MindaNews noted one consensus point with neither of the panels hedging: The elections in the five-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be held as scheduled. This is a non-issue. The government had said the elections would proceed should there be no agreement signed; to the MILF, that would be up to the government.

The Malaysian facilitator’s statement to MindaNews is authoritative; however, it looks scripted: “On Tuesday evening, Tengku told MindaNews the two panels, after two days of negotiations were already ‘on the same page now, but different paragraphs.’

 “On Wednesday afternoon, after the scheduled executive session, which was extended from morning, ended at around 4:20 p.m, Tengku told MindaNews the panels were still ‘on the same page’ but were moving ‘closer to the same paragraph’.” [Will they have the same understanding of the same paragraph? Beware of the “devils”. — ppd]

This is an encouraging development from “not only reading different chapters; they were reading different books” in April last year; to “they are now reading the same chapter” as of last July 7; but short of the hope that “by end of July, they would be reading the same paragraph.”

Both Parties had earnestly consulted the peace groups, the bishops, the businessmen, the academe and other concerned sectors in Mindanao and Metro Manila; as they openly discussed the issues, they sought inputs – constructive involvement. Why can’t they share with their partners in consultation some concrete details of the “modest breakthrough”, no matter how “modest” – as well as the issues to be resolved — as concrete grounds for continuing constructive involvement? Keeping their partners in the dark discourages.

It is never encouraging to tell your partners in consultation, “Just trust us. You don’t have to know the concrete details. We will ask you if we need help.”

We are hoping, however, that it is only to media that the “modest breakthrough” is under wraps – off the press; the Parties will share this with their partners in consultation while preparing to meet again in August. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at