GPH to MILF: proposal to MILF is “minimum;” entire draft can be changed

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/2 September 2011) – The government’s proposed peace settlement submitted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on August 22 is “our opening position” and the “minimum” it can offer, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said as he explained that it is open to discussing revisions or even changing the entire draft.

“This is our opening position. Minimum. Lahat ng mga nandyan okay na kami … Kung gusto ninyong i-revise ang draft, mag-usap tayo (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. “Kung gusto nyo, buong draft palitan natin” (If you like, we can change the entire draft), Leonen told a peace forum here Wednesday afternoon, while the MILF Central Committee was also meeting 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 at the Notre Dame University 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. He told MindaNews it was confidential but that it contained a proposal on how to move forward.

Iqbal acknowledged having received Leonen’s letter. He told MindaNews on Thursday that he had been authorized by the MILF Central Committee to respond to Leonen.

He said the panel submitted to its Central Committee last Monday its report on what happened during the August 22-23 talks in Kuala Lumpur. The Central Committee re-convened on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the panel’s recommendation. Iqbal, peace panel chair, concurrent MILF information chief and a member of the Central Committee, inhibited himself from the deliberations.

Iqbal said the Committee wanted some more time before coming out with a decision.

“On the part of the Central Committee, rejecting (the government’s proposal) is a difficult decision. But accepting it is more problematic, more difficult. So they need time but very soon (the decision will come out),” he said.

Leonen told the forum that the panels have the same destination but are taking different roads.

The government proposed a “3 for 1” solution in the form of massive economic development, a peace accord and cultural/historical acknowledgment. It said it would undertake the “transformation” of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “In this, there will be a massive program of social services and economic development and these will prepare the people and serve to strengthen the foundations on which economic development can commence and be sustained.”

The government is offering a partnership with the MILF through the Joint Coordinating Committee on Development and a Bangsamoro Commission that will be “established on the principle of inclusivity that will be composed of the government, the MILF and stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process.”

Leonen said the Commission will be composed of 1/3 MILF, 1/3 government and the last third for other stakeholders.

The Commission will “supervise the implementation of the components of this peace agreement which will include the lobby on Congress of the new organic act that will campaign for strengthened autonomy in that area,” Leonen had said in his August 23 statement on the KL talks.

The MILF’s proposal, submitted to the GPH panel on February 10, calls for the creation of a sub-state to assert their right to self-determination through self-governance.

Iqbal said their proposal is “a product of 10 years of negotiations and so many compromises already.”

“One significant compromise is we removed (from our draft) the option to secede,” he said.

He said that as a panel, their collective appreciation of the government’s proposal was that it carried only 15% of their proposal.

“There was no room for doubt about our understanding,” he recalls of the August 21-22 deliberation by the panel. “There were only three options open to the MILF: to accept it; accept some, reject others which is a weak position; and reject. We could not accept it so we rejected it.”

Iqbal after the adjournment on August 23 in Kuala Lumpur described the difference as “heaven and earth” while Leonen described it as “not too far apart.”

“It depends on who is looking at this gap, and on what prism or what filter to use… of course from our perspective we think it is very workable. This gap is very workable. In other words, it is not too far apart. Of course from the statement made by the MILF, it appears to be a very wide chasm,” Leonen said in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on August 23, adding these perspectives should be brought to the negotiating table so they can discuss them and move forward.

Iqbal had likened their sub-state to a “federal state if the governmental system were federal but because the rest of the country is not ready for a federal state, we respect that. Pero iba yung history namin. We were a state,” he said, referring to the sultanates that governed a huge part of Mindanao but were dispossessed of their sovereignty when Spain in 1898 sold what is now the Philippines to America, including the Moro Sultanates that it failed to conquer.

“We were a state. We are only asking that we be recognized as a sub-state now,” he said.

The MILF had repeatedly said the ARMM is a failed experiment long before Malacanang said it was. The ARMM is the core area of the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state.

But the ARMM is a Constitutional creation and setting up a new political arrangement such as the Bangsamoro sub-state, over the same area will require amending the Constitution.

Leonen had earlier acknowledged there is resistance to the idea of amending the Constitution

“If we start with sub-state, hati agad (it will be divisive). When we go to Congress,” he told MindaNews shortly after the adjournment of the talks on August 23, “do you think we can win? Mustering even a 2/3 vote would be difficult. How much more a 3/4 vote?”

“Does that mean there will be no sub-state?” Leonen asked, and answering his own question, said, “it depends. We work at it.”

As a starting point, government is focusing on “doables in the short term rather than dwell on contentious and divisive issues whose solutions may take a longer time to address,” he said.

In the peace forum at the NDU on Wednesday, 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 the 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? 3/4 Senate 3/4 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,” Leonen said.

He mentioned people’s initiative, which is another way of proposing amendments to the Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution can be amended by Congress, on a vote of three-fourths of all its members, through a constitutional convention, or through People’s Initiative.

Any amendment to or revision of the Constitution requires a ratification by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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