Ambassador Sayed Qassim Al-Masry, the OIC’s Special Envoy for Southern Philippines, told MindaNews that while no timetable has been set to compete the review of the 1996 “Final Peace Agreement,” he foresees “two or three more sessions.”
The parties in their two-page Communique set January 14, 2008 as the date for the next Tripartite Meeting, to discuss the progress reports from the five joint working groups they created.
The five joint working groups are on the Shari’ah and Judiciary; the Special Regional Security Force and the Unified Command for the Autonomous Region in Mindanao; Natural Resources and Economic Development issues; Political system and representation; and Education. These are the same issues that are listed in Phase 2 of the Agreement.
The working groups will have three members each from the Philippine government and the MNLF and their meetings will be attended by representatives of the OIC’s Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP).
The PCSP is an 11-nation expanded version of what used to be the Ministerial Committee of the Eight headed by Indonesia. The Committee of the Eight had earlier been tasked by the OIC to chair the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF, which has been holding an observer status in the OIC since 1977.
In the early 1970s, the OIC tasked a Committee of the Four which was later expanded to Six – Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Senegal and Somalia and in 2000 was expanded to Eight with the inclusion of Malaysia and Brunei.
The PCSP now includes Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan as chair of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers.
Ihsanoglu said that when the Tripartite Meeting began Saturday afternoon, “I expressed the hope that it would build on the successes that had already been achieved in this endeavor. That hope has not been misplaced as we have been able to move forward with the establishment of a framework to rejuvenate the implementation of the Agreement.”
“I am confident that the days and months ahead will benefit from our concerted efforts and determination to succeed,” he said, adding, “I wish to conclude by reminding both sides that the attention of the whole world is focused on us and that we cannot afford to fail.”
The heads of delegation of both the Philippine government and the MNLF used the same word to describe the task ahead: “gargantuan.”
Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan of Sulu, head of the Philippine delegation, said the road to peace “is never easy.”
“We encounter bumps, we detour, we make many turns but we still do not lose sight that the track to sustainable development is peace – peace is the way.”
“The gargantuan task of reviewing the implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement and in arriving at a consensus by both parties has just begun,” Tan said.
The vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from 1993 to 1996 and member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the MNLF during the same period, Tan noted that “perseverance, having an open mind and thinking out of the box including nourishing the partnership should be the prevailing atmosphere to attain the goals we have set in this meeting.”
“Behind the dark rain-laden cloud is the shining sun,” said lawyer Randolph Parcasio, MNLF head of delegation.
Parcasio, a member of the legal panel of the MNLF peace panel from 1992 to 1996 and executive secretary to MNLF chair Nur Misuari when the latter served as ARMM governor from 1996 to 2001, said that while the three-day meeting ended on a positive note, “our gargantuan task now is to ensure that we will not lose the momentum that we have gained.”
He assured the MNLF “will do its duty and obligation to ensure that their respective representatives to these working groups will carry out their mandate effectively with honor, dignity, and dedication.”
“Back home, there is urgency in resolving the issues confronting us, because in the interregnum, underdevelopment, massive poverty and unemployment, injustice, lawlessness continues to confront the Bangsamoro People,” Parcasio said, citing the “lack of political and institutional empowerment in a genuine autonomous government for Southern Philippines in order to address these problems as envisioned in the 1996 Peace Agreement remains in suspended animation.”
“The wait was long, but at last, with the conclusion of this meeting, a faint light is now found at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
“Let us not waste this golden opportunity for us to act as one and united in bringing the peace dividends to our ummah,” Tan urged his fellow Bangsamoro brothers in the MNLF.
“We all look forward to seeing a progressive and peaceful Mindanao, where socio-economic progress would replace conflict and discontent; where the rule of law would strive and deter and dissuade inhabitants from veering off the path of moderation and peace; where extremists and militant infiltrators would not be accepted by the community,” he said.
“Let me conclude by saying that if our ends are just and noble, success is inevitable,” Parcasio said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)