'Peace talks with NPA, MILF should be constitutional'

‘Peace talks with NPA, MILF should be constitutional’
By Jaime Laude
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential bet Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. said yesterday that any government peace efforts with the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) should be within the framework of the Constitution.

Teodoro, the defense chief prior to his candidacy, said peace talks with the rebel groups, especially the NPA, should not be done at the national level but should be left to local peace councils.

“In view of the localized leadership structures of the NPA insurgents, it would be best for the government to initiate separate peace negotiations with the respective leaders of rebel forces in the specific localities where they thrive,” the administration bet said in a radio interview yesterday.

While giving emphasis on the peace efforts, Teodoro said that there should be a sustainable campaign to put an end to both insurgencies, which includes beefing up the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“On one hand, while conducting sustainable (military and police) campaign against the insurgents, the government should continue pursuing peace negotiations for a genuine and lasting solution to these decades-old insurgencies,” he said, adding that the same approach should also apply to renegade MILF forces.

But while doing so, Teodoro emphasized that troops must always observe the ongoing ceasefire.

He said any violations will only disrupt efforts of both peace panels in finding a formula for lasting peace.

However, he pointed out that the government could no longer give (to the MILF) what it has given before, referring to the autonomy covering several provinces in Mindanao that was granted to the MNLF in the September 1996 peace accord.

Shifting paradigm

The government, according to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Annabelle Abaya, is looking at an interim agreement with the MILF which will “define the framework of a more comprehensive agreement that would be tabled with the next administration” before President Arroyo steps down in June.

“Time constraints and avoiding a repeat of a hurried agreement like the failed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) prompt the present government to look forward to only creating a mechanism and structure for the next administration to use (in relation to the continuing peace process with the MILF),” Abaya explained during Sunday’s Northern Luzon leg of the “reflective dialogues” being conducted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in Baguio City.

Around 300 “peace partners” and other “peace stakeholders” gathered on Sunday for the dialogues on issues concerning the peace process in Mindanao.

“Reflective dialogues have already been conducted in nine areas in the whole country and only Iligan, Butuan and Tawi-Tawi are left,” Abaya said.

She claimed that the “more democratic method” has resulted in more meaningful participation among peace stakeholders in finally nailing down the age-old woes in war-torn Mindanao.

“By March 15 at the earliest and end of March at the latest, we will finish the reflective dialogues, and we are ready to face the MILF,” she said. “The govern-ment comes to know what is important to the MILF, the public and other stakeholders and after which, a realistic mechanism will be drawn by both sides to respond to these needs.”

Abaya said an interim agreement will provide a framework to allow govern-ment to consolidate the gains of the peace process and for the next administration to continue, without government making any commitment to what it can do and what it fails to do.

However, she admitted that some of those “tabled” by the MILF as fundamental issues require changing the Constitution, like creating a sub-state within the country.

She said that while the government is open about it, it “wants to talk and consult with the people if they want this.”

“The government wants an agreement that is clear, unequivocal because still, we do not want to divide the country and aspirations should be within the framework of the Constitution,” Abaya said, warning that no agreement will be forged if fundamental issues and wider democratic participation are negated.   —  With Artemio Dumlao

Karen Ang

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