GRP, MILF peace panels assure Lumads’ “freedom of choice”

Mastura gave the assurance during the roundtable forum Saturday organized by Kusog Mindanaw.

“This is a question of choice. We are not imposing on the IP that they should be part. If they do not want to be part of BJE, go ahead,” he said,

Government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia said the Lumads who will be part of the BJE would be the Tedurays in South and North Upi in Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan provinces, because these towns are already part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the core area of the BJE.

At present, ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

Garcia said there would be areas in the areas contiguous to the ARMM where there might be some Lumads but “there’s an item in consensus point that we have signed that says that there would be, that consultations need to be done as far as IPs in these areas are concerned. The actual technical term is ‘free choice,’ the element of free choice would be there so they may opt out or in (of the BJE).”

Last week, a gathering in Davao City of  Lumad leaders from various parts of Mindanao expressed support for the peace process and won't oppose the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the MILF but stressed they should be included in the negotiations to determine the territories included in the BJE, Datu Joel Unad, chair of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Conference on Peace and Development (MIPCPD), said.
The Lumads are represented in the peace panels by Sylvia Paraguya, a Higaonon member of the government peace panel and Arumanon-Manobo Datu Al Saliling, a member of the government peace panel’s technical working group (TWG). B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc sits in the TWG of the MILF.
The government and MILF peace panels last month broke the 13-month impasse on territory.
The impasse ended with a compromise on what areas would comprise the future BJE “immediately” and “later,”  MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews in late October.

The two panels had earlier agreed that the ARMM would constitute the core of the future BJE. In addition, the government peace panel proposed the possible inclusion of 613 Moro-dominated villages in Mindanao subject to a plebiscite. Some of  these villages had voted for inclusion into the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite.

Murad said the compromise on territory that was reached during the Kuala Lumpur  meeting in October was a formula that would have “ARMM plus contiguous areas” join the BJE “immediately” with the other areas, “not necessarily all contiguous” joining “later.” He declined to elaborate on “later” although this presumably refers to within or after a transition period the panels still have to agree upon.

Murad, MILF peace panel chair from 2001 to 2003, had repeatedly said they would respect the rights of the Lumads.

In the Joint GRP-MILF primer on the peace process issued by the Joint Advocacy Group of both peace panels and first distributed at the All-Mindanao Leaders’ Peace Consultation convened by the Bishops-Ulama Conference and Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus in October last year, one of the seven questions was “what will happen to the ancestral domain of the IPs and the lands of the settlers?

The two panels’ reply in the primer: “the legitimate rights of the IPs and the settlers will be respected.  The Parties believe that one cannot right a wrong by committing another wrong. The general framework agreement of the GRP and the MILF on March 24, 2001 stipulates that peace negotiation between them is “for the advancement of the general interest of the Bangsamoro people and other indigenous people.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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