DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 March) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has beefed up security for all team sites of the 54-member Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) in five cities in Mindanao “for precautionary measures.”
Brig. Gen. Leo Ferrer, senior military adviser to the government (GPH) peace panel in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told MindaNews in a text message Monday afternoon that since March 1, all team sites, including the IMT headquarters in Cotabato City “were augmented with force protection units from the AFP.”
MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews late Monday afternoon that while they do not want to issue any statement because “any other statement can be exploited by spoilers,” he would recommend to the MLF Central Committee that they would “discuss the side effects” of what is happening in Sabah, on the pace process.
The augmented security for the IMT, Ferrer said, is “for precautionary measures.”
He said the AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista “is concerned about the security of the IMT.”
The IMT, which has deployed seven contingents annually since 2004, is tasked to monitor the ceasefire, humanitarian, rehabilitation and socio-economic agreements between the GPH and MILF. Its main headquarters is in Cotabato City and its teams sites are in the cities of Cotabato, General Santos, Iligan, Davao and Zamboanga.
IMT-member countries are Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Libya and Norway. The European Union has two representatives and four non-government organizations sit in the Civilian Protection Component.
The IMT has a military contingent of 19 members from Malaysia, 15 from Brunei, 14 from Indonesia and for development, humanitarian and rehabilitation aspects, two each from Japan, Norway and the EU.
Ferrer said IMT-7 Head of Mission, Maj. Gen. Dato’ Abdul Rahim Bin Mohd Yusoff, who is ending his year-long tour of duty on March 12, made an exit call on the Chief of Staff at 3:30 p.m. on Monday.
A new contingent is taking over on the 12th following the extension of the tours of duty of the IMT and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group for another year “in recognition of their important roles in the peace process,”
Ferrer said the new Head of Mission who will take over is Maj. Gen. Dato Fadzil bin Mokhtar.
Malaysia has been facilitating the peace process between the GPH and MILF since March 2001.
Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak witnessed the signing in Malacanang of the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15 last year.
In his speech during the signing, the Prime Minister said: “Today is a day of great hope. A day which sees the dawn of a new beginning for the people of Mindanao.”
“The Framework Agreement before us will bring to end of violence which claims so many people and cuts short so many futures. It will protect the rights of the Bangsamoro people and preserve the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Philippines. It is the firm crown on which a lasting peace can be built,” he said.
Outside the purview
The GPH and MILF peace panels in their last negotiations in Kuala Lumpur on February 25 to 27, said the standoff in Lahad Datu since February 12 (initial reports put the date on February 9) was not within the purview of the GPH-MILF peace process.
GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer explained in a text message to MindaNews on February 19 that the FAB provides for “ respect for customs, and recognition of identities and narratives as part of transitional justice” and “takes into account the plurality of groups and histories in the Bangsamoro.”
She said the Sultanate of Sulu “remains a traditional authority that is respected in Tausug society” and that the GPH peace panel “accorded them that respect when we met in 2011 with the Sultan Jamalul III, Esmail, and Abjimmudin Kiram brothers, a branch of the descendants of the Sultanate, and identified ways to acknowledge their historical and societal roles.”
But the issue on the unsettled claims over Sabah, Ferrer said, “is a foreign policy matter that is outside the purview of the talks” and “won’t unhinge the momentum of the peace process as inclusivity of all stakeholders in the Bangsamoro has always marked our approach.”
MILF peace panel chair Iqbal, was also confident that the standoff in Sabah would not affect the talks.
Ferrer said nothing about the standoff in Sabah in her opening statement in Kuala Lumpur on February 25. Iqbal did, in reaction to statements allegedly from the Kirams that they were not consulted on the FAB.
“ The sour-graping of the so-called heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu that they were not consulted in the ongoing peace talks is a kind of spoilage. They were consulted on many occasions. But the big question is: Why only make this noise now when for more than 40 years of conflict in Mindanao they have been silent?”
Iqbal asked: “Is it not obvious that in the current controversy the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu have focused on their personal interest alone that precludes the interest and welfare of the entire Bangsamoro people?”
Violence broke out at around 10 a.m. on March 1, just as the MILF peace panel was flying back to the Philippines.
“Side effects” on peace process
Upon arrival, the MILF declined to issue any statement on the bloodshed in Lahad Datu.
Iqbal told MindaNews “the policy is not to make a statement” because “any other statement can be exploited by spoilers.”
Late Monday afternoon, Iqbal told MindaNews in Midsayap, North Cotabato, that he would recommend to the MLF Central Committee that they would “discuss the side effects” of what is happening in Sabah, on the pace process.
He declined to say what the “side effects” are and when the Central Committee would meet.
The peace panels are set to meet again in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks from now.
In Davao City, Senior Superintendent Ronald de la Rosa, chief of police, on Tuesay said he has deployed a team to provide additional security to the Malaysian Consulate here and residences of Malaysian nationals.
Militant groups picketed the Malaysian Embassy in Makati Tuesday morning. (Carolyn O. Arguillas with a report from Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)