Philippine Government Explores Peace Talk with MILF

By Ben Cal

Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has said he is “obviously optimistic” of the outcome of the ongoing exploratory peace talks with both sides looking into the possibility of reaching “an agreement within the year.”

Leonen expressed his view during a press briefing at the Café 1771 at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City Monday night.

He admitted that he earlier used the terms “guided optimism” and “guided excitement” but has shifted to “obviously optimistic,” saying, “I think both sides are looking into the possibility by having something of an agreement within the year.”

At the same time, Leonen said the peace panels of both the government and the MILF “are doing their assignments so as not to repeat the experiences of the past,” apparently referring to the outbreak of hostilities between government forces and MILF rebels in 2000 and again in 2008 that bogged down the negotiations.

He said the government peace panel has been around to conduct consultations with various sectors of society about the developments in the ongoing peace negotiations.

The two panels have just concluded their 31st formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur and are preparing for the next round.

At the same time, Leonen cited the sincerity displayed by the MILF to pursue the peace talks, especially when “spoilers” of the so-called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) mounted unprovoked attacks on several detachments of the 6th Division of the Philippine Army in some parts of Central Mindanao recently to derail the negotiations.

He said the coordinated attacks were aimed at trying “to provoke the MILF to join (the fighting) but the MILF clearly showed their discipline and at one point they stepped aside and at another point they (MILF) made countersigns to make it clear on the ground which were MILF forces and which were BIFF forces.”

The BIFF was trying to create a situation for the MILF to join them (BIFF) but the MILF totally ignored the provocation, Leonen said.

He said the BIFF launched the attacks “to avenge the death of a person which I think was too small a reason to conduct this kind of coordinated effort.”

Another reason given by the BIFF was that it was during the celebration of Ramadan, a holy month for the Muslims, that prophet Muhammad was attacked.

However, Leonen said the attack was timed about an approach of an agreement between the government and the MILF, adding that “there are people that would want to scuttle the negotiations.”

Leonen also disclosed the government and the MILF have been exchanging intelligence information on the movement of troops in the areas of conflict.

With both sides exercising discipline in troop movement, Leonen said it clearly shows both parties “are sincere about finding a peace agreement” in the long-drawn Mindanao conflict.

During the 31st formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur, the peace panels of the government and the MILF declared they have reached substantive gains in the negotiations.

The four-day meeting was marked with mutual trust, sincerity and cordiality and successfully worked towards the crafting of a framework agreement.”

Leonen said he was optimistic about the progress of the peace talks and expressed that during the next round, there would be a “quantum leap” of the negotiations.

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