Philippine Government Chief Negotiator Discusses Peace Negotiations with Islamic Separatists at PON-CBI Luncheon

By PON Staffon / News

As chair of the Philippine government’s peace panel and lead negotiator for the Arroyo administration, Jesus Dureza has experienced numerous negotiation situations. He has led peace negotiations with Islamic rebel groups seeking succession. He has negotiated with Philippine communist party leaders. He has negotiated with the military to arrange cease-fire agreements. He has even been involved in negotiations within the government over divisive issues, namely relating to the most effective way to establish peace in the Mindanao region of the Philippines.

Highlighting the lessons he learned from these complex, multiparty negotiations, Dureza spoke to a group of faculty, staff and affiliated practitioners from PON and the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) at a PON-CBI luncheon at the Harvard Faculty Club on May 27, 2003. David Fairman, Associate Director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program and Vice President at CBI, introduced the talk and thanked Mr. Dureza for the opportunity to learn from his experience. He noted that Mr. Dureza’s insights could be valuable in many contexts, and particularly valuable to CBI’s ongoing work assisting stakeholders in resolving the conflict in Mindanao. Susan Hackley, PON Managing Director, also welcomed the group on behalf of PON and noted that conversations that integrate negotiation theory and practice are at the heart of PON’s mission.

Dureza focused his remarks on negotiations with Islamic separatist groups in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, specifically the recent peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

With the MILF seeking the creation of an independent Islamic state, Dureza discussed the difficulty of creating a comprehensive political settlement to the current conflict. He offered suggestions for moving the peace process forward, including government reform, social cohesion (including healing Christian-Muslim relations) and continued negotiations on autonomy, including the use of Islamic law in Moslem areas. Furthermore, Dureza noted the importance of engaging the broader population in dialogue during the official negotiation process and stressed the need for substantial economic development in the Mindanao region. Dureza also described the current national debate over the possibility of amending the Philippine constitution to allow for a federal arrangement that could possibly serve as a creative solution to the conflict.

Drawing on concrete examples from his extensive experience, Dureza discussed negotiation challenges relevant in other international contexts. In particular, Dureza mentioned the difficulty of establishing good will between parties, the challenges of negotiating within a group (or a government) to forge consensus, the impact of transient political leaders on a peace process, and the complexity involved in building the support for peace on the grassroots level. Dureza also discussed the complications created by recent terrorist attacks in the region.

Dureza plans to focus his future efforts on encouraging “peace building on the ground” through grassroots level peace and development work aimed at creating the appropriate climate for an official negotiated settlement.