PNoy does a Cory; historic meet with MILF chair praised

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 August) –  President Benigno Simeon Aquino III  did what his mother did 25 years ago in pursuit of peace: meet with rebel leaders.

Against the advice of her security sector, then President Corazon Aquino traveled to Sulu on September 5, 1986 to meet with Nur Misuari, chair of  the Moro National Liberation Front who was then newly-arrived from exile in Jeddah., to discuss resumption of the peace talks that had collapsed under the Marcos dictatorship. The talks resumed shortly.

Twenty five years later,  her son, now also a President, traveled to Japan and met Thursday night with Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to fast-track the peace negotiations and ensure  that implementation of whatever peace agreement may be forged, can be done within the remaining five years of his administration.

The President traveled with his Defense Secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, then Presidential Security Group chief when his mother met with Misuari; National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen.

The historic meeting drew generally positive reactions  from various sectors in Mindanao.

Guiamel Alim,  a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortioum of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) said the meeting is “the highest form of confidence-building in the peace process” that can “fast-track  the talks to its final conclusion.”

Former Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the meeting reminded him of what President Cory Aquino did in 1986.

“For her son, Pres Noynoy to take a similar  bold step for peace is also historic. From where I sit, I consider this meeting as an effort to fast track the peace process. We congratulate both the government and the MILF in taking the unconventional route just so an early settlement can be mutually forged,” he said.

But Dureza, who was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to May 2003, gave a word of caution: “The road to peace is not easy. There are still many facets that must be attended to and resolved. The top level meeting must be followed through vigorously and relentlessly until a final pact is signed, sealed and implemented.”

“We know the rigors of peace making and peace building. After the two leaders have taken bold initiatives for peace, we the citizens must all unite and provide support to sustain these gains,” Dureza said.

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC),  acknowledged that what the President failed to mention in his State of the Nation Address on July 25, “he has definitely expressed it in hundred folds by going out of his way to meet Chairman Murad.  That gesture is worth more than a thousand words.  In this season of Ramadan, PNoy has shown to our Muslim brothers and sisters especially in Mindanao that PNoy’s  government is truly committed to make peace with the MILF.

“The meeting is definitely historic, unprecedented and signals both leaders’ commitment to finally sign a peace agreement.  It could have been more meaningful if the meeting was witnessed by the grassroots and stakeholders in Mindanao but perhaps that is reserved for the next meeting when both parties will already sign a peace deal,” she said.

Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Development expressed hope that “the unprecedented meeting results into unprecedented agreement, unprecedented peace.”

Lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, who served as consultant of the government peace panel for several years under the Arroyo administration and is now executive director of  The Art of Peace, said the meeting “is a very good sign”

“It shows political will and sincerity from both parties to solve the Mindanao problem. The work ahead would be to translate the symbolic and historic meeting to a political settlement that would bring about solutions to the age-old conflict. The goodwill and camaraderie engendered can be used by both parties to jointly consult the people. I am looking forward to President Aquino and Chairman Murad going to Mindanao and jointly addressing the people and their concerns. That would truly be historic,” he said.

For Mindanao historian Rudy Rodil, who was a government peace panel member in both the negotiations with the MNLF and later the MILF, the neeting “is a good sign” that the President “is  serious and committed to reaching a settlement with the MILF and wants the agreement implemented within his term.”

In Cotabato City, businessman Pete Marquez,  said, “if that’s going  to bring peace in our region, okay lang.

In Cagayan de Oro City, Mohamad Sidic Gondarangin, chair of the Oro Jemaah Islam Association, said the meeting “is good so that they can personally talk on the different issues of the peace process.”

In Zamboanga City, Mayor Celso Lobregat reiterated that all stakeholders, including Zamboanga City, must be consulted in any agreement the government will forge with the MILF so that stakeholders could ventilate their sentiments and “so that the people would know what the government and the MILF have agreed upon.”

Lobregat was among the government officials who went to the Supreme Court to stop the government peace panel from signing the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008. A day earlier, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order. No signing was done.

Lobregat said he hopes the peace talks will continue “and it should be base on the framework of the constitution.”

In Sarangani, Governor Miguel Dominguez said the meeting “shows utmost sincerity on the part of both parties in finding a solution.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas with reports from Cong Corrales, Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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