COMMENT: ‘Honestly Different’ V. Proposal to Move On

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 October) – Two weeks after MILF had spurned the “GPH ‘3 for 1’ Proposal” in Kuala Lumpur on August 23, the Government Peace Panel Chair Marvic Leonen and his team held press conferences and forums in Cotabato City and Davao City virtually challenging MILF: Let’s save the peace process.

On August 30, in a press conference at Estosan Hotel in Cotabato City, Leonen declared:

“We understand the MILF may not agree with the approaches of government but we entreat them and urge them for the sake of (the) peoples in Mindanao to not simply posture by rejecting our proposal but to sit down with us and continue to dialogue and converse and see the extent of our differences but also more importantly the extent of our agreements.” (Emphasis supplied) [MindaNews, August 31, 2011: GPH to MILF: “let’s sit down, discuss differences and agreements]


On the next day, in a forum at Notre Dame University also in Cotabato City, addressing the forum participants directly and, indirectly, the MILF peace negotiators, Leonen said this of the government peace proposal:


“This is our opening position. Minimum. Lahat ng mga nandyan okay na kami … Kung gusto ninyong i-revise ang draft, mag-usap tayo (All in there are okay with us … If you want to revise the draft, let’s talk) and you tell us why our approach is wrong” and discuss how to resolve the differences. “Kung gusto ninyo, buong draft palitan natin (If you like, we can change the entire draft). (Emphasis supplied) [MindaNews, September 4, 2011: GPH to MILF: proposal to MILF is “minimum;” entire draft can be changed]


Leonen also revealed that he had written MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal “as to how we can move forward even with their public rejection of our proposal.” The letter being confidential, Leonen said, he would not reveal its content.


Fodder for Media


The “minimum”, the “approach” and the “entire draft” refer to “GPH ‘3 for 1’ Proposal” and the “Honestly Different” mode of negotiation. By these, Leonen clearly implies that Government now wants its draft proposal to be the primary negotiation working draft – if not the only. That implication and the exhortation to save the peace process must be supreme challenges to MILF – including the challenge “to not simply posture”. Subsequent developments show how MILF have responded.


Iqbal acknowledged having received Leonen’s letter. He told MindaNews on Thursday (August 31: the same day Leonen spoke at the NDU forum) that he had been authorized by the MILF Central Committee to respond to Leonen. As Leonen kept the content of his letter confidential, Iqbal did not hint how he would respond to Leonen.

Their veiled statements were fodder for media speculation. That, indeed, is transparency veiled by confidentiality! Manila media rehash their earlier reports or speculate through veiled transparency when sources whet their appetite for big news only to be denied of details by s.i.c. (standard invocation of confidentially).

During his press conference on September 5, Murad said they were preparing a proposal – a process — on how to move the peace talk forward. The process would include “asking the Malaysian facilitator to come to the country to shuttle to both camps” to narrow the differences of their peace drafts. [MindaNews, September 5, 2011: MILF likely to reject GPH peace proposal]

In his press conference in Davao City, Leonen posed no objection to MILF’s proposed process. He assured media “that talks are ongoing”. Stressing “GPH is always ready, willing and able to sit down and talk” preferably “face-to-face” — alluding to their proposal to meet in Kuala Lumpur on September 12 and 13 which he said MILF rejected preferring the talks “to be conducted in a different way temporarily through shuttle facilitation”. [OPAPP News, 8 September, 2011]

Facilitator to the Rescue

 ABS-CBN News picked up Murad’s September 5 statement for its September 6 report citing Iqbal as its source: “A Malaysian official will arrive in the Philippines soon to help end the impasse in the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

 “Tenkgu Dato AB Ghafar Tengku Mohamed will come to Manila on a yet to be specified date, according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal,” — [quoting him: “I think very soon, he would be coming.”]

 Malaya (September 8, 2011: Aquino moves to save MILF talks) factored in the President to emphasize the significance of the problem. Its lead paragraph portrayed MILF resolve: “MORO Islamic Liberation Front leaders yesterday said the peace process is now in the hands of the government as they are standing firm on their proposed Comprehensive Compact Agreement that seeks to establish a Bangsamoro sub-state.”

The President reiterated – speaking in Pilipino — that Government and MILF proposals might be different in terminology but the government’s “enhanced autonomy” proposal might be the same in content as the MILF’s proposed “sub-state.”

He suggested: “So, talagang itututok natin doon sa detalye, ide-define ng bawat isang panig, ano ba talaga ang posisyon nila, ano ba iyong mga detalye at palagay ko marami ang makikita doon na magkakaparehas.” (Let’s focus on the details. Define the position of each party. What really is their (MILF) position? I believe many details are the same.)

The President must have been aware of the shuttle facilitation agreed by Government and MILF. Like Leonen, he must be pinning hope on the Malaysian facilitator to make MILF see the “agreements” to heavily outweigh the “differences”.

On September 9, ABS-CBN News, citing the MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, reported Malaysian facilitator Datuk Tengku Ghafar’s visit in Darapanan on the day before (September 8). This was three days after Murad had revealed to media MILF’s plan to invite him as part of the process to move on the peace talks.

New Proposal

 On September 12, The Manila Times [MILF wants new pact on ancestral domain] reported that MILF had “submitted to the government panel a new proposal to keep the peace process going, along with a demand that may again stall negotiations – a new agreement on ancestral domain”.

Citing Jaafar as the source, the report said “the proposal was drawn after … the MILF Central Committee” had met the Malaysian facilitator. As MILF could not have handed to the Malaysian facilitator the copy on September 8, he could not have given the copy to government panel – according to their standing protocol – when he met them on the day following his visit in Darapanan.

The report quoted Jaafar: “Our proposal is part of the reply of MILF to what the government panel wanted. What we are saying is we have a proposal to move forward the peace negotiations.” The report supplemented this with what appeared as recycled statements of MILF senior panel member Michael O. Mastura to elaborate the “new agreement on ancestral domain” being demanded.

After less than four weeks of silence on the movement of the peace process, four news reports broke that silence to stoke intrigue.

On October 5, reported the news dispatched by Xinhua, datelined Cotabato City [MILF: Gov’t stance poses threat to peace talks]. It cited a “senior Islamic rebel official”, Mohagher Iqbal, as accusing the government of “not taking them seriously” to put “their negotiation at high risk” and saying that the government received “their new draft proposal” from the Malaysian facilitator “on September 9” but Government had not responded.

Iqbal revealed, “The content of the draft can be summed up into three: independence, integration and real autonomy.” He pointed out, “But there’s a lull. The problem is with the government. They are presenting to us out of the blue proposals. We received information the government is working on their second draft but it’s not verified. They are fast racking the talks without any moves.” And, he deplored, “This kind of situation poses threat to the peace talks.” [Bold supplied]

The report recalled the MILF rejection of the government draft peace proposal – the “GPH “3 for 1’ Proposal” — last August and cited as the MILF alternative its demand for “greater autonomy for Mindanao with local control over its legislature, courts, police and security in a federal set-up, not ‘a state within a state’”.

 On October 5, MindaNews [MILF proposal seeks to break snag in peace process, datelined Koronadal City] reported MILF as having “submitted to Malaysia a proposal to move the peace talks forward” citing “rebel officials” as the source, identifying two of them — Von Al Haq, MILF spokesman saying on October 4 that the proposal was submitted “a month ago”; Iqbal having confirmed this “a few days ago”. No details of the proposal were given.

On October 6, Zamboanga Times reported a Philippine News Agency dispatch datelined General Santos City [MILF proposal seeks to break snag in peace process], citing – as in the MindaNews“rebel officials” as its source: “The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has submitted to Malaysia a proposal to move the peace talks forward.” It also cited the revelation as coming from Von Al Haq on October 4 and Iqbal’s confirmation of it “a few days ago” without details.

On October 7, reported a Xinhua dispatch datelined Manila [Moro rebels’ first move to revive peace talks], obviously an update of its October 5 report. It cited a “report by a leading Manila daily” that quoted “an official of the MILF as saying that the MILF panel, chaired by Mohagher Iqbal, has already submitted a new proposal to the government”. [Bold, supplied] The “leading Manila daily” was never identified.

While conceding that “details of the proposal were not immediately available” the report cited the never-named “official of the MILF” as supplying the essential facts – that “the MILF will not do away with a comprehensive solution to the conflict but would instead agree to discuss the four main components–governance, territory, wealth-sharing and transitional arrangements–one at a time” and the “agreements to be reached in the four components would then be compiled into a comprehensive compact”.

Furthermore, the report cited “observers” as seeing the softening of MILF position as “the result of the backchannel efforts” of the Malaysian facilitator. Then it cited “some analysts” saying “that before the talks could restart the question of whether a sub-state or an ‘enhanced autonomy’ would be adopted to resolve the decades-old conflict in Mindanao should first be settled”.

The report of October 5 quoted Iqbal as summing up the content of MILF’s “new proposal” into three: independence, integration and real autonomy. Its October 7 report enumerated “four main components – governance, territory, wealth-sharing, and transitional arrangement” of the “new proposal” citing unnamed MILF “official”. The two summaries are inconsistent and confusing.

(To be continued: Proposal Not New)