Leonen: MILF’s revised draft agreement is “not a document seeking independence”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 February) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s revised draft comprehensive pact containing its proposed political settlement is “not a document seeking independence or secession from the Republic of the Philippines,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said.

Leonen told MindaNews in a telephone interview upon his arrival from Kuala Lumpur Friday  afternoon that the document also “sees the possibility of Filipino citizenship with a Bangsamoro identity and defining a territory of only about 7 to 9 per cent of their historical claims.”

“This is the starting position of the MILF,” Leonen said of his initial reading of the MILF draft. “It’s not that radical and it looks like it’s going for a win-win and principled agreement.”

The draft is a “comprehensive document which we still need to study very carefully with our principals, validate in consultations and compare with our evolving negotiating strategies. The government panel always takes a comprehensive view before coming out with its interpretation of proposals and stating its position,” Leonen said in a statement on the  Formal Exploratory Talks with the MILF,  the 20th since the peace talks resumed after the Buliok War of 2003 and the first under the Aquino administration.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal listed an 11-point description of the draft they submitted, the 11th stating it is a “win win formula that benefits not only Moros and the indigenous peoples, but also the Filipinos and the government in Manila.”

Iqbal  withdrew their January 27, 2010 draft comprehensive compact and handed over their revised draft to Leonen on February 10, the second day of the first formal exploratory talks under the Aquino administration and exactly eight years to the day the government peace panel, then under Jesus Dureza, presented its draft final peace agreement with the MILF to Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Franklin Drilon in separate meetings, and President Arroyo through Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo.

On February 11, 2003, a day after the Dureza panel presented their draft peace agreement, the military launched air and ground assaults on Buliok in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, the new base of the MILF after Camp Abubakar fell to government hands in the “all-out war” in 2000.

In his opening statement at the informal exploratory talks on January 13 Iqbal said, “frankly, if we conduct this negotiation as real problem-solving exercise, we would not spend three years into it. That is too long to spare on something whose main formula does not include option to secede, as what was provided for in the Machakus Agreement in South Sudan.”

“Six months up to one year timeline is enough to complete the process. But if the exercise is just to manage the conflict in Mindanao, as most if not all previous administrations did, the six-year term of office of President Benigno Aquino II  will not be enough. There will always be reasons to obstruct the negotiations, as there are people who prefer the war option to solve the problem in Mindanao,” he said.

Iqbal sent an 11-point description of their draft agreement, as follows:

  1. “It is a formula of peace through the exhaustion of all democratic remedies to solve a home-grown sovereignty-based conflict, which, following the same approach, other similar global sovereignty-based conflicts have also been successfully resolved, such as in South Sudan and Northern Ireland;
  2. “It is a proposal to correct and solve the one-sidedness or imbalance of totality of relationship between Filipinos and Moros, the former continue to be rulers and sole decision-makers, while the latter as mere second class citizens without any role in national decision-making
  3. “It gives modest recognition and justice to Mindanao, the ancestral homeland of the unconquered Moros, as historically considered and treaties-entrenched “foreign territory” not only during the Spanish regime in the Philippines but even during the American regime when they created the “Moro Province”, which they administered separately from Luzon and the Visayas;
  4. “It affords the people of the future Bangsamoro state to have a modest share and taste of the remaining 7 to 9 percent of the lands, wealth and resources of what used to be 98 percent at the turn of the last century;
  5. “It balances the issues of state’s sovereignty and people’s right to self-determination, an issue not even the United Nations has fully succeeded to settle to this day;
  6. “It provides for an asymmetrical state-substate relationships, wherein powers of the central government and state government are clearly stated, aside from those powers they jointly exercise, which are also defined in this draft;
  7. “It gives modest recognition to the Moro aspiration for separate national identity, as Bangsamoro, while retaining their Filipino citizenship;
  8. “It is a formula that maximizes people’s creativity, resourcefulness, initiative, and determination to survive and develop themselves by their own sweats and tears, with their ties with the central government effectively intact and recognized;
  9. “It is a formula that perfectly blends the modern-day democratic principle that sovereignty resides in the people and the ingredients of Islamic principle of shura (consultation) whereby people participate in running their affairs;
  10. “It provides for a clear mechanism whereby implementation of the agreement and the normalization process go hand-in-hand. In this scheme, mutual trust is effectively developed and entrenched as the parties continue to comply with their commitments, with the  participation of an international third party monitoring group; and
  11. “It is a win-win formula that benefits not only Moros and the indigenous peoples, but also the Filipinos and the government in Manila. The dividends of peace – and the lack of war itself – will reach every home not only in the conflict affected areas in Mindanao, but Mindanao as whole and the Philippines in general. Besides refugees from Mindanao will no longer go to Sabah and therefore ceases to be a recurring problem to the Government of Malaysia.”

The Aquino administration is the fourth to attempt a peace pact with the MILF since the peace talks started under the Ramos administration in 1997. The short-lived Estrada administration also talked peace with the MILF but waged an “all-out war” against it in 2000, while the nine-year Arroyo administration also talked peace, waged war in 2003 and talked peace again but did not succeed in forging a peace agreement until it stepped down on June 30, 2010.

It took the Aquino administration eight months before the panels could sit across the negotiating table to talk peace.

There are 64 months left before President Aquino steps down on June 30, 2016.

The panels will meet again “tentatively” on March 29 and 30. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)