Decision Points

Manila, Philippines – WHILE peace negotiations with the Left have stalled, bright lights have lit up the horizon on the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Last week, the government panel chaired by Dean Marvic Leonen signed a document with the MILF panel on decision points based on principles that shall now guide the two panels and all stakeholders.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita QuintosDeles described the Decision Points on Principles as a document that “explains where we are and what we want to establish to politically resolve the decades-old armed conflict in the south.“ Unlike the controversial MoA-AD forged under the previous administration, this signed document obtained positive feedback from key stakeholders.

As an OFW and labor advocate, I see this agreement on decision points as a major breakthrough in the people’s aspiration not only for peace, but for jobs and incomes as well. As long as both parties commit to engage in the search for solutions, and stay on this common track built by consensus, then the compulsion to settle disputes with arms can and shall be diminished.

What has changed? A new administration brings with it a momentum for change and a culture of transparency that is far-reaching. When no less than President Aquino says that he would like to see a peace agreement that is fair, just, and doable, romanticism instantly gets a sharp dose of pragmatism. Just as refreshing is the desire and openness of both panels to solicit the views, suggestions, and comments of grassroots communities and key political leaders. Panel chair Marvic Leonen encouraged everyone to “discuss, debate, and provide inputs“ because this will give the people a sense of ownership over the entire process and its forthcoming outcomes.

News about the signing of GPHMILF Decision Points on Principles in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 24, 2012 was drowned out by the much-awaited Supreme Court decision on Hacienda Luisita.

Ironically, both news events were about old hurts, and a long quest for justice.

Why should we in the hot, concrete jungles of Metro Manila care to understand the decision points reached by the government and MILF panels?

We have every right to care because for the longest time, the world has seen only the dark and darkest sides of Mindanao using the twin lenses of poverty and conflict. The recent signing of decision points signifies the clear and undeniable intention of the government and the MILF to actually reach an agreement that can be delivered by both sides. Here, we refer to an agreement not of the acoustic kind that is good on paper but nowhere else. The decision points indicate political reforms such as creating a new entity in place of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a step that is clearly within the mandate of Congress to deliver.

Then, of course, there are the costs of war to consider: lives cut short, displaced families, the failing health of women and children, and opportunities for decent work as elusive as ever. Jobs will come once the guns are silent. Mindanao can easily overtake any other region in the Philippines and even Sabah in terms of revenues from tourism, agri-business, and exports. The MILF, tired and weary over decades of conflict, should take advantage of the opportunities held wide open by the Aquino administration in this journey for just and fair peace.

GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen, in his closing statement on the last day of the 27th formal exploratory talks, explained that this listing of common points maintains the following: (a) It is clear that what the Parties are discussing are the parameters of meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro people, under a new autonomous political entity that can replace the current ARMM created under Republic Act No. 9054; and, (b) The autonomous political entity envisioned is a secular political unit, existing within the Republic of the Philippines, located within its territory and subject to its sovereignty as a State.

Secession is a word no longer uttered on the peace table. The two parties also agreed as a matter of principle that the government of this autonomous political entity shall also ensure guarantees of human rights and liberties for its inhabitants, such as religious freedom, the right of women to meaningful political participation, and freedom from ethnic, religious or sectarian harassment, in addition to rights already enjoyed.

The panel members that initialed the document were: for the GPH panel ­ Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Hamid Barra, Senen Bacani and Bai Yasmin Lao; and, for the MILF ­ Atty. Datu Michael Mastura, Maulana Alonto, Abdullah Kamlian and Raissa Jajurie for Abhoud Syed Lingga who was not able to attend the exploratory talks. Marvic Leonen signed in behalf of the Philippine government panel while Mohagher Iqbal signed as the MILF panel chair.

We wish both panels well in their ongoing journey. Congratulations are also in order for Secretary Deles, Dean Leonen, and members of the two panels. The journey is far from over, but the contours are there to inspire us to reach our desired historic destination: a peaceful and progressive Mindanao. (Susan Ople)

(Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com. Follow me on Twitter via http://www.twitter.com/ susanople)

Retrieved from Tempo