GPH-MILF talks has new facilitator

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/27 April) — The peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has a new facilitator.

Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, a former diplomat, retired director-general of the Department of National Security and secretary-general of the National Security Council has taken over the task of Datuk Othman bin Razak, who served as facilitator for nine years.

The issue on the facilitator actually delayed the return to the negotiating table by the GPH and MILF peace panels under the Aquino administration. The GPH panel wanted Othman relieved; the MILF peace panel wanted him retained. The two panel chairs eventually met for informal exploratory talks in January, the seventh month of the Aquino administration. A “formal exploratory talks” followed on February 9 and 10.

The talks today and tomorrow is the second “formal exploratory talks” under the Aquino administration but the 21st since the resumption of talks after the Buliok war in 2003.

Othman told reporters  that at the height of what he referred to as the “bashing” in Manila, “I offered to the Prime Minister that I am dispensable.”

Othman arrived at the Penang Room of Sheraton Imperial Hotel with Ghafar at 9:30 a.m. They immediately held an executive session with government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen, panel member Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and senior panel member Michael Mastura until 11:09 a.m.

 

At 11:12.  members of the government and MILF peace panels as well as members of the International Contact Group  (ICG) entered the Penang Room for the opening ceremonies done behind closed doors. Ghafar was formally introduced to the panels and the ICG during this session that ended at 11:59.

The session was scheduled to resume at 2 p.m. already with Ghafar facilitating.

 

Othman left at around 12:30 noon.
Leonen and Iqbal read their opening statements, both three pages long although Iqbal’s was a bit longer.

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Complementary consultations

 

Leonen began his remarks with an accounting of the number of consultations his panel has done. He said they have had 24 consultation “and our schedules are full the next few weeks: meetings which range from command conferences of the area commands in Mindanao, consultations with local government officials, to meetings with legislators, former justices, cabinet clusters and of course with our direct principal the President.”
“We have no illusions that our own requirements for consultation will be easy.  But if we are to truly learn from the mistakes of the past, we do need to have the patience to deliberately seek out many groups, receiving and discussing their sentiments in many different types of forums, many times clarifying perspectives.  Of course, we do not seek universal consensus.  What we are trying to achieve after all is a political statement, which should embody what we in government can deliver,” Leonen added.

 

He lauded the MILF for consulting with non-Moro groups, including indigenous peoples, noting that the decision to “come out publicly with the contours of your proposed Comprehensive Compact should cause a national discussion on a national issue: how to solve the Bangsamoro problem.”
“It can complement our efforts. It will also help us–and (President Aquino) — to gauge the public pulse on political decisions that need to be taken.  Your consultations are complementary to ours,” he said.
GPH’s delivery capacity seen “very clearly”
Leonen said the “workability of any final agreement” hinges on many things, two of which he cited: “that a final negotiated political agreement with the MILF is not mutually exclusive to a convergence of government’s commitment to both MNLF and MILF” and that the issue on Ustadz Amiri  Kato and his Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) be clarified because of the repeated questions asked of them, such as: “After the GPH signs an agreement with the MILF, will it then have to set up another table to negotiate with the BIFF? Is the BIFF still part of the MILF?  If it is, which has true command over the MILF’s coercive forces, the BIAF or the BIFF? What assurances do we have that the BIFF, if no longer MILF, will respect our ceasefire with the MILF? Or, do we have to set up a separate ceasefire infrastructure for the BIFF?  Which has the greater constituency, the MILF or the BIFF in the areas of operation of Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato?”

 

Iqbal said Kato “has not yet burned his bridges with the MILF. On the contrary, he said he will stay within the fold of the MILF no matter what happens.”

 

“The Kato problem is internal to the MILF. Leave the problem to us,” he said (see separate story).

Iqbal began his statement by saying this is the first time in the 14-year GPH-MILF peace negotiations that the “delivery capacity of the government is seen very clearly.”

 

He expressed hope the GPH panel would be ready with their draft peace pact soon. “If they want ample time to be able to do this, we can allow them the time they need; and one month timeframe, I think, is fair enough.”
Leonen during his consultation with Maguindanao officials on April 13 said his panel will present the draft of its proposed peace settlement with the  MILF in the next round of talks after April.

 

In his consultation with officials of Sultan Kudarat province on April 14, Leonen said President Aquino wants a peace settlement with the MILF “within one year” so implementation can already start within his term.

From Aquino the mother to Aquino the son

 

 

Othman said Ghafar is familiar with the peace process with the MILF because he was the Prime Minister’s emissary to the late MILF chair Salamat Hashim in early 2001, when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo invited Malaysia to be the facilitator.

 

Ghafar, he said, met with Hashim in Buliok, Pagalungan to  discuss prospects of their returning to the peace negotiating table after the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in 2000.
The MILF disbanded its peace panel on August 21, 2000, after its main camp, Camp Abubakar, was overtaken by government forces in July that year.

 

Othman said Ghafar served as minister-counsellor in the Malaysian Embassy in Manila during the administration of  President Corazon Aquino, the incumbent president’s mother. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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