UP Law dean is new gov’t chair in peace nego with MILF

UPDATED with President Aquino’s statement

PASIG  CITY (MindaNews/15 July) –  Lawyer Marvic Leonen, Dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law,  is the new government chair in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

UP College of Law Marvic Leonen. Mindanews File by Romy ElusfaAt 47, Leonen,  is also the youngest peace panel chair in the history of the GRP-MILF negotiations.

Leonen told MindaNews earlier today that he thought about the offer for “a few days,” adding he had to “consider my work as Dean of the College of Law, the status of the current negotiations and of course whether I had something positive to contribute. The latter includes whether I would be able to have the critical support of those that I have worked with in Mindanao as well as effectively dialogue with the key leaders of government.”

Leonen’s being a non-Mindanawon may be a concern to some but Deles said the Mindanao problem should not be viewed purely as a Mindanao concern “because it is a Philippine problem.”

Leonen told MindaNews, “Yes, unfortunately I am not a Mindanawon but I will be the emissary of the President (Exec. Ord. No. 3 and 555) representing the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. There will be others in a panel of five that will be from Mindanao and of course have had the experience working in Mindanao. Besides, I have always said that the Mindanao issues are also national issues.”

Mindanao’s peace advocates apparently see Leonen as an “excellent” and “brilliant” choice.

“Marvic as panel chair is excellent choice. He has both professional credentials plus ground experience. His personality is fit for negotiation and he has extensive experience with Indigenous Peoples. Great choice!,” Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, anthropologist and author of several Mindanao books, said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, said Leonen as chair is “a brilliant choice.”

“I am overwhelmed with joy. His appointment could only mean that P-Noy is serious about having a political negotiated settlement with the MILF. Leonen is highly credible, untainted in his advocacies and public service. He is one of the best legal minds on ancestral domain and right to self-determination. A brilliant, consistent, very grounded activist with a heart for the IPs and marginalized groups. Perfect choice to negotiate what could be the most crucial turning point of the GRP-MILF talks,” said Arnado.

Indeed, at the height of the hysteria over the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in the latter part of 2008, Leonen was among the few voices of reason.

The Supreme Court,  by a vote of 8-7, declared the MOA-AD of the government and MILF peace panels, unconstitutional.

The SC decision was  assailed by critics for, among others, allegedly not allowing “thinking out of the box” with several justices saying, among others, that the President “may negotiate but only within the parameters of the Constitution.”

On March 16, 2009, at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao held in Davao City, Leonen, who delivered the keynote address, asked: “Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are ‘allergic’ to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?”

“I wonder why when foreign chambers of commerce say that we should change the nationalistic provisions in Article 12 of our Constitution, suddenly our political leaders want to change the provisions of the Constitution. I wonder why, whenever some person who wants to run for a fourth time in congress or a third time as a Senator suddenly says that it is important to look at parliamentary system of government or semi-parliamentary, semi-federal form of government, they .. initiate changes to the Constitution but whenever we talk about self-determination, many people upstairs, those in power, become allergic,” Leonen said.

“Do we listen only to foreigners? Do we listen only to people who are… in power? Or should we listen more to people who keep on saying, ‘you forgot us in your history, you forgot our culture, you hid our culture behind the concept of what is a Filipino, you hid our language in the concept of a national language,  you hid our aspirations behind the barrel of a gun,’ and therefore I think  it is important that we open our minds to actually looking at establishing that political leverage in order for people to be at that bargaining table whenever that negotiation happens.

He listed at least 11 times when the Philippine Constitution underwent changes, from that Biak –na-Bato Constitution to the1 987 Constitution.

“This should be what we should aspire for as model – a Constitution that is constantly being reflected upon, debated upon, and as soon as the dominant political powers change and hopefully they truly represent the people – the masses — our people – change for the better,” he said.

In a statement read for him by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda during the announcement of Leonen’s appointment in Malacanang at 1 1 a.m. today, the President reiterated his commitment “to a comprehensive, just and peaceful solution to the situation in Mindanao.”

“I have instructed the panel to review the past agreements and recommend how we can move forward cognizant of the limitations that both parties have to deal with. I view the negotiations as a dialogue to ensure that we can fully apprehend the problem and provide lasting solutions. I have asked the panel to report to me and Secretary Deles directly,” Aquino’s statement read.

“We will learn from the mistakes of the past by ensuring that consultations be done at the soonest and most appropriate time with all the constituencies of the government of the Republic of the Philippines. This includes not only the peoples in Mindanao but also the local governments involved, the legislature and those who keep watch over the pronouncements of our Supreme Court,” the President added.

“I have taken a constitutional oath to ‘do justice for all.’ I intend to do just that. I am aware of our history, our different cultures and the many just aspirations of our peoples. Therefore, I have asked the current Dean of the UP College of Law, Dean Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, who understands what this may mean, to facilitate the discussions with the MILF and to chair the government’s negotiating panel. The other members of the panel will be announced soon.”

Aquino’s statement noted that he expects the talks “to resume soon.”

“We will do our part to bring about peace and justice. We hope that all of our people will respond with the same good intentions,” Aquino’s statement concluded. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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