Chief Moro negotiator sheds tears for peace

Chief Moro negotiator sheds tears for peace

1:34 am | Thursday, October 11th, 2012 Posted by –>

Mohagher Iqbal

After fighting for the independence of the Bangsamoro for 40 years, Mohagher Iqbal shed tears.

That moment was not captured on camera but forever etched in the memory of lead government peace negotiator Marvic Leonen, who made the disclosure during a briefing on the preliminary peace agreement for Inquirer editors and reporters on Tuesday.

Iqbal, chairman of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is Leonen’s counterpart in the peace talks brokered by Malaysia.

Both panels were in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday when President Benigno Aquino, in a nationally televised announcement attended by his entire Cabinet, announced the approval of the “framework agreement” that would lead to the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao that would be home to the Bangsamoro.

While the President was addressing the nation, “Iqbal was in tears,” Leonen said.

“His two companions were struggling not to show” [their emotion], Leonen said.

But the two MILF negotiators were also fighting back tears.

When the President finished speaking, Iqbal stood up without being prodded and applauded, Leonen said.

Leonen said the President was given a standing ovation by all members of both panels gathered at Palace of the Golden Horses Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Leonen said he was somehow taken aback by the display of raw emotion by a battle-scarred “revolutionary” who seemed to have never lost faith in the search for peaceful means to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.

Iqbal has seen it all, negotiating with a succession of nine government peace panels for 11 years, Leonen said.

And now he is seeing the beginning of the realization of the Bangsamoros’ dream of self-determination.

President Aquino, who stayed up until 3 a.m. on Sunday to finish writing his speech with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas and other Cabinet members, was no less dramatic.

Explaining the need to create Bangsamoro, Mr. Aquino said  the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was a “failed experiment.”

“Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform,” Mr. Aquino said.

And in a statement that finally recognized the sacrifices of the Moro freedom fighters, whose self-rule aspirations date back to the 15th century, the President said:

“This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.”

‘Fellow citizens’

He said that as long as he was President, he would ensure that other Bangsamoro parties were brought into this process, “so that this peace can be claimed and sustained by all.”

He said his administration had “pledged to support a law that [would] truly embody the values and aspirations of the people of Bangsamoro.”

“Any proposed law resulting from this framework will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite. Once approved, there will be elections,” he added.

The President did not finish his speech without thanking Iqbal, MILF chair Murad Ebrahim,  whom he met privately in Tokyo last year, and the MILF Central Committee for recognizing “our administration’s sincerity, and our shared principles and aspirations. Together, we traversed the distance between us until we finally met in a handshake and an embrace as fellow citizens of the Philippines.”

Tired of fighting

What made the MILF junk their bid for self-rule, accepting autonomy instead of seeking a substate like it did in 2008?

As understood by Leonen’s panel, 40 years of fighting have finally caught up with the secessionist movement.

With some of their senior leaders “dying of natural causes” over the years, Murad, Iqbal, the MILF Central Committee and other Muslim elders have become “pragmatic,” seizing the moment amid the sincerity of a new President to put an end to the cycle of violence and poverty in Mindanao, Leonen said.

Hashim Salamat died in 2003 of “natural causes.” He had relinquished terrorism as an instrument of guerrilla warfare when he handed the reins of power to his deputy, Murad.

Leonen believed the MILF knew that a peace accord was a political deal.

“They know that the President has limitations, so they try to get as much as they [can],” Leonen said, explaining the sudden change of heart of the MILF and abandoning its demand that a substate be created in Mindanao.

“Iqbal says that the most civilized way for the MILF is to negotiate,” Leonen said, admitting that both panels had mutual distrust for each other at the beginning of the talks in 2011. But they conducted the negotiations in a “cordial atmosphere,” he said.

Now Iqbal and Leonen are phone pals.

MILF’s concessions

Besides the demand for self-rule in the pretext of a substate for the Moros, the MILF gave up a lot of concessions: its objections to all of these major points of contention—plebiscite, congressional imprimatur for the basic law, ARMM elections for 2013, and government say in the composition of the Transition Commission.

The MILF also reconsidered its hard-line position seeking constitutional amendments to legitimize either a parliamentary or a federal form of government.

The government panel, for its part, gave in to the MILF’s demand  that it use “Bangsamoro” to describe the new Moro homeland; recognize Bangsamoro identity to correct historical injustices; and accept the “asymmetric” relationship between the national government and the Bangsamoro.

No surrender

The government also accepted changes in the phraseology of the framework agreement such as “normalization” instead of DDR, which stands for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, a term for postconflict peace consolidation.

“They will not accept surrender, disarmament [in the agreement], so we left it out,”  Leonen said, adding that the MILF had “dignity and pride” to preserve, as well.

But the MILF, for the first time, agreed to a “graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use,” short for phased and gradual disarmament.

In sum, he said: “They changed their positions; we conceded a lot of language.”

Originally posted at 09:14 pm | Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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