“Heaven and Earth,” says MILF on GPH proposal; “Not too far apart,” says GPH

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/23 August) –  There was no walk-out, there was no returning of document but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel has recommended to its Central Committee to reject the Philippine government’s peace proposal, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen announced in a press conference at the Philippine Embassy here.

“How wide is the gap between the government and MILF proposals,” Leonen was asked.

“It depends on who is looking at this gap, and on what prism or what filter to use.. of course from our perspective we think it is very workable. This gap is very workable. In other words, it is not too far apart. Of course from the statement made by the MILF, it appears to be a very wide chasm,” Leonen said, adding these perspectives should be brought to the negotiating table so they can discuss them and move forward.

“Heaven and Earth,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews.

“We look at it from the point of view not of how wide the gap is but we look at it from the point of view of what can be agreed upon,” Leonen said, and quoted Iqbal as having said “Let’s work at what we can agree upon.”

The two panels adjourned the negotiations at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, a day ahead of schedule. Malaysian facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, told MindaNews the MILF peace panel will take back the government’s peace proposal to the MILF Central Committee. No date has been set for the next round of talks. He said it will be set as soon as the MILF ‘s Central Committee “comes up with its own position.”

No joint statement was released by the panels which immediately held separate caucuses with members of the International Contact Group, the body set up in 2009 and composed of “groups of states and non-state organizations to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process” and mandated to “exert the necessary leverage and assistance towards sustaining the trust and confidence of both sides at the negotiating table.”

“Heaven and Earth”

Iqbal told MindaNews  that their proposal, which includes the Bangsamoro sub-state, is “a product of 10 years of negotiations and so many compromises already.”

“One significant compromise is we removed (from our draft) the option to secede,” he said.

He said the government’s proposal is “way below our expectation.”

Iqbal said the negotiations will not be fast-tracked “if we use their draft.”

The MILF peace panel  submitted its proposed peace settlement on February 10. Leonen accepted the proposal but said this was not to be considered as the working draft.

The government panel submitted its proposal on August 22, 18 days after President Benigno Simeon Aquino III met with  MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan and talked for two hours on how to fast-track the peace process.

The two leaders agreed to move the negotiations forward to ensure that whatever agreement is forged can be implemented  within the Aquino administration whose term ends on June 30, 2016.

Common ground

Leonen did not say the government’s draft is to be the working draft of the negotiation.

In his opening statement on Monday, he said: “I would rather that the proposals be different: honestly different. 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.”

“We should not lose sight of our common ground and draw inspiration from there, but our role as negotiators require that we clearly articulate the differences of our principals and constituencies.  Having articulated them, we then should proceed to examine the reality as well as the viability of logical inferences that we make from our versions of reality.  Hopefully, in this conversation, we can discover how things really are and work to find implementable agreements,” he said.

Different frameworks

The MILF’s framework is to start with the political settlement first and the rest – economic, etc.. will follow, hence the proposal for a sub-state, an “asymmetrical state-substate relationships, wherein powers of the central government and state government are clearly stated, aside from those powers they jointly exercise, which are also defined in this draft.”

Government’s proposal is what Leonen refers to as “three for one” solution: massive economic development;  political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.

He described government’s proposal as “pragrmatic, workable, viable.”

The Autonomous Region in MuslimMindanao (ARMM) will play a crucial role in this undertaking.

The MILF has repeatedly said the ARMM is a failed experiment. The ARMM is the core area of the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state.

The ARMM is a Constitutional creation and setting up a Bangsamoro sub-state will require amending the Constitution.

The government’s proposal is to strengthen the ARMM particularly given that the President will be appointing officers in charge to  serve the autonomous region between September 30, 2011 and June 30, 2013.

The proposal includes the creation of a Bangsamoro Commission composed of  the MILF, government and other stakeholders that will be tasked to supervise the implementation of  the peace agreement including lobbying with Congress for the amendments to the Organic Act to strengthen autonomy.

Leonen said they will be going around the country to explain their proposal.

President Aquino has repeatedly said  they do not want a repeat of the MOA-AD. To recall, the GPH and MILF peace panels initialed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in late July 2008 and scheduled it for formal signing in Kuala Lumpur on August 5 that year. No signing happened because the province of North Cotabato and the cities of Iligan and Zamboanga petitioned the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order which the court granted on August 4.

The Supreme Court later declard it “unconstitutional,” citing, among others, the lack of consultation  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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