SIMUAY, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao – “It’s as if the venue of the peace talks has been transferred from Kuala Lumpur,” Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel said on the inauguration Thursday afternoon of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) training center in Barangay Crossing Simuay, as he acknowledged the presence of the government peace panel, the Malaysian facilitator and “practically all the players” in the GPH-MILF peace process.
Indeed, all the key participants in the peace negotiations that are held in Kuala Lumpur were present: the government (GPH) and MILF peace panels and their secretariats, the International Contact Group and the GPH panel’s technical staff and consultants.
And there were more -– those left behind in Mindanao to guard the peace while the negotiators are in Kuala Lumpur: the International Monitoring Team that oversees the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, the joint ceasefire committee, ad hoc joint action group, ceasefire monitors, civilian protection groups, communities in the conflict areas, humanitarian agencies, peace advocacy groups.
Tengku Datu Ab Ghafar bin Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator, noted “the whole of the peace panel is here” and said in jest, “so shall we start signing the peace agreement?”
Ambassador Toshinao Urabe of Japan and Dr. Tomanda Antok, chair and executive director of the BLMI, cut the ribbon and unveiled the marker of the training center with GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and Iqbal beside them.
The Embassy of Japan funded the P4.3 million training center for human resources development under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects.
The Embassy’s press statement on June 6 said the training center “will serve as a venue to provide trainings consistent with Bangsamoro culture and values for around 500 people per year including local government staff, women and youth that are expected to take pivotal roles in their communities in the future.”
“The ultimate goal of the trainings is to achieve better governance and leadership that are vital in enhancing socio-economic and political circumstances in Mindanao,” it said.
At the turnover ceremonies on the second floor of the two-story building, Urabe said, “Good governance is key to achieving one of our ultimate objectives” and training good leaders is important for peace and development in the Bangsamoro region,
“Each individual may be a drop of water but there will be no river without drops of water,” he said.
From KL to Darapanan
“It’s as if the venue of the peace talks has been transferred from Kuala Lumpur to this area just above the administrative base of the MILF in Darapanan,” Iqbal said after greeting the dignitaries.
The audience laughed. And laughed again when Leonen, addressing Iqbal, smiled as he said, “we accept your proposal for a change of venue of the negotiations.”
“Of course this will have its own time,” Leonen quickly added. Iqbal did not appear amused.
He thanked Japan for funding the construction of the building which is “one of the fruits of this negotiation.”
“We accept this edifice. Rest assured we will use this building in the furtherance of knowledge, justice and peace in our land,” Iqbal told the Japanese ambassador.
Iqbal also thanked the government, particularly President Aquino for ordering the release of the P5 million, an earlier commitment of the Arroyo administration, to jumpstart the operations of the BLMI. “We assure government that this money will be used wisely and in furtherance of peace, understanding and justice amongst peoples. Rest assured also that the rule of transparency and accountability shall be observed at all times,” he said, adding it is a commitment “that we are answerable up to the highest level.”
The P5-M cheque was handed over by Leonen to Iqbal on August 22, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, 18 days after President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Japan and agreed to fast-track the peace process. It was in Japan where Aquino promised the release of the P5M.
Iqbal said he hopes “other well-meaning donor countries or agencies will also help fully operationalize the BLMI” until it can stand on its feet.
The training center has a room with 15 beds on the ground floor but Iqbal said it is still lacking in many things. “We lack equipment, we lack reference books, we need a fence for our compound, we lack road and water facilities.”
He said they have lined up several trainings on capacity-building, including trainings for indigenous tribes and for women. “These will be very soon.”
Leonen handed over to Iqbal for the BLMI a box of books that panel member Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer brought from the University of the Philippines and from the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines.
“This is not all the support that we are willing to give to the BLMI,” Leonen said, adding that in October and November, despite calls for an all-out following the October 18 clash between government and MILF forces in Al-barka, Basilan that left 19 soldiers and five guerillas dead, and at least 8,000 persons displaced, “we stood our ground and we expressed to the world that we have no doubts whatsoever in our minds or in the minds of our principals that whatever support we give to the BLMI and of course the MILF, will go a long way into producing the kinds of objectives that the MILF and the BLMI want to achieve.”
He said the President and the Presidential Advsiser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, extended their greetings to the MILF on the inauguration of the training center.
Leonen said the MILF should be credited “for giving birth to an institution that will serve as the environment that will host and definitely shape many future leaders not only of the autonomous region of the Bangsamoro but also of the entire republic as well.”
He described the BLMI as one of the major gains in the peace negotiations..
The BLMI is a product of an agreement on February 7, 2006 between then GPH panel chair Silvestre Afable and MILF peace panel chair Iqbal, to serve as a “capacity –building center for emerging leaders and professionals.” On May 4 that same year, the panels reiterated their commitment to set up the BLMI “which is envisioned as an agent of change in the social and political environment of the Bangsamoro people.”
Leonen, former Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said academics and negotiators share something in common. “They are daily witnesses to the transformative power of an idea whose time has come. Most of these ideas germinate in discussions among colleagues who may not have the same standpoint but are motivated by the same thing: the hunger to be able to make a difference and the openness to accept that others may have seen something better.”
“Eventually, with patience, respect and tolerance, the rational support of these ideas become clearer and the participants in this intellectual ferment move on to the practicalities, and yes, even the politics, of seeing their inspiration become a reality. In the process, they come to convince others to support the same project and the physical manifestations of this idea, the inspiration and the belief become apparent. This is what we have today, the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, an idea, an inspiration, and now a structure that holds the promise of a belief whose time has come,” Leonen said.
He expressed hope the MILF can “also involve me in a different capacity someday to engage your leaders and your intellectuals, even as participant in your workshops for indigenous peoples and even for women.”
Leonen said he is optimistic that the BLMI will not be the only product of the negotiations and that soon they will make “more fundamental commitments” to each other to build other institutions “we both have long aspired for.”
“Today in the peace process, we are engaged in discussions of ideas and consciously moving into conversations about how common principles can be made a reality,” he said.
The panels signed on April 24 the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles” which provided for, among others, the creation of a new autonomous political entity (NAPE) in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The panels met again on May 28 to 30 but opted to refer to their respective principals issues that need to be resolved such as transition from ARMM to NAPE.
Tengku, who is shuttling between the panel to narrow the gap between their positions, described the BLMI training center as “a landmark for development of human capital that is very, very essential, very, very important in the socio-economic,political development of a nation or nation-state.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)