COMMENT: ‘Honestly Different’

I. Two Different Types

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 August) – Like a flare shot into the night sky, the historic meeting of President Benigno Aquino III and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo last August 4 brightened hope for the Mindanao peace process only to dim on the 18th day to leave the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiators groping in the dark under the shroud of Government’s “honestly different ‘3 for 1’ proposal”.


Unsure of another flare in prospect, can Government and MILF peace negotiators whistle their way out of the dark?

In Tokyo, Murad referred to the negotiation as “problem solving” and agreed with the President to fast-track the solution. The Government’s “proposal” is its approach in the fast-tracking of the solution.

The proposal consists of two main parts: first, the “honestly different” type; second, the “3 for 1” solution. These are contained in two “statements” of Government Peace Panel Chair Marvic Leonen and in “GPH ‘3 in 1’ proposal seeks to promote peace, uplift lives” – all three posted in, the website of the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.


Spotlighting Tokyo


Leonen, in his “Opening Statement” during the 22nd formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last August 22, spotlighted the Tokyo Meeting.


First: “The meeting … underscored the reality that” despite the difference in the approaches of Government and the MILF — with willingness to work, patience and a lot of understanding — “peace is still realizable within the next year”.

Second: The President and Murad had “a consensus as to an objective” – “[a] meeting of minds” on “some principles” to “guide us in choosing options …”

[1] For “the benefits of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace within the next few years … to find some fundamental and workable agreement that can pave the way to meeting the just aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

[2] “…to confirm agreements based on the consent of the governed.”

[3] “…any political re-arrangement initially still requires an effective national government empowered not only to assist underdeveloped regions but also to ensure the viability of the entire Republic as one whole.”

[4] “… the need to continue to build confidence in each other’s capacity and trust in each other’s sincerity.”


These are the guidelines of the Government’s “honestly different” type of negotiation impressed by the Aquino-Murad Tokyo Meeting.


Guideline “[2]” had been an Aquino policy long before the Tokyo Meeting. OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles reiterated this in her own “statement” to dispel rumors and fears about the 22nd Exploratory Talks: “The GPH panel will not be signing a peace accord in Kuala Lumpur.  It cannot and will not commit to a final agreement without the people’s knowledge and support.”


Different Approach


At the outset, Leonen laid down what the Government and MILF negotiators must do to fast-track the negotiation: (1) “…clearly articulate the differences of our principals and constituencies;” (2) “…proceed to examine the reality as well as the viability of logical inferences that we make from our versions of reality;” (3) “… discover how things really are and work to find implementable agreements.”


He described the Government proposal as “a work in progress”. What his panel was about to present “is a first document” proposing the government’s “approach to achieving a fundamental agreement to bring about a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in our country” implying that more “documents” will be presented in the next talks. The proposal being “a work in progress”, its documents are confidential.


Right there, he clarified that the Government’s “approach” to solving the Bangsamoro Problem is different from that of the MILF: “I am sure that many who have observed these processes are hoping that the government’s approach hews close to the proposed Revised Comprehensive Compact of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”


He believed “these same groups may be all so ready to judge government’s ‘sincerity’ on the basis of how close [the] language or content [of the Government proposals] will be to that of the proposals of the MILF.” By the “many” and “the same groups” Leonen must be referring to the peace advocates and pro-MILF partisans in Mindanao; or, he can be alluding to some official statements of the MILF.


Not This Type …


He criticized the “many” and “the same groups” for thinking that “negotiations take place along a linear plane with finite possibilities only.” By this type of negotiation, “the parties are expected to [1] define their desired end results, [2] ensure that these are at the farthest opposites possible so that [3] they will end up in a more agreeable middle ground.” This had been the GRP-MILF negotiation type before Aquino.


To Leonen “this type of negotiations” which he calls “linear paradigm or positional bargaining” is significantly flawed – “all that matters will be the end positions of the parties.”  

To arrive at “the end positions”, he contends, five vital aspects of negotiation “take the backstage” or are ignored: “[1] Why the parties took these positions, [2] how they saw reality, [3] how they articulated their understanding, [4] how they view solutions and [5] why they chose these solutions.”


Without using the modifier “mere”, Leonen deprecates “this type of negotiations” as “posturing” pointing out that:

[1] “More of this posturing encourages the parties to entrench their positions.”

[2] “… this will ensure that the result will only be a language of force or power rather than the kind of rationality required of mature democracies .”

[3] “Solutions drawn without reason, hammered only through brute power at the negotiating table are not likely to last.”

[4] “Worse, it tends to be disastrous for the constituencies of all the participants.”


… But This One


Leonen presents the “honestly different” type as an alternative to “the linear paradigm or positional bargaining”. What Leonen exactly mean by “honestly different” type of negotiation may be inductively seen in his exposition.


He explains what “honestly different” mean in one paragraph. The explanation has four points that discussed in sequence would inductively let us see Leonen’s meaning.


The talking point: “I would rather that the proposals be different: honestly different.” — He must be referring to the main proposition or talking point. The six-word MILF proposition is: “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem.”  As gleaned from Government official statements and media reports, the Aquino III Government has effectively expanded it to be “honestly different”: “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem according to the wishes of the stakeholders and the Constitution.”


The framework: “Better if the frameworks that inform the proposals be different: honestly different.  It is only then that the issues that truly matter to both sides can be given more space at this negotiating table.” — The MILF proposal is framed in the Comprehensive Compact.  The Aquino III proposal is framed in the “3 for 1” Approach, readily prepared for partnership with the MILF.


To the MILF, the issue that truly matters is political settlement anchored on the Bangsamoro sub-state to fulfill the Bangsamoro right to self-determination. To the Aquino III Government, the issues that truly matter are the cycle of poverty in ARMM, the subject of massive development, and the negative perceptions that stakeholders associated with the Bangsamoro sub-state.


Open ended: “The field of possible points of agreement can expand when we make sure that our discussions cover the various points that many of our constituencies may currently cherish. It is after all, the people, later on, who will eventually place the final decision as to whatever agreements that we can agree upon.” – More issues to address concerns from stakeholders during consultations between exploratory talks will be discussed.


This is to emphasize the policy of consulting the people at every stage of the peace process.


Leonen revealed in Kuala Lumpur right after the MILF had rejected the government proposal that they would bring the matter to the people who have the final say on the final agreement and should be actively involved in the talks. He reiterated this in a press interview on August 23.


In keeping with MILF: It is in this sense that I would say, that a proposal from government which presents a different approach – but in keeping with our past agreement — is more in keeping with what the honorable chair of the MILF Al Haj Murad Ebrahim referred to as the “problem solving” approach.” – While of different approach, the government proposal is the “problem solving” referred to by Chairman Murad and agreed by both the Government and MILF.

Leonen is really equivocating on “problem solving”, exploiting the ambiguity of their understanding with the MILF. Surely, this GPH “honestly different” type of negotiation will entail much problem solving — possibly very much more than the past GRP-MILF “positional bargaining” did have since the Government Panel will introduce more issues from its regular consultations with their “constituents and principals” as the negotiation progresses.


Is this the “problem solving” that Murad and the MILF Panel mean and which they have agreed with the Government Panel and President Aquino III? A clarification from the MILF will be most enlightening.

(To Be Continued: True, But …)