GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 August) – It was a meeting of firsts: the first time a Philippine president met with the chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; the first time top leaders of government met with top leaders of a revolutionary organization to push forward the peace process
“If you have in your party the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of Defense, the Budget Secretary, Secretary of Finance, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Presidential spokesperson, and you get them to meet up with the principal leaders of the MILF, this is a clear signal of how united this administration is to deliver just, lasting, comprehensive peace,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said in a press conference Friday afternoon in Malacanang.
The MILF in a statement said the President’s “grand gesture” in inviting MILF chair AL Haj Murad Ebrahim was a “bold step” and a “significant political milestone in the MILF’s quest for Bangsamoro right to self-determination.”
It viewed the meeting as a “great leap forward for both leaders, indicating a determined as well as decisive move for President Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad to put closure to the conflict in Mindanao.”
The President was accompanied to the meeting by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen.
Murad led a delegation of top officials as well: a 13-person team, among them senior members of the Central Committee and majority of the peace panel members and military commanders.
Murad was accompanied by Aleem Abdul Aziz Mimbantas, MILF Vice-Chair for Military Affairs; Aleem Kalifa Nando, Head of the Supreme Shari’ah Court of the MILF Central Committee, peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who is also chair of the MILF Information Committee, panel members Datu Michael Mastura, Maulana M. Alonto and alternate panel member Datu Antonio Kinoc, a Blaan, representing the Lumads or indigenous peoples.
Also in the MILF party were Dr. Zafrullah Dipatuan, chair of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA); Ismael Pasigan and Muhajirin Ali, both members of the MILF Secretariat; and the private secretary of the MILF chairman; Mahmur Estino, MILF Provincial Chairman of Sulu; and Sonny Davao, senior military Commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF)
In the 14 years of peace negotiations that have spanned three administrations, this was the largest MILF delegation of top officials introduced to top government officials.
Leonen’s statement during the press conference shared the same optimism as the MILF’s although both he and Iqbal acknowledged the hard work to thresh out the details of what their principals discussed will be at the negotiating table two weeks from now.
But Leonen’s statement at the press conference with Malacanang reporters, could sum up where the peace process is headed: they met, he said, “not to find differences but to find commonalities.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)