Sarangani Gov to P-Noy, MILF: resume peace talks now

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 August) —  Sarangani governor Miguel Rene Dominguez has called on both President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to “begin in earnest the resumption of the stalled peace talks to put an end to the Mindanao conflict” because “no one has suffered the most in this internecine war than the people of Mindanao and the whole island is crying for peace.”

He also appealed to the two parties “to be circumspect in issuing statements that would only stoke the flames of hatred and war.”

“The peace process must be built around good faith and sincere efforts to bring peace in the island,” he said.

In a press statement, Dominguez, a third-termer governor, called on the President to “clearly lay down government policies and directions in dealing with the MILF and the armed conflict in the island, with primacy in involving Mindanawons in the actual peace process.”

“I urge wider consultation and participation of people in Mindanao in the peace negotiations,” Dominguez, who is in his early 30s, said.

Dominguez, who supported former Defense Secretary and Lakas-Kampi standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro in the last elections,  said peace “must be founded on justice, equality and mutual respect for each and everyone’s political and religious beliefs.  And it should not be at the expense of dismemberment of Mindanao’s territory.”

Government,  he said, “must now go beyond lip service and deal squarely with the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao.”

He said the President “should now go beyond one-liners on the Mindanao conflict like he did during his first State of the Nation Address.”

“As chief executive of a local government unit in Mindanao, I would rather see more Mindanawons in strategic executive branches in government to bring genuine development and good governance closer to the people in the island. As a resident born and raised in Mindanao, I would rather see government break the barrier of prejudice against its people.  We deserve equal treatment if not make up attention after centuries of national neglect,” his statement read.

Dominguez’ statement was issued in view of today’s headline story in a major national daily that the MILF was preparing for war while the Aquino administration was preparing for peace talks.

The headline triggered reactions from several sectors in Mindanao

The newspaper “has an eye for war hyperbole! It covers Mindanao only for warpath headlines. Never the peace track. Remember that whole page paid ads anti-MOA-AD? Gross sales fits its  bloodthirst for what is grotesque,” said Datu Michael Mastura, senior member of the deactivated MILF peace negotiating panel.

He said the report, published “on the first day of Ramadan at that,” is “alarmist and has an anti-Moro bias.”

“No sensitivity to our pious feeling,” Mastura added.

Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, started today, August 12.

The headline story quoted MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to have allegedly said in a “rare press conference” held Tuesday that they have “amassed arsenals with help from military gunrunners and warned he was prepared for war if peace talks did not resume.”

There was no such press conference held on Tuesday, MILF information chief Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the deactivated MILF peace panel, said.

On Monday, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP),  met with the MILF leadership in a forum at the MILF peace panel’s headquarters in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Before the FOCAP meeting, Ebrahim was interviewed by MindaNews.

Ebrahim told MindaNews, “we have to move forward and moving forward means moving from where we (the government and MILF peace panels) stopped.”

He said they are happy President Aquino has vowed to do something about the peace process with the MILF within his first 100 days in office but hopes “we do not start from scratch.”

Reacting to Ebrahim’s statement, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, told MindaNews by telephone,  “definitely we’re not going to start from scratch. We do not intend to start from scratch and we will do everything possible to achieve a just and lasting peace within the term of the President.”

In his opening speech at the FOCAP forum, Ebrahim said “for the MILF, the only way in the peace process is forward in order to complete the peace talks where we left off last June 3, this year.”

“But for the government, it seems they are still trying to catch up with their breath on which way to go. Hints are piling up that they want to start the talks from scratch, wants to localize the talks, and to replace the facilitator of the talks. If true, these are serious propositions that can delay or even imperil the peace talks,” he said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, branded the newspaper headline as “a perfect example of war trending.”

“It’s highly insensitive to banner this story at the very beginning of Ramadan. It maliciously announced war in the midst of government’s efforts to resume the GRP-MILF talks after the Ramadan. It missed to mention (MILF chair Al Haj) Murad (Ebrahim’s) statement that the MILF is ready to talk anytime even during the Ramadan. It’s malicious, insensitive and highly irresponsible,” she told MindaNews in a text message.

Arnado is presently in Manila as a member of a “peace lobby” delegation that includes representatives from internally displaced persons and grassroots leaders.

In Manila, the MPC reported that Arnado told 13 members of the diplomatic community during a briefing on the situation of indigenous peoples and security situation in Mindanao that she “could see the hands of the hawks in the news item,” citing a trend of “movements by peace saboteurs that usually come at a time when encouraging developments are happening in the peace process.”

Fr. Teresito Suganob, the vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi and member of the lobby mission dubbed “Conversations with Mindanao Grassroots,” was quoted in an MPC report as saying “a responsible journalist, especially if he has witnessed the wreckage of the war in Mindanao could not have simply missed a glaring fact that everyone—the government, the MILF and the people affected by the war—are all gearing for peace.”

The priest also pointed out that “one very important quote that the report missed was the fact that (Ebrahim) repeatedly stressed that the talks have to move forward from where it stopped and I think that was the story there. But how could we have missed that?”

Mindanao journalists themselves criticized the headline.

Rommel Rebollido, former General Santos City chief of the Philippine News Agency said “there really are those who cannot simply figure out what conflict-sensitive journalism is. There are also those who understand it but just ignore and opt to be sensational for that short-lived fame. it’s a pity they do not look at the possible implications of what they do. It takes brains but not quite much.”

Nikki Gomez, a weekend editor at the Mindanao Daily Mirror said, “I think the government is serious about the peace talks, so is the MILF leadership, but the story was mis-reported.” (MindaNews)

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