MILF chair to GPH: “let us be partners, not adversaries in solving contentious issues”

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/07 September) –   Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says contentious and divisive issues it the peace negotiations can be resolved if both government and the MILF panels treat each other as partners instead of adversaries.

Murad said he acknowledges there are contentious and divisive issues such as amending the Constitution but urges government to address, instead of avoid these, with the MILF as partners.

“If you run away from the real issue of the problem, wala tayong magagawa, we cannot do anything. So we tackle this and find a way na itong mga divisive provision na sinasabi, we can discuss this and  how can we come up with a solution na hindi masyadong maging divisive at saka hindi masyado maging contentious. So that’s what we can do, we can start with that rather than run away from it,” he told MindaNews Tuesday at the receiving room of the MILF peace panel’s office inside this camp.

He said the peace process can be fast-tracked if  the two parties will not tackle anymore those that had been previously agreed upon and instead concentrate on those issues where there no agreements yet. He estimates the latter comprises only about “30 to 40%.”

The two panels, he said, “should work as partners in finding a way out (of the contentious issues),  not as adversaries. That’s the only practical means to move forward.  Because if you keep on seeing each other as adversaries, lahat ng sasabihin sa kabila, hindi yan magaling.. (everything the other side says, will be seen by the other as ‘not good.’)

He said both panels can, jointly or individually, win over Congress, local officials by explaining the position of the MILF, to tell them there is nothing to fear, they will not lose their political powers. He said many of those opposing have no basis for their opposition.

The two panels had agreed in February 2006 to set up a Joint Advocacy Group that would consult with various sectors and conduct joint activities to disseminate information on the peace process. The JAGs’ efforts were not continued when the talks reached an impasse in late 2006. But it managed to issue a primer on the GPH-MILF peace process in October 2006, in the midst of the impasse.

Whose working draft?

The MILF peace panel submitted its proposed peace settlement on February 10. The government submitted its proposal on August 22, 18 days after President Benigno Simeon Aquino III met with Murad in Tokyo, Japan, and agreed to fast-track the peace process to ensure implementation of the peace agreement before the end of the administration in 2016.

The MILF peace panel, however, rejected on August 23 the government’s proposal and said it would  recommend to its Central Committee the rejection of the same. The Central Committee listened to the report of the panel on August 29 and met again on August 31 but asked for more time to decide on the issue.

On September 5, Murad told MindaNews: “We will not agree that that (GPH proposal) will be the working draft because it does not reflect past agreements which is very important in moving forward.  We will not agree that we will start from scratch again.”

Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen had repeatedly said to look at the provisions of their proposal and that they are not starting from scratch.

Murad said that during their meeting with President Aquino in Japan on August 4,   the President started their conversation by explaining that he really wants to do something about the problem and to do it within his administration.

“He started elaborating on improving basic services, governance strengthening..  (he said) there is no real governance in this area and the people need social services, development, so that is how he explained it. Then he said, ‘I want to do this with your group within my term. I will be good until 2013only because after 2013, I might be a lameduck President.’”

Murad said he told the President that he agrees with him about the problems “but I said for us these problems are the fruit, the result of the real problem. What we see is there is a real problem, the root cause of the problem, the absence of peace and order, the absence of effective governance, the absence of development basic services, because there is an ongoing war in the area and the war is because the Bangsamoro people are struggling to achieve their aspirations for self governance and self determination. So that I think  Mr President is the real problem and root cause of the other problems.”

He said he told the President  that “even if we address these problems, they are all palliatives because unless we solve the real problem, the root cause of the problem, this will keep on going on,” he said.

He said he explained to the President that their proposal “is directly focused on addressing the root cause of the problem.”

“The only alternative we see for aspiration of people for independence is a state for the Bangsamoro people that will reflect their aspirations to govern themselves according to their own way of life,” he said.

“I will be very frank with you Mr. President, I said, the ARMM is not a self-governance. It does not reflect the aspirations of Bangsamoro people, there is  no actual autonomy even though the name there is autonomous region,” he said, adding the ARMM has only become a “milking cow for politicians.”

“We concluded by saying whatever you do with the ARMM cannot really solve the problem so we have to do away with this ARMM and then build another structure that can (reflect our aspirations),” Murad said.

He recalled the President said solving the political aspect would take long so they should do first the “doables.”

Murad said the two panels can agree on what can be done. “Let the panels talk. I even recommended to him, I said, the chair of the two panels are here, I recommend that they should not treat each other as on the opposite sides. I said they should treat each other as partners in solving the problem.”

He said Leonen had proposed to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal to meet in Kuala Lumpur on September 12 to 13 so they can move forward but the MILF proposed that the Malaysian facilitator shuttle first to “narrow the gap.”

Iqbal had described the gap between the MILF’s proposal and government’s as “heaven and earth” while Leonen said it was “not too far apart.”

Murad said they will not accept the government’s proposal as the working draft. Leonen had said upon receipt of the MILF draft in February that it was accepting it as the MILF’s opening position but not as the working draft.

Asked about coming up with a working draft from both proposals, Murad said: “that is what we expect the shuttling facilitation can do. At least merong understanding, certain kind of  agreement na magkakaroon ng middle ground.”

“It can be a draft that will .. “ Murad said, but decided against finishing his sentence. “We will see how it will… “

“Contentious and divisive”

He said he noticed from the GPH proposal that they want to do all those doables first and leave behind the contentious and divisive issues but “what is contentious and divisive? The actual political solution.”

He said government is “dragging us to already join them to be their partner in doing the doables. Ang mangyayari, papasok na kami sa gobyerno witnout the actual political solution. So ganon din ang nangyari sa MNLF. Sabi nila ‘o sige kunin na ninyo ang ARMM we will reform the ARMM we will amend .. ‘so ganon ang nangyari sa .. but what happened after that? The ARMM nag-agawan sila ng position sa gobyerno so everyone wants to have a position….”

He said the government’s offer is a repeat of what it offered to the MNLF in 1996.

“It’s just the same process they want to do and just leave behind the actual solution. Maybe when there is no more time for the president, he will just pass on to the next administration.”

Leonen had said in several consultations that President Aquino has committed “not to pass this problem again to the next administration,” and that “it is not within the worldview of this administration to say ‘i-dribble  natin ito’ and pass on to the next president.

After the adjournment of the talks in Kuala Lumpur on August 23, Leonen said Constitutional amendment is “immediately divisive” and it is difficult to muster ¾ vote in Congress and the majority in a plebiscite, but he said it does not mean this is a closed option. “We work at it.”

In the peace forum at the Notre Dame University 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 the government, “peace in Mindanao is a priority.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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