OPENING STATEMENT: Miriam Coronel-Ferrer / GPH peace panel chair

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer / GPH peace panel chair
38th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks
08 July 2013, Kuala Lumpur

Good morning to everyone. Assalamu alaykum to Malaysian Facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed and to Malaysian Head of Secretariat Che Cassna who prepared our rooms for us today, our counterparts led by MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, the members of his panel, and the rest of the delegation. On behalf of the members of the Government Panel, we also send our greetings to the other bodies who are accompanying us here today, the International Contact Group (ICG) and the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT).

We arrived here in Kuala Lumpur with loads of prayers and well-wishes from people back home. Like most of you, I too got an inbox full of sendoff prayers.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles has also called on her prayer warriors, who have included our intentions in their novena and daily masses. She has sent out the text message asking everyone to “Please pray for patience, insight, and understanding for the parties to find common ground in mind and heart and bring the good news for the Filipino people during the first week of Ramadan.”

Civil society groups have come out with their statements, while other groups I believe are also keeping vigil on the streets.

A few days ago, several friends, all leading lights in their respective organizations, visited me in the office to express their support. They even brought a gift – a pair of pens. And we all know on what occasions we have special use of pens. That’s why I have these pens with me in this trip.

With gratitude we welcome the biddings of good luck and good will.   And we too also have said our own prayers, our own whispered hopes for a most fruitful meeting.

We have made our own personal pleas for strength and wisdom, so that we may agree on the ways and means to operationalize our shared goal of instituting meaningful fiscal and political autonomy for the Bangsamoro political entity.

The Annexes that will come out of this process will not be perfect – not perfect from where the MILF, the government, nor any of the other stakeholders, whether self-ascribed as Bangsamoro or not, from where they are coming from.

But like the Framework Agreement which drew up the master plan, the Annexes will design the rooms with the basic rudiments for dignified and harmonious governance. These rooms shall be livable. Under good hands, they will nurture leaders who will continue to strengthen the foundations, dream new dreams, and change the lives of the whole neighborhood.

We have a big responsibility, all of us in this room today, to meet the expectations of so many people who want this process to succeed.

With the presence of the TPMT here, we have expanded the circle of responsibility. So indeed we welcome the Chair of the TMPT, Alistair McDonald who of course is no stranger to the Philippines having been posted as deputy head of the delegation of the European Union in the Philippines way back from 1990 to 1995 and EU head of delegation to the Philippines from 2007 to 2011. I remember writing him a farewell note before he left the country saying that it is too bad that he could not stay on for the comprehensive agreement, and here he is joining us in this process leading to that kind of completion and implementation.

We also would have to have special mention of Dr. Steven Rood (of The Asian Foundation) who is transitioning from the ICG to the TMPT.  We thank him for his valuable contribution to the ICG having been an original member of this body. And somebody who has been insider for the most parts, the most industrious person typing notes all the time of events as they happened. I am sure that his book will be a bestseller in the years to come.

We also welcome Karen Tañada of the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute (GZOPI) who is also the Southeast Asian coordinator of “Peace Women Across the Globe.” And we know of course GZOPI had served as co-convenor of the Mindanao Solidarity Network, which is linked with the bigger coalitions and alliances in Mindanao such as the Mindanao Peace Weavers.

Also welcome again to an old friend Zen Malang of MINHRAC, who has holed up himself in Cotabato City for the longest time, recovering from the trauma of 2008 to become one of the most active members again in the process in Mindanao.

IHH we don’t really know much about. So we welcome this opportunity to be acquainted and to become friends with them as well. (IHH stands for İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı or The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, the Turkish NGO nominated by the MILF).
Once convened, the TPMT as one body, will no longer be GPH nominees or MILF nominees. We expect them to be objective and constructive interlocutors of the process, both in their individual and collective capacities.

Also part of the growing circle of responsibility, of responsible individuals will be our legislators, and we do hope that before we end this meeting, some senators might  be able to join us later this week. We are still awaiting final confirmation of their travel arrangements.

Of course to the ICG who have stayed with us as our constant companion, I notice that there are a less of you today. I hope that this is not a sign of losing interest, certainly not, you have not been disbanded at all with the creation of the TMPT. We do look forward of being with you again and again.

The Centre of Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) organized the fruitful forum in Oslo together with Government of Norway. It was certainly a very good opportunity for us to informally come together and set the next round of talks.

Many in the ICG are spending with the panels and the Facilitator our third Ramadan together in these talks.

You will recall that during Ramadan in 2011, we had a near breakdown with the MILF panel rejecting the GPH’s 3-for-1 proposal and the government panel, led by former chair now Associate Justice Marvic Leonen “rejecting the rejection”.

Still, on April 2012, we signed the Decision Points on Principles that laid down the major consensus on principles.

By Ramadan in 2012 last year, we had two Technical Working Groups (TWGs) working on the Annexes on Wealth-sharing and Power-sharing.

It is now Ramadan 2013: About time indeed we resolve the sticky issues after completing two years of the Hijrah (Islamic) calendar.

The items on the table are all hard issues. But what I know is that we all want to solve the problem and that we will jointly, collectively decide on the future of the partnership that was forged with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

So with these, the prayers and good luck will see us through.

Thank you very much. (The GPH and MILF peace panels are in Kuala Lumpur from July 8 o 11, 2013)