Government-MILF final peace accord impossible before June 30
By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) can no longer strike a final peace accord before President Arroyo steps down on June 30 because of limited time and differences in ongoing peace talks, chief peace negotiator Rafael Seguis said yesterday.
He said the government has focused its effort on forging an interim accord that will commit the 11,000-strong MILF to continue negotiations with the next president to peacefully settle its decades-old insurrection.
“We admit we will no longer be able to sign a comprehensive compact at this time considering the time constraints,” Seguis told the news forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
Seguis though stressed the peace talks with the MILF would continue beyond the Arroyo administration.
“The peace talks will continue. Both panels will be meeting again within this month,” Seguis said.
Despite time constraints, Seguis said both sides have agreed that a significant interim agreement can be pursued.
He said the government panel has asked clarificatory questions on the MILF draft Declaration of Principles on Interim Governance Arrangements, an 11-page extract of its proposed Comprehensive Compact, presented in Kuala Lumpur last week.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu agreed, saying the chances of forging a peace pact were “zero,” considering the disparity between the government and rebel positions on many issues.
Several demands submitted by the MILF during negotiations brokered by Malaysia in January would require the passage by Congress of new laws, including a proposal to drastically strengthen the powers of minority Muslims to run an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Seguis, on the other hand, said the MILF respects the position of the government that it must work within the framework of the Constitution.
“(And) they (MILF) know we have a realistic political timeline,” he added.
Both sides met in Kuala Lumpur last week to seek clarification on the MILF’s draft peace agreement, including the proposed transition arrangement that will convert the ARMM into a “self-governance set up.”
“We can’t guarantee,” Seguis said, adding the need for legislative action that would allow the creation of the proposed setting.
Seguis stressed the peace talks with the MILF should not be rushed, taking into consideration the legal aspects and constitutional issues.
“We want more understanding and I don’t want it to be politicized. I want to assure our politicians that this is not an attempt to rush things. This is not a shortcut. We will not attempt to make a short cut but we will apply the law,” he said.
The government and the MILF resumed talks in December after years of peace negotiations broke down in 2008 when the Supreme Court declared a preliminary pact unconstitutional.
This led to clashes that killed hundreds and displaced about 750,000 people. Fighting has subsided since last July, but about 100,000 people remain displaced, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Most of the candidates seeking the presidency in the May 10 elections claimed the peace process in Mindanao had been a failure amid last ditch efforts of Mrs. Arroyo to forge a final peace pact with the MILF in her last few months in office.
They noted the government’s attempt to at least forge an interim agreement with the MILF during their recent meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“Definitely, the peace process in Mindanao has failed. Mindanao has suffered from a deterioration of peace and order,” according to Ang Kapatiran Party standard-bearer John Carlos de los Reyes.
Sen. Richard Gordon, for his part, blamed the lack of consultation with constituents by the government that led to the failure of the peace process in Mindanao.
“It has failed because as you see the ARMM has remained among the poorest regions in the country,” Gordon told the presidential forum held at the Ateneo de Davao University here.
Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro said the peace process should be more localized, involving leaders in the area.
“We have to continue with the local peace dialogues. We should continue talking with the MILF,” Teodoro said.
He said nobody should impose any peace paradigm in Mindanao except the Minda-naoans themselves.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal stressed the peace process was “mismanaged” by the Arroyo administration.
Instead of truly bringing peace in Mindanao, Madrigal said Mrs. Arroyo has instead militarized the region.
“The Arroyo administration… has used the military in terrorizing the people of Mindanao,” she said.
Environmentalist presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas added the failure of the peace process could be blamed on what he called “political patronage” in the Arroyo administration that only led to more “internally displaced” people in the region. – With AP, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edith Regalado