What’s next for the gov’t peace panel?

The peace negotiations with the MILF have always been the result of teamwork, say government negotiators

MANILA, Philippines – Newly-appointed Associate Justice Marvic Leonen played a key role in the peace process, but government’s successful talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have always been the result of teamwork, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles said Thursday, November 22. 

At this point in the peace process when negotiations are now focused on the highly technical details of the 3 annexes that will complement the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Deles said that Leonen’s replacement as government chief negotiator would be somebody already familiar with process.

“It will somebody who will know the process, who will not need a learning curve to get in, will be known to the other side already. We’re not going to bring in onboard someone na completely hindi kilala nung kausap natin,” Deles told Rappler. 

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Wednesday that the next government chief negotiator would be coming from the peace panel. Deles said this is almost certain, but stressed she would not want to “preempt” the President.

“As you know, this is the President’s peace process. In the end, we give recommendations. Our experience is the President in this matter has always given due attention, given way, to our recommendations but it’s his decision. Really, I will not say anything at this time beyond that,” she said. 

Deles said she wants the next chief negotiator to be appointed “as soon as possible,” or at least before the government and the MILF once again return to the table by mid-December.

‘Of any gender or ethnicity’

Lacierda revealed Wednesday that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal wrote a letter to Justice Leonen to express his support for the latter’s nomination to the Supreme Court post. In the same letter, Iqbal stated that the MILF can work with any chairman “of any gender or ethnicity.” 

Asked on why Iqbal felt the need to mention this, Deles said the issue of gender or ethnicity as far as the Muslims were concerned was “a real concern of the President.”

“I think that can be said. I think openly he has been saying that on the matter of Justice Leonen, there has never been a question naman about his capacity, his competence, his integrity to be able to sit in the SC. The President’s main concern had always been this would mean taking him out of the peace track and what that would mean. So for us it was assuring that the MILF, I think it’s important to say this, the MILF said winning the peace is not just on the table,” she said.

One of the female members of the panel, University of the Philippines political science professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, said she interpreted Iqbal’s letter as a sign that the MILF’s trust in the administration goes beyond the individual members of the panel. 

“What this only means for the peace panel is that they have trust in the commitment of the administration to the peace process and factors, such as gender or ethnicity, will not come into the picture because they trust that this administration will continue the process,” she told Rappler. 

Deles agreed, noting that despite the change in peace panel leadership, the infrastructure of the government, including the remaining members of the panel, remained the same. 

“Again, this, I think, is with great maturity that the MILF said our negotiations had never been with a person, we are negotiating with the Republic of the Philippines, with the government of the Republic of the Philippines so we can work with anyone,” she said.

There are two female members of the government peace panel: Ferrer and Yasmin Busran-Lao from the civil society sector. Aside from Justice Leonen, the male members are former agriculture secretary Senen Bacani, Islamic scholar Hamid Barra and alternate member Upi Mayor Ramon Piang. 


Worthy replacement

In a speech made before the 5th National Congress of the Caucus of Development (CODE) NGO Networks in Quezon City Thursday, President Aquino revealed that before the appointment of Justice Leonen to the High Court, he asked for Sec Deles’ assurance that somebody was capable of taking his place.

“So kaya ko ho nabanggit po iyan, kahapon po kasi kausap ko si Secretary Ging, at tinanong ko si Secretary Ging, ‘Puwede na ba nating mapakawalan si Marvic at mayroon na ba tayong papalit sa kanya? Baka naman maudlot pa itong usapang kapayapaan.’ At sa totoo lang ho, maski na napilitan nang kapiraso lang ho si Ging, eh inako na ho niya lahat ng responsibilidad na talagang mapapaspas ang ating final settlement,” President Aquino said. 

The government has maintained that Justice Leonen’s exit from the peace panel will not have an adverse effect on the peace process. As Justice Leonen himself claimed, the Framework Agreement is bigger than a Marvic Leonen

Meanwhile, the party on the other side of the negotiations, the MILF, has also said that they see nothing wrong with the move. 

MILF chief Murad Ebrahim earlier said he does not see it as a requirement to move forward. 

“There has always been institutional support necessary in getting everybody on board. Dean Leonen served as the face of the panel but of course, the process was supported by larger establishments, including the AFP, Police and the Defense Department,” Ferrer said. 

What could be different in a change in leadership is the leader’s “style,” Deles said. 

“But for me, those kinds of personal differences you can’t, it does not mean one is going to be better. Each one will have to have their own style by which they carry this,” she said.

“As far as the substantive positions are, our protocols there, our principles in the way we come to position especially with the clarification with the Cabinet and getting the President’s mandate, that will be there. Ang magkakaiba na lang yung papaano kakagargahin kasi we need to do this also with a sense of humor. Kahit na diyan iba. How you carry it lightly is going to be different and that’s not positive or negative, it’s just something that naturally happens, she added. 

Bulk of work

Just last week, the government and the MILF concluded the 33rd Formal Exploratory Talks, where they threshed out the details of the 3 annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization of the situation in rebel areas.

The devil lies in the details, as President Aquino has said, and Deles said that most of the work now will go to the technical working groups. 

“The annexes are very specific, highly technical discussions. The technical working groups (TWG) are doing much of the talking. The arrangement really was that each TWG had an adviser with the panel. It has never been that these negotiations were being done by one person,” she said. 

Deles said this is why the peace panel can carry on even with a change in leadership. – Rappler.com