MILF peace panel chair shares a dozen tips on negotiating peace

PENANG, Malaysia  (MindaNews/26 February) –  When he introduced himself on the first of the three-day Consolidation for Peace seminar here, he said that as chair of a panel involved in an ongoing peace negotiations, he would be a “silent participant,”  that he would simply listen and learn but apparently inspired by the wealth of experiences – and lessons — shared by participants from Aceh, Patani and Mindanao, Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),  spoke just before the organizers delivered their closing statements Thursday  to “share some of my experiences,” his first caveat, being “peace negotiation is nevPostser easy.”

The fourth MILF peace panel chair and the longest-serving in the 14-year history of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations, Iqbal assumed the post on July 29, 2003, following the death of MILF chair Salamat Hashim and the assumption to the top post by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF vice chair who was peace panel chair when the peace process was re-started by the Arroyo administration in early 2001. The peace process collapsed during the 2000 “all-out war” of the Estrada administration.

The three-day seminar (see other story) was “very challenging” and was “part of a good learning experience” because “it is a sharing of lessons learned,” said Iqbal.

“Let me share with you some of my experiences on peace-making negotiations,” he said, before proceeding to read his handwritten “tips and advices.”

Iqbal’s list:

  1. “First,  peace negotiation is never easy; it is protracted and incremental. (He cited the 14 years of peace negotiations between the GPH-MILF and the 21-year GPH-Moro National Liberation negotiation until the signing of the Final Peace Agreement in September 1996);
  2. “Negotiation is a continuing process;  it never ends when agreements are signed. Sometimes, the implementation phase is more difficult than the actual negotiation itself;
  3. “Negotiation is not debate; it is rather a discussion focused on the agenda of the talks;
  4. “Negotiation is not about winning everything but basically a win-win exercise where  everybody feels he has got what he wanted and goes home satisfied;
  5. “In negotiation, nothing is personal; although sometimes, when one deals with a highly emotional issue, discussion could shift to more passionate interaction. This is normal in the actual conduct of negotiation;
  6. “In negotiation, be soft on people but be hard on issues;
  7. “You cannot demand in the negotiation what you cannot defend on the ground. In other words, when you enter a negotiation, you must have strength:
    *Justness of position, meaning, your stand is just, moral, has historical antecedents and grievances are legitimate;
    *You truly represent and articulate the interests and aspirations of your people (reinforced by regular consultation with the people, regular consultations with your political and military leaders, consultation with CSOs, NGOs, POs);
    *You must have a strong organization;
    *You must have a strong military back up;
    *Willingness of every member of the organization to die for  their cause
  8. “When you go to a negotiation, you must prepare. The most basic principle is: prepare, prepare, and prepare. Choose the best negotiators; let them undertake training on negotiation.
  9. “A deal is no deal until it is signed. A gentleman’s agreement is no agreement at all. Sign the document the first time it offers itself. But before the signing, check what you are signing. Beware of the ‘riders.’ They can spoil the whole thing.
  1. “Sometimes, it is more difficult to negotiate with your comrades in the organization rather than your counterpart in the government.
  2. “Spoilers of the peace process are bad of course. But they are not always so.  Sometimes, they factor in to improve the process especially in the relations of the negotiating parties and the various frameworks of the talks. When the MOA-AD was not signed because of some spoilers, there was fighting, etc.. But because of the non-signing, the ICG was born. So thanks to the spoilers. Otherwise, ICG won’t come to the picture.
  3. “Lastly, negotiators must know what he wants and more importantly, he knows how to get it. This requires commitment, persistence, patience – and of course, skills of your negotiators. “

On the difficulty, sometimes, of negotiating “with your comrades in the organization rather than your counterpart in the government,” the MILF’s chief negotiator paused and looked at the direction where Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, who was one of the participants in the seminar, was seated, noting that Dureza earlier wrote about similar difficulties.

Dureza wrote in his syndicated column on November 15 that in his experience as government’s chief negotiator,  “while negotiating with the rebels on the other side of the table is not a walk in the park, it is as equally sensitive – and in fact more difficult – to ‘negotiate’ with the parties on our side of the table.”)

Iqbal in his first and second tips, said the peace process is never easy and that sometimes, the implementation phase is more difficult than the actual negotiation itself.

He cited the 21-year negotiation between the government and the MNLF that ended with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA), which was supposed to have finally implemented the mother agreement, the Tripoli Agreement of 1976.

It took the Ramos administration only four years to negotiate the FPA from 1992 to 1996. But 14 years after the signing of that agreement, the parties are still reviewing its implementation. In fact, while the Consolidation for Peace Seminar was happening in Penang, the government and MNLF, along with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, were in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the 4th GPH-MNLF-OIC Tripartite Review.

In Jeddah, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and head of the 21-member government delegation, said the Aquino administration “do(es) not want to turn over another unfinished business to the next administration. It stops with us.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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