GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/ 5 October) – The Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiators have agreed to extend by one day – to end today (Saturday), October 6 – their four-day 32nd exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur to allow more time to have their framework agreement on peace ready for signing this month, MindaNews reported last October 3.
If they will be able to accomplish this by the close of their talks today (Saturday), they would have done a truly heroic feat. At the opening of the 32nd exploratory talks, the Parties acknowledged the urgency of signing an agreement NOW and urged each other to persevere toward that end. But while they have agreed in principle how to bridge the historic gaps separating them they appear to differ in their key priorities.
Note well what Government Panel Chair Marvic Leonen said in his opening statement, reiterating his past statements:
“While our presence here acknowledges that we do still have our differences, we all know that finding mutually acceptable solutions also have as their premise a willingness to accept that we do have consensus that we can build on. At this time I dare belabor the obvious: the chances of finding an agreement is highest when we opt to focus on what we can agree upon rather than the fundamental differences that we will normally have.” (Emphasis, ours.)
To have a framework agreement now, Government is urging MILF to focus on what they can agree, not on fundamental differences. That is Government’s key priority, the line of perseverance it is urging MILF to take.
In his final appeal not to “postpone any longer”, Leonen urges MILF: “Let us persevere, respect our differences but engage our best creativity in finding commonalities despite the differences. Now is the time to fulfill our promises to our people. Let us look forward to test our ability to implement, encounter difficulties we could not have foreseen, adjust, build trust, build confidence and work further together. This is not something we want to do. It is something that we need to do.” (Emphasis ours)
Leonen admits there will be unforeseen difficulties in doing “something that we need to do”. But he suggests that “We cross the bridge when we come to it”.
Has MILF accepted this line of perseverance Government is urging it to take?
MILF, in various official and media statements – past and recent — have made clear their unchanged quest for an agreement that will solve the Bangsamoro Problem. As the commonalities in the “GRP-MILF Decision Points on Principle” are a given, resolving the fundamental differences is vital to the realization of that unchanged quest. It should not be a surprise if the MILF discussion draft concerning the framework agreement hinges fundamentally on the reframed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.
What does MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal say in his opening statement?
In his opening paragraph, after acknowledging “that the negotiation is now in the homestretch — and the smell of success is reinforced every day”, he states the MILF position: “We also know that the unsettled issues are not insurmountable; they are well within our grasps. If we persevere and remain reasonable, we will have it soon, God willing!”
There is no second-guessing: The “unsettled issues” are MILF’s key priority. While these “issues” may include some “commonalities” still unsealed, they must be mostly what Leonen has referred to as “the fundamental differences that we will normally have.” This must have reference to some thorny issues in the “Decision Points”.
In their opening statements, the Parties panel chairs refer to fundamental differences they are still trying to resolve – the historic gaps they are urging each other to persevere in bridging. MindaNews reports “what is certain”: that “both panels agree they are ‘almost there’” as “We cannot postpone any longer.”
The suspense will end today (Saturday). If the Parties come out with a framework agreement, they will have succeeded in bridging the historic gap. From the framework agreement, we will see how heroically they have done it.
If they fail? The spoilers will jubilate. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)