Peace panel chair Garcia: “Malaysia wants to help out; they don’t want out”

GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia, a general who retired as Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, made the request following the verbal announcement during a GRP-MILF meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week that Malaysia was cutting short the tour of duty of its troops in the IMT to three months ending November 2007 if there is “no significant progress” in the peace talks.

Malaysia, chief facilitator of the talks, heads the IMT which is tasked to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF.

“Malaysia wants to help out, they don’t want out,” Garcia told MindaNews in a telephone interview. 

He acknowledged that the information on shortened tour of duty, “depending on the progress of the talks,” was “disappointing” considering that the government and the MILF agreed on a year-long extension on August 27 this year.

Earlier, on August 21,  the MILF, in a meeting with GRP-MILF peace talks facilitator, Datuk Othman bin Abdul Razak and his party in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabunsuan, agreed to the extension of the IMT’s tour of duty for another three months after its expiration on August 30.

The MILF agreed “subject to the concurrence of the GRP.” The GRP panel agreed to the extension on the same day.

On August 27, in Malaysia, both panels agreed to a one-year extension as well as expansion of the IMT’s scope over four more provinces. Garcia said it was the MILF that pointed to the provision of the IMT Terms Of Reference (TOR) on the one-year extension.

The TOR cites the mandate of the IMT “shall be 12 months” and that extension of the term of the mandate “may be considered on a year-to-year basis upon the request by both GRP and MILF.”  

Garcia said the cutting short of the tour of duty may have been a case of “good intention on the part of Malaysia to accelerate the talks but, unfortunately, has been misperceived.” Malaysia’s intention, he said, appears to be good, which is “to hasten or fast-track the process.”

He said the announcement came “just as we were able to bridge divergent positions on territory. That was progress,” he said, adding even the MILF found the September 25 to 27 meeting “productive.”

Iqbal, also chair of the Front’s Information Committee, told MindaNews last Saturday that the year-long impasse had not been resolved but “I think the road towards peace is still very bright.”  

“But this is up to the government,” he added but declined to elaborate.  

The government and MILF peace panels reached an impasse on the issue of territory in early September last year.  Garcia said he “brought home some residual issues” from last week’s meeting, which he described as “minor.” “These are not insurmountable issues. We’ve gone past the most difficult ones already. As long as I’m able to get Cabinet agreement on the residual issues, I will immediately  inform Malaysia to convene,” Garcia said.

He said he is confident the two panels can meet again for executive session shortly before the end of Ramadhan. The Islamic month of fasting ends October 13.Under the Terms Of Reference of the IMT, there are only three instances where the IMT may “cease or suspend” the performance of its functions, but “with due notice to the GRP and MILF peace panels.”

The three instances are: when “the field situation becomes too dangerous and life threatening to its members;” when “the GRP or MILF fails to fulfill their commitments and responsibilities to the peace process as stipulated in the Terms of Reference;” and when “the GRP or MILF deliberately ignore to take action on any of its recommendations on violations of signed agreements.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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