The framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may be met with warnings bordering on threats, but the Palace's chief negotiator says he has a strong counter-threat: peace.
"If he threatens us with war, we will threaten him with peace," Marvic Leonen, who heads the government peace talks panel with the MILF, said in a Rotary Club forum late Thursday.
Leonen was responding to a question on how government will deal with parties that hit the newly signed framework deal, including Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari.
Reports earlier quoted Misuari as saying that the new peace agreement is a "recipe for another big, big war in Mindanao."
"This is a democracy; there will always be disgruntled elements," Leonen said.
He noted, however, that the government exercised care in drafting the agreement with the MILF to ensure that the new framework pact will not infringe on commitments made with the MNLF.
The government is still trying to close a peace accord signed in 1996 with the MNLF, of which MILF was a separatist movement.
Leonen stressed, however that the Palace "will listen to all those who have a voice."
In fact, the Aquino administration welcomes criticisms and is making an effort to respond to various issues raised, even in opinion columns and commentary pieces, Leonen noted.
Several groups and individuals, including Leonen's fellow University of the Philippines Law professor Harry Roque, have called some provisions of the framework deal "unconstitutional."
This, as they noted that only two autonomous regions have been identified in the 1987 Consitution: one in Cordillera and another in Mindanao, without mention of a "Bangsamoro."
But Leonen said "Bangsamoro is just a name for the autonomous region in Mindanao."
"Why is it that we will insist that they use the name assigned to them by the constitution in all small letters?" he added.
Leonen also highlighted the "symbolic value" of the "Bangsamoro identity" which he said "cracked open the possibility of entering into an agreement" with the MILF.
Examining the framework pact "only with a legal lens" would be in vain, Leonen said, as he reiterated that what they signed was "a political and not a legal document."
He even challenged parties to raise the issue of the "Bangsamoro" name in the Supreme Court.
"I think the Supreme Court will only say it has no competence to determine the name an autonomous region..." the former UP Law dean said.
Leonen also allayed fears of a constitutional amendment, saying that such is not necessary for the framework to be implemented.
The inclusion of drafting of proposed changes to the Constitution in the Bangsamoro transition committee's functions, Leonen said, does not mean that amendments will be pushed.
"In fact, you can propose amendments. Anyone, if they get together, can propose amendments," he said.
Leonen meanwhile urged Filipinos to be optimistic about the new deal.
"You can be pessimistic but the end result would be status quo. This is not what this administration has imagined," he said.
Unlike its treatment of critics in the legal arena, however, the government will not condone lawlessness as a response to the breakthrough in peace negotiations, Leoned noted.
Asked about the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, for instance, Leonen said the movement is "in the order of battle of both the police and the military."
The government will also continue to exert efforts to dismantle MILF breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, he added.
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