Gibo: Go slow on peace pact

Gibo: Go slow on peace pact
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro cautioned President Arroyo against rushing to forge a peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as one of her legacies, without proper consultations with affected communities in Mindanao.

Teodoro, a former defense secretary, said he has been receiving disturbing reports of lack of transparency and consultations with communities in the course of negotiations with the MILF.

He urged Mrs. Arroyo to be very careful with the peace process, and that any agreement should not violate the Constitution and the country’s territorial integrity.

“I don’t think the people will accept a peace agreement if they have not been adequately consulted. And from what I hear on the ground, there’s a feeling that consultation has not been as extensive as they want,” he told the presidential forum of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) last Friday.

“Communities are requesting more consultations with them. And I think that the lesson of 2008 with the MOA-AD is very clear in our mind that you have to adequately consult and inform communities who are going to be affected every step of the way. If not, there will be massive opposition. And with the political climate that we have, it’s very easy to turn a molehill into a mountain,” he said.

Teodoro was referring to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was supposed to have been signed by both sides in August 2008 in Malaysia but was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC).

The SC decision to quash the agreement led to deadly attacks and bombings by the MILF and the eventual collapse of the peace talks.

The MOA-AD dealt with the scope of the territory and use of natural resources in that area under a new autonomous government.

Mrs. Arroyo revived the peace talks last year with the formation of a new negotiating panel. There is a feeling within the administration and other stakeholders that she is rushing to forge a peace pact as a showcase of the Mindanao peace process as part of her legacy.

There are also lingering reports on the ties of some MILF leaders with the radical Jemaah Islamiyah, said to be the arm of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror network in Southeast Asia.

Earlier, the government and MILF panel announced that they have exchanged “drafts” of the final peace agreement in Kuala Lumpur.

Teodoro noted some worrisome signs in the peace negotiations with the resignation of two members of the government panel: former Cotabato congressman and General Santos City mayor Adelberto Antonino and Thomas Cabili, who cited lack of transparency in the talks.

“Those are warning shots across the bow that you cannot deny, so prudence is once again the order of the day,” he said. “Because we have something very precious right now in Mindanao, that is, the existing ceasefire (with the MILF).”

Testing the waters

The two panels met in Kuala Lumpur last Friday in a question-and-answer session that clarified many of the proposals of the MILF with respect to its draft agreement.

The government was represented by negotiating panel chairman, Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, and panel members Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and Ronald Adamat.

Seguis said they are in the process of bridging the gaps between the positions of the two sides on contentious issues.

These issues are currently being discussed in reflective dialogues mounted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in nine regions in |Mindanao, Palawan, Bacolod, Metro Manila, and Baguio.

Secretary Annabelle Abaya, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the government is actually laying the groundwork for a framework of agreement with the MILF before the term of Mrs. Arroyo ends in June in preparation for the continuation of the dialogue with the incoming administration.

Abaya said the reflective dialogue line in the “Dialogue Mindanao,” which was held in San Mateo, Rizal yesterday, is aimed at capturing the sentiments of different sectors and getting the maximum inputs that will be summarized and presented before the Filipino people.

She expressed hope that the dialogues would be over by March 15 and her office could collate the inputs of the public to come up with recommendations.

“Hopefully, there will be a framework of agreement during the term of Mrs. Arroyo so we can prepare for the continuation of the peace talks of the incoming government,” Abaya said.

A state within a state

Mohaqher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, told government negotiators during the question-and-answer session in Malaysia that they remain firm in their position not to pursue “independence” for Southern Muslim communities in favor of a “state and substate” arrangement as a solution to the decades-old Moro uprising, meaning a “sub-state” to exist under the Philippine Republic.

Iqbal described as “blunt, frank and tiring” their brainstorming session.

He clarified, however, that the meeting of the two panels was merely a “Q and A session” and not formal talks.

He said the MILF is not amenable to the government’s earlier offer of “enhanced autonomy” to cover areas where there are Moro communities, apparently those already part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In an e-mailed statement, Iqbal explained that it was a “gentleman’s agreement” with the government that they would not pursue independence as a solution to the Mindanao problem as long as the other panel would not assert constitutional restraint on concerns and issues both sides are to iron out in crafting a final peace pact.

“If the peace talks are passing through a turbulent zone today – and on the verge of signing nothing until President Arroyo’s exit on June 30 this year – it is because the government is not very truthful to what is agreed by the Parties at the start of their engagement,” Iqbal said.

“Up to now, the MILF has not breached this commitment, and we have declared time and again that the MILF will no longer pursue independence as solution to the Bangsamoro problem in favor of an asymmetrical arrangement of a ‘state and substate’ arrangement,” he said.

The two panels last met early this year in Malaysia to exchange their respective drafts of a peace blueprint, but failed to hold another round of talks due to their seemingly irreconcilable concepts of a framework for lasting peace and development in the South. – With Non Alquitran and John Unson

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.