Leonen cites need for patience, understanding of GPH, MILF as exploratory talks open in KL

March 20, 2012 2:02 am 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, March 19 -– Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen cited the need for both the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to be patient in understanding the possibilities that lie ahead to find a genuine and lasting solution to resolve peacefully the long-drawn Mindanao conflict.

"The welfare of our people is at the core of these negotiations,” Leonen said in a statement at the opening of the 26th formal exploratory talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur Monday.

“All of us know that the heart of what we are discussing in this negotiating table is not what the government can assert or what the MILF can gain. It is, first and foremost, what we can really get for our people, their communities and their future,” Leonen said.

“Let us stay focused, be patient so that we can have greater understanding of the possibilities that still lie ahead of us,” Leonen said.

The MILF peace panel is headed by Mohagher Iqbal.

Leonen said that the frame of these discussions at this very difficult stage of the negotiations should always take into consideration “our ideas of democracy, viability and mandates for the representation of those who will temporarily lead the forms of governance that both panels will agree upon.

“Democracy is, of course, a loaded term,” he said, “but, it is the very reason why we have always maintained that the end of these discussions should always result in real and genuine representation for the Bangsamoro.”

Leonen pointed out that the Philippines is a democratic and republican state where there are openings to improve on the unitary system with constitutional provisions that allow for flexible autonomies to happen.

“Autonomy, even as enshrined in present laws, should however never be a reason to entrench any form of authoritarianism,” Leonen said, adding that “neither should it be used to justify lack of good and effective governance.”

“Indeed, if we are truly to abide by its spirit: autonomy already acknowledges historical and cultural differences while at the same time a faith that the peoples that claim it can also be truly heard and hold their leaders accountable.,” he said.

Leonen also said that the government that is installed must work, must be accountable and effective, saying it must have the mandate of the governed, must be tolerant “otherwise, we repeat the sins of our history: even that part of our history where we sought accommodations in order to sue for peace.”

At the same time, Leonen said “we should all acknowledge the weaknesses in our realities.”

He enumerated them as: First, poverty. Unchecked poverty results in vulnerabilities for the population that can prove fatal for democracy which all of us are too familiar with. It is these vulnerabilities that are exploited and purchased by those who are powerful.

“It is therefore essential that even as we attend to recalibrating the relationship between the autonomous government in the south with that of the national, we should also attend to the immediate problem of addressing this dimension,” Leonen said.

Second is education. A viable democracy requires an informed people.

Leonen explained that “the lack of these can be taken advantaged of in very familiar scripts by those who can become powerful. With the ability to dream as a people, to understand histories as a people, there is also a need to install the ability to respond to the present situation as a people without the slants and the propaganda.”

“Our people need to see the present situation as it is in its raw form. We have to clarify the problem as we see them. We also have to be clear that any of our solutions may not be perfect for now,” he stressed.

Third is the abuse of public office which Leonen said should always be a public trust.

“Those who occupy them should always see that they are given temporary stewardship of resources that can matter to the lives of our people. None of us should tolerate the idea that these are largesses resulting from any political exercise: whether they be elections or a negotiated peace.”

“In the end, what we need are leaders who can stand the crucible of people’s scrutiny. In their selection and in their governance, there always has to be accountability. Anything less than these will only postpone the reckoning. Anything less than this will not bring about lasting peace,” he said.

Leonen said all these are now being addressed by the government with some leaders within the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM}.

“To a certain extent, we need to acknowledge the progresses that have already been made. After all, the present government cannot renege to performing as government the best way it can, guided by the values already found within its own legal order,” he said.

He also said that in time, “given the sincerity, capability and resources and the support of many peoples for these reform agenda, communities will be able to feel that their lives have changed and that they have more control of what happens to them.”

“But the value added of these negotiations is to bring on board more of your aspirations and solutions that you brought with you as a movement,” he said.

Leonen said that these negotiations should not be for the purpose of supplanting the good that has already been achieved.

The government peace panel chair said that “we are approaching what would seem to be a stalemate in our ideas for transition as well as in our ideas of how to make permanent the solutions that work for our peoples.”

I invite our counterparts to take a step back with us. Perhaps, by examining the reasons why we insist on our various positions we can see ways forward. Perhaps if both our teams can temporarily suspend judgment so that we can candidly evaluate our reasons and standpoints, see their political viability. Perhaps, we can both keep an open mind, we could convince ourselves that there are goals more appropriate rather than sticking to our encrusted positions,” Leonen stressed.

“The timelines that we have imagined presupposes the political and legal possibilities that are present within the first half of this administration. Should we fail to meet these timelines, these negotiations will continue but we would have to seriously re-craft the proposals that we now already have on the table.”

However, Leonen said that time has not yet come, and “we are still in the midst of exploring the many opportunities that an agreement within the first half of this year can bring.”

He said there is a need to “redouble our efforts, understand the reasons for our positions, bring them carefully and accurately to our principals and constituents, spark the needed public debate and then participate with our principals to come out with difficult decisions.”

Members of the International Contact Group, the Malaysian facilitator, attended the exploratory talks. (PNA)

DCT/RBC/ssc

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