Government Peace Panel

Government-MILF final peace accord impossible before June 30

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.

‘Mismanaged’

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

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

Self-governing ARMM part of draft peace pact

Self-governing ARMM part of draft peace pact
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A self-governing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is part of a draft peace agreement presented to the government during a session with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last Thursday, the government said yesterday.

The government peace panel, comprised of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, panel chairman; Annabelle Abaya, presidential adviser on the peace process; and panel members Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and Ronald Adamat, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday afternoon.

Seguis said no negotiations were conducted, but a question-and-answer session to clarify the concepts and provisions of the MILF’s latest draft document was held.

“The questions were direct and we got clarification on matters we wanted to (clarify),” Seguis said. The MILF presented a draft Declaration of Principles on Interim Governance Arrangements.

The government peace panel has agreed to submit its counterproposal to the MILF, he added.

Seguis said the MILF acknowledged that constitutional processes should be followed with regards to provisions in the draft that would require constitutional amendments.

“Whatever differences we may have, we are of one mind that we need to preserve our gains, and to agree on a clear roadmap on how to move ahead,” he said.

“We are committed to finding creative ways and alternatives towards forging a peace agreement, whether in the present administration or in the next.”

Seguis said both sides agreed that a significant interim agreement can still be realistically pursued.

“The government panel’s sincerity is never diminished by the limited time we are given,” he said.

“We remain committed to understanding whatever you have to say, inasmuch as we hope the MILF panel would be committed to understand our ideas as well.”

The government is exploring every conceivable means, and exerting every possible effort, to arrive at a just, equitable and honorable agreement acceptable to all, Seguis said.

After the question-and-answer session, both sides held separate dialogues with the members of the International Contact Group.

Abaya said Dialogue Mindanaw continues today with simultaneous public consultations and dialogues for peace in San Mateo, Rizal and Cagayan de Oro City, following a successful session in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

“It is very important that voices of all sectors are heard as it would greatly help in the government’s quest to achieve peace in Mindanao,” she said.

Abaya said the opinions, proposals and views received during the reflective dialogues are consolidated and presented to the government peace panel for consideration.

“The government will not let these valued opinions go to waste and we will certainly put them to good use by bringing them directly to the negotiating table,” she said.

Similar reflective dialogues will be held in Baguio City tomorrow.

The Rizal leg will be held in partnership with the Mindanao Solidarity Network, a Manila-based group supporting the peace efforts.

Members of academe and local government units are the driving force behind the Cagayan de Oro leg of Dialogue Mindanaw.

Actively participating in the previous legs were the youth, women, military, police, academe, farmers, local government units, business, non-government organizations, media, Christians, Lumads and Muslims.

On March 9, Dialogue Mindanaw returns to Mindanao with a visit to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi and Iligan City while Butuan City is next on March 11.

Present at the talks in Malaysia were Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace negotiating panel; Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak, chief facilitator; members of the government peace panel; members of the MILF peace panel; and ICG member.

Drilon to gov’t: Reveal contents of draft agreement

Former Senate president Franklin Drilon dared the government yesterday to reveal the contents of the draft agreements with the MILF.

“In the interest of transparency and the need for public consultations as required by the Supreme Court in its ruling in the controversial MOA-AD case in 2008, I urge the government peace negotiators led by Undersecretary Seguis not to commit the same mistakes and bare to the public the contents of the current working peace agreements with the MILF,” he said.

Drilon said the peace talks were once again being done in secret, which led two government peace panel members, Tomas Cabili and Adel Antonino, to resign.

Cabili told him in Dumaguete City last Wednesday that he resigned because he was being kept in the dark on a lot of important matters, he added.

Drilon said President Arroyo must leave the task of forging a peace agreement with the MILF to the next president.

The present administration has failed to deliver lasting peace in Mindanao, he added.

Malacañang was reportedly hoping to seal a new agreement with the MILF before the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term on June 30. – Pia Lee-Brago, Rudy Santos