New GRP Peace Panel Head Buoys Hope for an Elusive Peace in Mindanao

The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), the Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW) and  the DUYOG-Mindanao Campaign Network warmly welcome the recent appointment of  University of the Philippines (UP) Law Dean Marvic F. Leonen, as the new head of the GRP Panel  in the Peace Talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Dean Marvic Leonen’s  appointment augurs well with the ongoing peace talks between the GRP and the MILF. He brings with him not only  an impressive credential to the post, but more importantly, a solid experience, empathy and grounding on the issues and rights of the indigenous peoples, the upland communities, including those in Mindanao. His new post  also buoys up a lot of hope and raises high  expectations particularly from the peace and people’s movements  regarding the  prospects of the peace process in Mindanao.

We join the rest of the justice-seeking and peace-loving peoples of Mindanao and the Philippines in wishing Dean Leonen and the new set of peace negotiators — who we also hope will mostly come from Mindanao, and will include women representatives–  the  best in this new but highly challenging task.

The way to  justice and peace in Mindanao is  definitely  rough and bumpy. One major  roadblock is the historical and willful failure of successive governments to recognize the central  issue of self-determination  of the peoples, particularly the Bangsamoro and the Lumads that  ignited and continue to fuel the armed resistance in Mindanao. The need for recognition and respect of this basic right as the foundation for addressing the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao was re-affirmed in the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Agenda (MPPA) of the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW) which has been submitted to both the Aquino government and the MILF recently for their consideration in their negotiations.  The MPPA is a seminal, living document that offers a framework and blueprint in addressing the challenges faced by Mindanao’s peoples in their pursuit of peace, justice and progress. It was a product of years of consultations of the MPW member networks constituents- the broadest network of peace advocates in the island. The is why we are happy that legal luminaries like Dean Leonen only know fully well that even the Philippine Constitution and the country’s Indigenous People’s  Rights Act (IPRA) can pose grave legal  threats to the full enjoyment and exercise of the right to self-determination of the concerned aggrieved peoples.

As equally important therefore, as the need for the new Aquino government to exercise a strong political will to address the root causes of conflicts, rectify the historical injustice committed against the marginalized Mindanaons, and recognize the human rights, including the right to self-determination of the island’s peoples—-is the need to explore a more flexible but principled framework of the peace negotiations that will eventually lead to a just , peaceful political resolution of the Mindanao issue.The choice of Dean Marvic Leonen is a positive step. But it should also be mandated by a government’s peace policy that seeks to genuinely and justly resolve the armed conflicts and thus  bring about durable and not fragile peace.

We trust that Dean Marvic Leonen , can champion this fresh and hopefully successful  track of ending war and establishing a just and durable peace in the conflict-torn Mindanao.  We look forward to an earnest, transparent and warm engagement with Dean Leonen.