Gov’t peace panel chair to MILF: we’re not starting from scratch

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/10 August) – “Definitely, it is not the intention of the government’s panel to start from scratch. Neither do we want to start without a viable proposal,” UP College of Law Dean Marvic Leonen, the government’s peace panel chair.

“It is in this spirit that we are viewing past agreements as well as the minutes and or notes that led to the present set of documents exchanged between the parties. The present members have staked their names and reputations to negotiate a solution at the soonest possible time. With the cooperation of all involved, within the term of my principal,” Leonen said in reaction to MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim’s apprehensions the peace talks under the Aquino administration might “start from scratch.”

Ebrahim told MindaNews Monday morning that they are happy President Benigno S. Aquino III has vowed to do something about the peace process with the MILF within his first 100 days in office but hopes “we do not start from scratch.”

“We have to move forward and moving forward means moving from where we stopped,” Ebrahim said.

The government and MILF peace panels last met on June 3, 2010 when they signed in Kuala Lumpur a “Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations”  and the “Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of  the International Monitoring Team.”

Ebrahim said the MILF  has been negotiating with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) with the administration as representative. The MILF started negotiations under the Ramos administration but the talks collapsed with the declaration of “all-out war” by the Estrada administration in 2000 and resumed under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to June 3, 2010.

The  “Declaration of Continuity” lists six points of consensus on an Interim Agreement ”with a view of moving towards the Comprehensive Compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement.”

In his press statement, a copy of which was received by MindaNews, Leonen said he welcomes “the tone of openness in the statements of the leadership of the MILF” but added that he hopes the MILF “understands that the fresh mandate given to the present administration which was very critical to the past one compels us to do our proper due diligence of all the statements, agreements and negotiating parameters. We are doing so with due and deliberate speed conscious of the importance and urgency of our current task.”

In his press statement read during the presentation of Leonen to the press on July 15, President Aquino reiterated his commitment to a “comprehensive, just and peaceful solution to the situation in Mindanao. “

“Therefore this early into my term, we have identified persons who will start to compose the peace panel who will resume talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  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,” the President said.

“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,” he added.

The President said  he took 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.”

“I expect 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,” he said.

Leonen was named government panel chair on July 15 and was sworn into office with the two other members – UP Political Science Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani – on August 3.

“For us to unthinkingly accede –without doing our own due diligence checks– to everything that the Arroyo panels agreed to can be seen as a betrayal of that mandate,” Leonen added.

Leonen ended his statement by saying, “we await with anticipation whether the MILF will really reconstitute their panel.”

Ebrahim told MindaNews  the Central Committee had earlier deactivated its peace panel since there was no longer any counterpart on the other side due to the change in administration. But he said they can immediately activate the panel.

He said the Central Committee will still meet on the re-activation of their panel and will fill up the position of a new panel member “if there is a need to change.”
The deactivated MILF peace panel was composed of MILF information chief Mohagher Iqbal as panel chair, lawyers Datu Michael Mastura and Lanang Ali as senior panel members and Robert Maulana Alonto and Musib Buat, another lawyer, as members. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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