GPH-MILF talks: “Papa, why don’t you just give them the government that they want?”

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/04 September) –  Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen has ready answers when asked by the media, academe and the rest of civil society about the government’s proposed peace settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but got stumped when his eight-year old daughter Lian, did the asking: “Papa, why don’t you just give them the government that they want?”

At one point, Lian, according to Leonen, also asked him, “Papa, what is a sub-state?”

The father told the daughter it was best for the MILF to define that.

Leonen told MindaNews that his daughter also asked him, “Why do you keep on negotiating?”

Recently, when he was tending to Lian who was not feeling well,  the little girl told him, “I’m okay. Maybe you should rest because you still need to negotiate.”
This must have been on August 27 when Leonen posted on his Facebook wall nearly midnight that he was “staying up, comforting my daughter as she battles her cough” and how he was “reminded of the many more difficulties of many more parents during this cold damp night.”

Last Saturday, Leonen posted on his Facebook wall three of Lian’s many questions, two on the Constitution and the third on the negotiations: “Why don’t you give them the kind of government that they want? “ the girl asked.

The post drew immediate reactions and over a hundred “Like” clicks by Sunday.

One commented, “kids say the funniest things,” to which Leonen replied, “oh, am taking this very seriously.”

Another reader commented, “It’s the voice of  God. And you must listen. The Bangsa Moro deserves it. It was a good attempt to dangle the development plans ahead (in lieu, I think, was GPH’s plan) of the ultimate political solution but it was not called by the MILF obviously because it was simply a bluff, or a ploy, which was pretty deceitful. And obvious. Why can we not just accept and fulfill our moral obligations to these people? History is on their side. There will be no peace until we give them the full autonomy so they can fully practice their religion, culture, and tradition. There will be no development if there is no peace. I am for the Bangsamoro cause and would like to apply the same full autonomy to all the regions in the country. Let us take their cause for a radical change. It’s time for constitutional reform.”

Another said, “yehey Papa can’t say no.”

“Indeed, why not?” wrote another.

“Kids say the most serious of things without an iota of reservation, and they manage at most times to beat the sanity out of us in the times we need it most,” said another posting.

One even prays Lian would be President of the Philippines: “My prayers for her to become president of the Philippines bimashi’atillah ‘w/ Allah’s will.’ She hopes for a lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The government peace panel presented its “three-for-one solution” to the MILF on August 22 in Kuala Lumpur, 18 days after President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Japan to discuss how to fast-track the negotiations so that whatever agreement is forged can be implemented within the Aquino administration whose term ends on June 30, 2016.

On August 23, the second day of the peace talks, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said they were rejecting the government’s proposal, to which Leonen replied, “we reject your rejection.”

The talks adjourned at 11:45 a.m. that day but the International Contact Group (ICG) managed to get the two panel chairs and one member each, to meet that afternoon in executive session with the Malaysian facilitator to clarify each others’ pre-adjournment statements. The meeting lasted for 73 minutes.

Iqbal told MindaNews that at the the panel level, they rejected the proposal and would recommend the same to the MILF Central committee. It was up to the Committee to uphold or reverse their recommendation, he said.

The Central Committee met on August 31 but asked for more time to decide on the recommendation, said Iqbal, the MILF’s information chief and a member of the Central Committee. Iqbal has inhibited himself from the deliberations of the Committee, he said.

The MILF peace panel’s proposed peace settlement, submitted to the government panel on February 10,  pushes for the creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state as platform for the expression and assertion of their right to self-determination.

The core of the proposed sub-state is the five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and six towns in Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in an expanded ARMM in the plebiscite of 2001.

The MILF proposal, however, will require amending the Constitution, a process the Aquino administration is not keen on undertaking.

In a peace forum at the Notre Dame University gym on August 31, Leonen said there is no mention of Constitutional change in their proposal but asked, “does that mean no possibility of constitutional change?  Does that mean therefore that Constitutional change is forever not possible?”

He said the position of government now is that amending the Constitution is not a priority.
But he noted that for government, “peace in Mindanao is a priority.”

He acknowledged the difficulties in mustering the number of votes required to get an amendment passed. “Do you know the numbers required? ¾ Senate ¾  House plus 50% of all the peoples in the Philippines.”

“Challenge ko, if you want to change the Constitution, nothing is preventing the citizenry from asking that the Constitution be changed,” he said.

Leonen also explained that the government’s proposal to the MILF  “our opening position” and the “minimum” it can offer but said “if you want to revise the draft, let’s talk and you tell us why our approach is wrong” and discuss how to resolve the differences. “If you like, we can change the entire draft,”  Leonen said on August 31, around the same the MILF Central Committee met in an undisclosed area to discuss whether or not it would uphold the recommendation of its peace panel to reject the government proposal.

Leonen told the forum that he had written MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal “as to how we can move forward even with their public rejection of our proposal.” He did not disclose the contents of the letter.

Iqbal  on September 1 acknowledged having received Leonen’s letter and said he had been authorized by the Central Committee to respond.

Both chairs declined to say what the parties’ “way forward” was but both said the doors have not been closed and the peace process continues.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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