Razon says it is "path to peace;" Sema says better move is for a "common MNLF-MILF position"

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Razon made his pronouncement at a dinner his office hosted Friday at the Heritage Hotel in Metro Manila, for those who attended the 3rd Tripartite Meeting involving representatives from the government, MNLF and Organization of the Islamic Conference Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP) on March 11 to 13.

Nur Misuari, out on bail from rebellion charges since April last year, represented the MNLF in the Meeting, as chair, although Sema, MNLF secretary-general and peace panel vice chair during the 1992-1996 peace talks that led to the signing on September 2, 1996 of the “Final Peace Agreement,” claims he was elected chair by the MNLF Central Committee in April 2008.  

In the  Meeting’s Communique, the government and MNLF “reaffirmed their commitments to preserve the primacy of the 1996 FPA (Final Peace Agreement) and to put forward their collaborative endeavors to ensure the continuing process of genuine dialogue to narrow the differences in fully implementing the Peace Agreement.”

The 1996 agreement was signed in Malacanang by government peace panel chair Manuel Yan and the MNLF’s Misuari.

The government and MNLF agreed to establish a  “Legal Panel consisting of legal experts” nominated by each side “to transform the common proposals” of the five Joint Working Groups on Shariah and Judiciary, Regional unified command, Education, Economic and natural resources, and Political system and the right to representation “into legal form and to find ways to arrive at common grounds to move forward on the issues that need further study.”

Copies of the reports of the JWGs have not been made public.

The Legal Panel is to be constituted “as soon as possible but not later than 20 March 2009 and conclude its work within 30 days after 20 March 2009” or until April 19, then present its final report “to each of the Panel before its submission to the President of the Republic of the Philippines for referral to the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, and to the OIC-PCSP prior to the holding of the 36th ICFM (Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers), 23-25 May 2009, in Damascus, Syria.”

The Legal Panel “may seek the assistance of the OIC in hosting its meetings and invite the OIC-PCSP to attend as observers in its Meetings.”

Sema told MindaNews that “the better move” in lieu of amending RA 9054, is “to have MNLF and MILF common position.”

“It’s an exercise in futility just to keep ‘status quo’ on hold and Misuari effectively on check. First, the joint legal panel report expects cleansing then another process with President Arroyo then Congress cleansing, then Senate to bicameral, ratify by both houses then back to  President Arroyo.  It’s the democratic process whether we like it or not. OIC can’t change it. Then (ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy) Ampatuan will implement the watered down law which Misuari zealously participated. The better move is to have MNLF and MILF common position and then convince OIC and others to honor it. I have proposed this to (Indonesian) Ambassador Rezlan Jenie (chair of the PCSP). I hope PCSP will consider it,” he said.

Sema was at the opening session of the 3rd Tripartite Meeting.

The legislative process in Congress involves 11 steps: the preparation of the bill, first reading, committee consideration/action, second reading, third re
ading, transmittal of the approved bill to the Senate, Senate action on approved bill of the House, conference committee, transmittal of the bill to the President, Presidential Action on the bill, action on approved bill or action on vetoed bill.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal says the MNLF, presumably referring to Misuari’s group “shows off completely its reformist character now,” adding the MNLF has “fallen into the game of the government which is to amend the Organic Act but no timetable and no assurance how far it will go on empowering the Bangsamoro people. When was Manila even-handed to the Moros? “

Asked if it was amenable to suggestions of a common MNLF-MILF position, Iqbal replied, “The MILF does not dip its fingers into GRP internal process. However, in the implementation phase of the comprehensive compact (between government and MILF), if ever this is reached or signed, MILF will wait on the sideline for the GRP to comply. If GRP does not comply, MILF will not be faulted if we keep on the struggle. In the case of the MNLF, they are at the mercy of the GRP.”

The Philippine government and the MILF have yet to resume talks after the aborted August 5, 2008 formal signing of the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The Supreme Court in October declared the agreement unconstitutional.

Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan, chair of the government panel in the Tripartite Meeting and the government peace panel’s vice chair in the 1992-1996 peace talks with the MNLF said the issues being resolved by the Joint Working Groups — “all these commitments to the peace agreement have been incorporated to RA 9054.”

But Tan, quoted by an OPAPP report, acknowledges that “the MNLF maintains that there are provisions in the final peace agreement of 1996 that (were not captured by) RA 9054, which is an amendatory bill after the signing of the September 2, 1996 peace agreement."

The then united MNLF had opposed RA 9054, claiming it rendered the autonomous region less autonomous than it was.  

"We want to endorse this (amending RA 9054) as an urgent measure, considering the proximity of time to the upcoming elections next year," Tan said.

Congress resumes sessions on April 13 to June 5 this year. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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