After Tokyo GPH-MILF meet, prospect of peace lies on negotiating table

The Japan meeting of leaders of the two parties to an ongoing peace negotiation is “a grand gesture on the part of the president,” Mohagher Iqbal told bulatlat.com. But he added that “the real thing is on the negotiating table.”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The one-plus-one meeting between President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad, with “note-takers” Marvic Leonen, chair of the GPH peace panel chair and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of MILF peace panel, took less than two hours in Narita, Japan last August 5. Yet, it was enough for some sectors in the Philippines to view the meeting positively, including some MILF leaders who had reportedly almost lost faith in the talks.

President Aquino’s party of 30 members from his peace panel and presidential security group “outnumbered” the 12 from MILF, said Datu Antonio Kinoc, who joked before leaders of indigenous peoples gathered at a congressional forum today (Monday) that he almost asked the others with him not to face the GPH delegation because they were so outnumbered. Kinoc is an alternate member of the MILF peace panel representing the indigenous tribes of Mindanao at the same time.

The Japan meeting of leaders of the two parties to an ongoing peace negotiation is “a grand gesture on the part of the president,” Mohagher Iqbal told bulatlat.com. But he added that “the real thing is on the negotiating table.”

He said they welcome such gesture because “he (Aquino) has gone out of his way, even defying what some say as protocol, in meeting with our leader in a foreign country.” Iqbal said that such actions are good for the peace process.

He praised the ��meeting of the minds between the two leaders— that they would fast-track the negotiations and hopefully at the end of the day they would be able to sign an agreement acceptable to both parties.”

That, he said, was the understanding or consensus they gained from the meeting, which is about time “because it (negotiation) has been about 14 years. It’s about time something concrete is taken up.”

“Sensitive”

In a radio interview, Leonen said both sides have had an “exchange of views and demands” in the Japan meeting, many of which are “sensitive,” he said, but he did not elaborate.

Iqbal, on the other hand, said the one-plus-one meeting is practically “all about the peace process – how the government would approach the problem,” and, on the part of the MILF, how they propose to resolve the conflict.

“We said the solution to the problem in Mindanao should be genuine self-governance for the people and the only track that is practical and pragmatic is through the peace process,” Iqbal said. He added that they also conveyed to Aquino that “before any development project could take place in Mindanao, the political aspect should come first- not the other way around.”

The members of the MILF peace panel had previously said in consultations about its proposed peace compact that its Bangsamoro state does not just cover the Muslims in Mindanao, but also those included in it such as the Lumad and Christian settlers in the area. They said they would respect the “proprietary rights” of non-Muslims. In their opposition to the Aquino government’s plan to allow oil and gas exploration, they also cited the need to ensure economic projects would benefit all those living in the areas.

Conveying all these to the Philippine president was the highlight for the MILF in the Japan meeting. The said meeting is not a negotiation, said Iqbal, but more of a “conversation,” a reaching out or part of confidence-building, where Aquino had been “frank and jolly.”

Asked whether part of Aquino’s confidence-building measure is responding to MILF’s demand of freeing some Moro political prisoners, Iqbal replied that “I am not at liberty to discuss the Moro political detainees.”

“On the part of the government the President has conveyed to MILF their willingness to really hammer out an agreement on the negotiating table,” said Iqbal. He described Aquino’s response as “quite positive”, but, he said, the sincerity of that can be gauged “when the Philippine government finally submits their proposal across the negotiating table.” ()

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