MANILA, Philippines—Former government chief negotiator now Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen on Friday said the “harder work” in the peace process will be left to the military officers and men on the ground as they deal directly with the communities in transition from war to peace.
In his lecture at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) where most of those in the audience were officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Leonen said: “It depends on the commandership to be able to maintain the peace and therefore, usher in progress. The work is not really ours, the work is yours. We have just done the easier part of it.”
“I pity the division commanders, the brigade commanders, and the battalion commanders. You know why? Because all the conflicts have to be understood by those commanders. They are the ones who will see the real ramifications of all these conflicts layered one upon the other in order to resolve a particular problem,” he said.
Blueprint for peace
Leonen is largely credited for the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the blueprint to a comprehensive peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was signed by the government and the MILF in October last year.
UP professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, former deputy negotiator, was appointed to take Leonen’s place after the latter was given a seat in the high court.
On Friday, the government and MILF panels were wrapping up their 35th session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
An Inquirer source said Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal, who leads the rebel panel, have signed a joint statement, a positive development after the last formal talks ended in an impasse over who would lead a Transition Authority.
The panels also have to complete the four annexes of the Framework Agreement that would make up a comprehensive peace agreement. These annexes cover wealth sharing, power sharing, normalization and the transition roadmap.
“The work that will be left behind by negotiators is not the work of OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process). I think we had the easy job. The work will be left to you and by you…I mean, because you are going to take the reins of the leadership of the Armed Forces of Philippines after you graduate from here and become generals,” Leonen said.
Leonen declined to talk about the Framework Agreement itself.
But he shared with the audience some of his experiences and observations when he worked as the chief government negotiator.
Leonen recalled how the usually stoic Iqbal and the rest of the MILF negotiating team were misty-eyed when President Aquino announced that there was already a Framework Agreement, because it was the first time that a President of the Philippines “had said ‘Bangsamoro’ which gave them an identity and made them visible around the world.”
Leonen also recalled how the last point in the Framework Agreement could not be finalized because of a disagreement on the use of prepositions.
“The government panel wanted to use ‘in’ while the MILF wanted ‘of.’ Mr. Iqbal and I consulted our respective principals, President Aquino and Murad Ebrahim. The President suggested why don’t we use ‘for.’ I told the MILF panel and they agreed.
“So we can say that it was our commander in chief who put in the last word in the Framework Agreement. But I won’t tell you which part of the agreement it was because it is a matter of security,” Leonen said, smiling.