Leonen: “We are not here to prolong the negotiations”

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/15 August) – “We are not here to prolong the negotiations. We are here to do what we think is right in order for it to come to an end, a just and endurable peace in Mindanao,” Marvic Leonen, government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said.
Leonen told the National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao at the University Hotel on Friday afternoon that his panel is “looking at six years – but we are not looking at all of six years” within which an agreement can be crafted and hopefully begin to be implemented instead of pass on to the next administration a “declaration of continuity.”

The Aquino administration has a term of six years. Its predecessor administration had three more years or a total of nine years when then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the Presidency following the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Twenty-seven days before it ended its term, the Arroyo administration on June 3, 2010 ended nine years of peace negotiations with the MILF – the longest since the Ramos administration – with a “Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations” and the “Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of the International Monitoring Team.”

The Declaration 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.”

The government and MILF peace panels exchanged draft peace agreements in late January this year but no agreement was reached since the drafts were poles apart.

The government offered yet another version of “enhanced autonomy” while the MILF proposed a “state-sub-state arrangement” which would require amending the Constitution.

Mike Pasigan, who represented MILF information chief Mohagher Iqbal, the chair of the deactivated MILF peace panel, told the Conference before noon that based on “research and investigation, the identity and the name of the alleged mastermind who is against the settlement of the Bangsamoro question is “Mr. Constitution.”

In the open forum that followed, Pasigan said, “if we do not amend the Constitution, the peace talks will not move forward.”

In his speech before the Conference, Leonen said he does not see the Constitution as a problem.

The Constitution, he said, “provides space to find a political settlement including, if necessary and acceptable to all, a process of amendment and revision.”

“I do not see the Constitution as a problem. I view it as a normative reality that we should deal with and should also be considered in finding the solution,” he said.

“Our hand is extended in peace. It is extended consciously and deliberately. A hand extended in peace is a hundred times stronger and a million times more courageous than one that picks up a gun. Do not doubt the sincerity of this administration. Do not doubt my sincerity. Take it, and let us make peace happen. Immediately,” Leonen concluded.

He told participants – mostly peace advocates — during the open forum that “if there is a viable proposal that necessitates the amendment of the Constitution, you and I will have to help each other get the agreement of the entire Filipino people.”

He appealed to the media to follow the tenets of journalism and provide “contextualized reporting.”

He assured indigenous peoples their rights will “definitely be in the agenda of the peace process.”

He said even the Declaration of Continuity cites the IP’s rights.

The Declaration of Continuity lists six points of consensus, two of these on the IPs.
These are: “in reframing the consensus points on Ancestral Domain, respect the existing property and community rights, taking into account in particular the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;” and “as a general principle, indigenous peoples who originally inhabit particular constituent units shall receive protection and enjoy equal rights similar to those enjoyed by the Moros taking into account in addition to economic and geographical criteria, their individual and communal property rights, cultural integrity, customary beliefs, historical and community traditions.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)