What broke the impasse that led to the signing of the “GPH-MILF Decision points”

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/28 April) – The document that the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  signed here Tuesday would have been signed last month had the GPH peace panel not introduced amendments to four of the ten principles already agreed upon in February.

Sources from parties involved in the negotiations told MindaNews the impasse was broken with the parties agreeing to  a “2-2 compromise:”  two of the points proposed by the GPH approved by the MILF and two of the points the MILF wanted retained approved by the GPH.

“I will not publicly comment,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen told MindaNews on April 25, a day after the signing of the first major agreement in the GPH-MILF negotiations under the Aquino administration.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal gave a similar answer to MindaNews in a telephone interview. “No comment,” he said.

Both parties expected to sign an agreement on the common grounds identified by them from their respective peace proposals – the MILF’s “Bangsamoro sub-state” proposal of February 2011 and the GPH’s “3 for 1 formula” of August 2011.

The GPH proposal was handed over to the MILF on August 22, 18 days after President Aquino met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Narita, Japan where both agreed to fast-track the peace process so that a peace agreement can be forged within the first half of the six-year Aquino administration, and implementation could be done within his term.

The President’s term ends noon of June 30, 2016.

But the MILF peace panel rejected the GPH proposal on August 23, claiming the difference between the proposals was “heaven and earth.”

“We reject your rejection,” Leonen said.

The August peace negotiations, scheduled for adjournment on August 24, adjourned at noon with no Joint Statement issued.

The International Contact Group (ICG) composed of  state-members and international non-governmental organizations, saved the day for the peace process, quickly moving to get both parties  to an executive session with the Malaysian facilitator, Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, afternoon of August 23.

The facilitator shuttled between the parties in Manila and Maguindanao from September until he got representatives from both parties to an informal meeting in November, that eventually paved the way for the resumption of the formal exploratory talks by December.

The two parties have been holding three-day negotiations every month since, the latest of which was scheduled for April 24 to 27 but which they adjourned on April 24, after the signing of the “Decision Points.”

The two panels will meet again in May.

What the four points government wanted amended in March, both parties declined to reveal. But both chairs hinted on some disagreements.

In his opening statement on March 19, Leonen said, “we are approaching what would seem to be a stalemate in our ideas for transition as well as in our ideas of how to make permanent the solutions that work for our peoples. “

In his speech before the Philippine Political Science Association conference in Cagayan de Oro City on April 13, Iqbal said: “Added to this difficulty in moving fast the process is the almost characteristic flip-flopping of government on many agreed points. Set aside the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), because that was quite long time ago in 2008. The latest of this attitude was the sudden reversal of position by government in annotating agreed text of the 11-point basic principles which the two peace panels had already settled and crafted during the 25th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks on February 13-15, 2012 and was readied for signing on the subsequent 26th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks last March 19-21, Sensing bad faith and the annotation destroyed the letter and spirit of the document, the MILF did not sign it,”  Iqbal said.

Iqbal did not specify the points annotated by the GPH panel and which he claims “destroyed the letter and spirit of the document.”

Leonen acknowledged they introduced some amendments. In late March, he told MindaNews the changes were merely “clerical.”  For Iqbal, the changes “destroyed the letter and spirit of the document.”

In the April 25 interview, Leonen explained to MindaNews the process that brought them to the signing. He said the two panels agreed to look at “common points.”

“The MILF  came up with their list of what were the common  points and the government came up with our list of common points,” he said, adding this listing was done during the negotiations.

“There are of course a lot of differences in terms of the language, and the results of consultations with the principals. And I think there were questions on some of the language that was being  introduced by one side, the GPH.  But finally. I think through communications with the other party, there was an agreement to sign,” he said.

Of the four amendments government proposed, sources told MindaNews one was on Point number two, on the use of “status quo” but both Leonen and Iqbal declined to comment.

Leonen said they knew before arriving in Kuala Lumpur for the recent talks, that “there was a possibility that we would be signing.”

He said the possibility became real during the executive session (a 90-minute session) prior to the formal opening of the 27th Exploratory Talks on April 24. Held at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses, it was the 27th exploratory talks since peace talks resumed after the 2003 war but actually the eighth under the nearly two-year old Aquino administration.

Under the Aquino administration, the formal peace negotiations have been going on for 14 months, from February 2011. But the government and MILF peace panels have been negotiating peace since 1997, spanning four Presidential administrations – from Ramos to Estrada to Arroyo and Aquino – and three major wars between – in 2000, 2003 and 2008.

All panel members from both sides, except their panel chairs, affixed their signatures to the “Decision Points” before breaking up for lunch on April 24. The panel chairs signed the agreement at 3:32 p.m. with the facilitator signing as witness.

Leonen told MindaNews there were no objections from Malacanang and the Cabinet on the “Decision Points.”

“No objections. In fact there was an acceptance of the common points. (There were no) objections because at every step of the way we had the mandate. We do not put anything on the table that has no mandate. Klaro sa akin yan. I think it’s just the language. Just some amendments of the language which had to be adjusted also during negotiations kasi it is a language both parties are comfortable with because if you sort of frame the discussion in the future… so words and phrases lang yun,” he said.

Who helped break the impasse can be gleaned from the Joint Statement released by the two parties at the end of the talks on April 24.

The fourth paragraph of the seven-paragraph Joint Statement “acknowledged the roles played by the Facilitator and the International Contact Group (ICG) in reaching this breakthrough.”

MindaNews sources said the personalities mentioned did some shuttling between the parties to break the impasse, particularly nearing the resumption of  the talks on April 24 that eventually led to the “2-2 compromise.”

Even the phrasing of “Decision Points” appeared to be a compromise. The MILF preferred “consensus points” while the GPH preferred “consensus points.”

In the end, “Decision Points” turned out to be more acceptable.

Said Iqbal: “This is my personal view. We have not levelled off on this with our counterpart. The word was randomly selected from among other words. ‘Decision’ is more forceful than ‘common.’ I think that is the reason.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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