Talking peace with gov’t feels like having jitters during flight – Iqbal

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 September) – Talking peace with the Philippine government is like flying a plane where one may experience jitters despite having done it many times, said Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal.

“You’re flying the airplane many times. Even if you are flying the airplane many times, it does not mean that it erases your fear of flying. The phobia is still there, especially if you imagine that planes are crashing,” Iqbal said in response to a question on the difficulties in negotiating with government during a forum here on Saturday.

The MILF chief peace negotiator was referring to the periodic deadlocks and collapse of negotiations in the past years.

The GPH-MILF peace process was stalled in August 2008 after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), and subsequently declared it unconstitutional. The SC decision led to renewed hostilities that displaced around 500, 000 people in the provinces of Lanao, Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Iqbal said that in negotiations there are “many traps within the traps” that must be carefully scrutinized.

While recognizing the inevitability of some trade-offs in negotiations, he said there are things they could not compromise.

“Sometimes, you have to drop something to be able to get something from the other side. That is part of negotiation. But there is something you can never drop,” he said.

Iqbal said that in its draft peace proposal the MILF has not given up its demand for autonomy, adding the government is actually proposing integration couched in the language of autonomy.

“But words are created to hide what is in the mind of the people. That’s the power of language,” said Iqbal, who was appointed to head the panel in July 2003.

“Everything in the negotiation is difficult,” he continued.

Iqbal spoke at the “Go Just” forum at the MIC Retreat House in Davao City on Saturday where he also warned that the slow pace of negotiations would only serve the cause of those who don’t believe in the peace process.

In a separate interview, Iqbal said one of the difficulties that complicate the peace process are the invisible hands of the “Filipino oligarchs”, who have vested interest in Mindanao’s resources like natural gas which reportedly abounds in Liguasan and minerals.

“They are making this negotiation hard because of their vested interests. That’s why we are demanding to stop all exploration of natural gas well as the privatization or sale of Agus and Pulangi Hydro Power Complexes.”

“If the resources of Mindanao are depleted, what will be left for the Bangsamoro?” he asked in Tagalog. (Keith Bacongco/ MindaNews)