Leonen: “within this first quarter, let us attempt to craft an agreement”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 January) – Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen says the first quarter this year is the “golden opportunity” to craft an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as he urged his counterparts to “share with us this vision” and “attempt to craft an agreement” between today and March 2012.

“The better part of wisdom that we can discern from human history is that our grandest solutions get refined as we set it in practice. The better part of wisdom therefore requires that we be certain that our solutions work, not only through the reasons we exchange across this table, but also through the crucible of practice – of learning and being able to adjust from our own experiences as we implement our vision,” he said at the opening of the Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, the fifth under the Aquino administration but the 24th since the 2003 war.

Last week, Leonen told MindaNews that government “hopes to be able to find a settlement within this quarter” and that this would depend on “how open the parties are to find mutually acceptable solutions that meet both their interests.”

“We are consistent in our statement that this administration wants a workable, just and comprehensive solution that could involve all stakeholders and that it wants implementation within its term,” Leonen said.

The Aquino administration ends on June 30, 2016.

In his opening statement at the Executive Boardroom of the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur Monday, Leonen emphasized that in political negotiations, “our solutions take place also in a political context.”

“As we have reiterated time and again, this is an administration that wants to see the solution to the Bangsamoro question in motion when it leaves in a little over four years’ time. This means that we should both meet the challenge of crafting an agreement soon enough, so that it could be implemented and then assessed and then adjusted before the next term of the next President of the Republic,” Leonen said.

President Aquino met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan on August 4 last year and both agreed to fast-track the peace process so that the agreement that may be forged can be implemented within the Aquino administration.

The euphoria over the historic meeting, however, quickly fizzled when the two panels met 18 days later in Kuala Lumpur and government handed over its proposed peace formula, a formula the MILF quickly rejected.

Leonen had referred to the GPH proposal as “three for one” solution: massive economic development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.

He described government’s proposal as “pragmatic, workable, viable.”

The MILF had repeatedly said the ARMM is a failed experiment. But the ARMM is the core area of the MILF-proposed Bangsamoro sub-state.

The Malaysian facilitator shuttled between the panels in Manila and Maguindanao twice before convening them for an informal talks in November. This paved the way for the December 5 to 7 talks where both panels discussed in a two-hour executive session what was believed to be an emerging, mutually acceptable peace formula whose details the two panels declined to divulge then, pending consultations with their respective principals – Aquino and Murad.

“In our reckoning, the golden opportunity to craft such an agreement is this first quarter of this year. Our standing instructions from our President are to work earnestly and with due and deliberate dispatch careful to consult all constituents that we also represent along the way,” Leonen added.

“We think that this is possible. Share with us this vision. Within this first quarter, let us attempt to craft an agreement,” he said.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal’s opening statement in the January 9 opening ceremonies has not been made available as of 5:30 p.m.

But immediately after the peace talks last December, he told MindaNews, “we have started the very difficult journey. Well, what is important is that even if it were a journey of a thousand miles, we have started stepping now. We have at least one, two, three steps already and we are moving towards that direction.”

He said the two panels had “immovable positions” in August, when the MILF peace panel rejected the government’s proposed “three for one” formula.

“We were immovables in August. Understanding each others’ minds was not there. Now, we tried to level off. While there is no movement yet, they understand our minds, we understand their minds and from there if there is an adjustment, we expect to move forward,” he said.

In his opening statement on December 5, Leonen posed a challenge: “let us complete our task within the first quarter of next year.”

Iqbal said, “the people of Mindanao want peace now and not later.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)