In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered on Monday, President Benigno Aquino III conveyed optimism on the prospects of the ongoing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), stressing that peace in Mindanao will soon be achieved.
“Sa peace process naman po: hayag at lantaran ang usapan; nagpapamalas ang magkabilang panig ng tiwala sa isa’t isa. Maaaring minsan, magiging masalimuot ang proseso; signos lang po ito na malapit na nating makamit ang nag-iisa nating mithiin: Kapayapaan. (With regard to the peace process: talks have been very open; both sides have shown trust and faith in one another. There may be times when the process can get a little complicated, but these are merely signs that we are steadily moving closer to our shared goal: Peace),” he declared before hundreds who gathered at the House of Representatives to listen to the President’s SONA.
President Aquino also underlined the zero armed clashes between the two parties since January of this year. “Kinikilala natin bilang pahiwatig ng kanilang tiwala ang nakaraang pitong buwan, kung kailan walang nangyaring sagupaan sa pagitan ng militar at ng MILF. (We recognize as a sign of their (MILF) trust that over the past seven months, not even a single encounter has been recorded between the military and the MILF).”
Gains in the GPH-MILF peace process
Welcomed as a milestone in the 14-year negotiation, the parties signed the Decision Points on Principles in April 2012. The document serves as a guide to the current discussions on the substantive agenda.
The Decision Points on Principles, consisting of 10 mutually identified common standpoints, explains the status as well as the direction of the peace talks in the aim to politically resolve the decades-old armed conflict in the south. This includes the creation of a new autonomous political entity (NPE) that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), promotion of basic human rights, strengthening of Sha’riah courts, and power and wealth sharing between the national government and the NPE.
Government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen underscored that both parties are now at the “door of an agreement” during the 29th formal exploratory talks which successfully concluded this month in Kuala Lumpur, with both sides confident in their discussions on transition mechanisms towards realizing the NPE.
“The government looks forward to the day when both sides are able to sign the first of a series of agreements,” said Leonen so parties can “actually implement and be able to achieve the just and lasting peace that our people so richly deserve.”
“We are confident in our (GPH-MILF) working relationship that we have seen so far, that we will be true to ourselves and our principles, as well as the beliefs of our principals. That we can see a way forward,” he added.
On the ground, ceasefire has been holding between the GPH and the MILF forces.
According to the government Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, there have been no recorded skirmishes since January 2012. In 2010, there were only 14 recorded armed clashes, while only eight in 2011.
P-Noy’s bold, concrete efforts for peace
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles emphasized the P-Noy administration’s ‘whole-of -government’ approach in pushing for peace, citing clear directives from President Aquino to all departments and agencies to contribute to ongoing efforts to fast-track peace and development in Mindanao.
“Patuloy ang pagsisikap ng ating Pangulo para itulak ang pag-uusap sa lamesa (‘Our President is continuously persistent in moving the peace talks forward’),” she stated.
The peace adviser also emphasized that the negotiating panel does not bring false or empty promises to Kuala Lumpur.
“Following the President’s instructions, the Panel ensures that the appropriate departments and agencies have been properly consulted and have come on board. The Panel goes to KL for every meeting with a fresh mandate from the President,” she said.
It can be recalled that President Aquino met with MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim in Japan in August last year. In their discussion, they agreed to fast track the negotiations and pursue a final peace agreement to usher in peace and development in the south.
In October 2011, the President also called on the nation to uphold “all-out justice” amid other sectors’ clamor for all-out war.