Leonen: Let’s debate the Bangsamoro deal

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Filipinos should debate on the Bangsamoro peace deal to make it succeed, government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen tells Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Let the debates begin.

Citizen involvement is key to the Bangsamoro peace deal, government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen told Rappler days before the Framework Agreement’s historic signing on Monday, October 15.

“After all, part of the importance of a Framework Agreement is that it causes or triggers a national debate on how it would be best to restructure our government, so that the aspirations of a culture or a group that has been shunted aside by our historical past could be better addressed,” Leonen said in an interview with Rappler executive editor and CEO Maria Ressa on #TalkThursday.

Considered a roadmap to peace, the Framework Agreement is far from definitive, but sets the stage for a “final political settlement” between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by 2016.

It does not promise “big-bang solutions” as was previously done, said Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria, who has written extensively about Mindanao, in a Thought Leaders piece. Rather, the new Framework Agreement subjects the next steps – like the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law – to the legislative process and a plebiscite.

The Framework Agreement itself, which President Benigno Aquino III announced last Sunday, October 7, had to wait a week to be signed, to allow comments and suggestions.

“That’s precisely why this agreement is also going to succeed,” Leonen said. “It is because there will be a national debate, and there’s going to be a national discussion. And we are hoping that everybody will weigh in with their opinions. And weighing in with their opinions, the underlying fears can be examined, and the underlying questions can also be exposed.” (Watch #TalkThursday with Marvic Leonen below.)

In an earlier press conference, Leonen explained that such an “inclusive” process sets it apart from the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.

Produced during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the MOA-AD was declared unconstitutional because it sought to build a state within another sovereign state. It appeared the government “committed to deliver already without a plebiscite,” Leonen said.

In the new agreement, he said “it is very clear that democratic mandate is necessary.”

‘No perfect process’

Upon the request of the MILF, the government hopes to seal the final Bangsamoro political settlement before 2016, when the Aquino administration ends. With almost 4 years to go, what immediate benefits can Filipinos expect?

On #TalkThursday, Leonen explained there are “pecuniary effects” to hope for. He particularly cited the “goodwill” shown by international organizations and aid agencies, which hailed the Framework Agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Perhaps with the goodwill, they will give way to infrastructure, social services, and so on and so forth,” Leonen said, referring to MILF members who, under the agreement, shall gradually decommission their firearms.

He also downplayed the threat of the MILF’s splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), which does not accept the Framework Agreement and insists on a separate Bangsamoro state.

“A splinter group can only survive if it has community support. And that community support depends upon whether the people in the community have hope in the programs of government and, in this case, have hope with respect to the agreement between the MILF and government,” Leonen said, noting that the BIFM now lacks community support. The group has also been dislodged from its camps and its leaders face warrants of arrest, he added.

Even Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari has opposed the Framework Agreement, threatening to sue Aquino before the International Court of Justice.

Leonen knows opposition is part of the game, however, and stresses he remains “optimistic.” “There is no perfect peace process in this planet,” the government’s chief negotiator told Rappler.

“There will always be people who would have differences in opinion,” Leonen explained. “And therefore, dealing properly with the rogues, the splinter groups, would better communicate the idea that the better way to resolve differences is not through guns, but through the media of politics or the media of deliberation or, perhaps, going out publicly, criticizing, using cyberspace.” –


Read the full text of President Noynoy Aquino’s speech: Agreement paves way for enduring peace in Mindanao

Read the full text of the Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the establishment of the new autonomous political entity, Bangsamoro, that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email