COMMENT: No Sign of Signing

(3. Leonen’s Past Opening Statements)

 GENERAL SANTOS CITY, April 13, 2012 – As the opening statements of Government and MILF chief negotiators during their 26th Exploratory Talks last March 19 to 21 show, the difference of their positions is so wide that a stalemate impends. Beyond their mutual determination to stay on course, are the parties softening in their positions? A review of their past opening statements will show.

How have the government present position evolved since the Parties resumed their talks after the four-month impasse following MILF’s rejection of Government’s proposed peace settlement, the “3 for 1 Solution” last August?


December 5 – 7, 2011


On the 23rd formal exploratory talks, Marvic Leonen, citing the President, states that the “current policy of government today is all-out justice, not all-out war” and “is consistent  with the primacy given to our peace  and the overriding hope that peace can better  be achieved through a comprehensive settlement”.


Defined: A peace agreement is one that:


  •            can sincerely be implemented by the administration that promises it;
  •  “serves as a framework for all parties to work with each other under a regime of mutual respect;
  • should reflect a genuine knowledge of history and a true understanding of the current and future needs of our people;
  • should be flexible enough— its provisions contingent with and malleable to their contemporary realities;
  •  is a negotiated political settlement of armed conflict and that it should be able to address the legitimate interests of all those we represent– a peace agreement acceptable to and supportable by all.


InGist: Behind the statement’s fine rhetoric, Leonen essentially reiterates the GPH3 for 1Solution, the core of the ARMM Reform Agenda under RA 10153, which at the time was already three months behind launching schedule, as the substance of the Government’s political settlement and comprehensive compact.


January 911, 2012:


On the 24th formal exploratory talks, Leonen stresses how “the entire Republic of the Philippines will benefit with a region for Bangsamoro peoples that is not only genuinely autonomous but also one where the principles of good and effective governance is in place”.


Envisoned: This autonomous government is one:


  • that “can be democratically elected in free, clean and honest elections ensured by security forces that are neutral from political interests and a vibrant and assertive civil society” where “there are real choices between sincere and capable political parties who offer principled leaders”.
  • has “a clear working relationship with the national government in many aspects” including “the equitable sharing of wealth and the generation of revenues to make the autonomous government credible in producing opportunities for its people in an environmentally sustainable manner as well as allow the national government to provide the kind of assistance that should be expected of it”.

Goal and Timeline: The Government’s political option: “… this is an administration that wants to see the solution to the Bangsamoro question in motion when it leaves in a little over four years time”. Then addresses the MILF Panel: “… we should both meet the challenge of crafting an agreement soon enough, so that it could be implemented and then assessed and then adjusted before the next term of the next President of the Republic” – setting a timeline: “… the golden opportunity to craft such an agreement is this first quarter of this year”.

Mandate: Of the Government Panel: “Our standing instructions from our President are to work earnestly and with due and deliberate dispatch careful to consult all constituents that we also represent along the way.”

February 13-15, 2012

On the 25th formal exploratory talks, Leonen again clarifies that the ultimate goal of the Government-MILF negotiation is to secure permanent peace: “The legacy that all of us in this room wish to participate in is to facilitate an agreement that will not only make peace possible–it is also an agreement that should bring in the possibility of making peace permanent.”

Imperative: The only key to permanent peace is social justice: “The possibility of making peace permanent can only exist if we put in the necessities of achieving social justice within all our communities.”

Social justice can be achieved through practicability and sacrifice: “To do this, we have to acknowledge what is real, what is practicable under the circumstances; hence to build foundations within present grounds inspired with our most passionate ideals.  To do this, we also have to acknowledge that the courage and ability to sacrifice to bring about social justice is now not only a monopoly of a few.”

ARMM Agenda: Leonen focuses on the Aquino government’s ARMM reform agenda as the way to bring social justice to the Moros – obviously, reiterating the invitation to MILF to be a partner in reforming ARMM under the “3 for 1” formula. The President is cleansing “government of past sins of corruption and misadministration” which now he does in ARMM to give it “the kind of leadership that assures that the resources of government will go where it should even within the legal structure that it has inherited”.

The President’s gambit is working under OIC Gov. Mujiv S. Hataman. “Already, within less than one hundred days after his appointment as officer in charge,” he and “those who now serve with him, have made necessary enemies of those who should be the enemies of government–ghost employees, corrupt former politicians and their conniving contractors and many others.  We have seen his resolve to continue towards this direction”.

Accepable to All: Obviously, Leonen is hammering on the need of an agreement acceptable to all. That agreement should acknowledge “those groups and individuals who also desire the same ends as those who belong to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – Moros … in government and in civil society that are willing to do what is necessary to bring about social justice in all our communities.” Subtly, he reminds MILF “to recognize that there are many other leaders that it can work with”.

This is the imperative: “Working with other leaders representing constituents within the Bangsamoro thus requires [1] sitting down to define goals, [2] articulate interests and agree on common courses of action.  To a certain extent, this is what we do in this negotiating table.” [Numbers in bracket inserted]

Unite with MNLF: But more than this imperative must be done. While being negotiated is “an agreement to be signed only between the GPH and the MILF” it is hoped “that the MILF can go beyond its initial meetings with leaders of various groups within the MNLF” and “can actually see the current proposals of the MNLF and find common grounds with them”.

Conclude Negotiations: After reminding MILF that in keeping peace in its controlled areas it must coordinate with Government through agreed mechanisms, Leonen proposes to “focus once more on the substantive issues and explore common grounds”; acknowledges “that the issues that we tackle now are the more difficult ones”; and expresses optimism “we can find mutually viable solutions” and “conclude these negotiations in the soonest possible time” – emphasizing: “The sooner, the better.”

Changed Focus

On issuing its “3 for 1 Proposal”, Government changed the focus of the negotiation. As shown above, it has firmed up this change. In his opening statement at the 26th formal exploratory talks, Leonen declares this focus as the “Welfare of our People”, supplanting without stating “How to Solve the Bangsamoro Problem” agreed in 1997. “Our People” should be understood as the Filipinos in general but particularly the MNLF and Moros other than the MILF, the Lumads and the migrants or settlers.

Government offers as political settlement a reformed ARMM, the autonomous regional government within a unitary system. The reform is in progress. MILF is being invited to participate in reforming and governing ARMM in partnership with Moro traditional leaders now in ARMM and government and MNLF. Some provisions of the MILF peace draft proposal will be taken as part of the ARMM reform agenda – not to supplant the 3 for 1 Formula.


Government is urging MILF to reconsider its position to avert a stalemate.


(To Be Continued: Iqbals Past Opening Statements)