Peace groups: “gov’t should appeal to Malaysia to stay”

Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI, former parish priest of war-affected Pikit, North Cotabato and head of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Inter-Religious Dialogue, was reacting to the press statement of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on Sunday that Malacang respects and accepts Malaysia’s latest decision.

On Thursday, Malaysia announced it would do a phased withdrawal of its contingent in the IMT starting May. Twenty-one soldiers will be pulled out in May, leaving behind only 20 out of  Malaysia’s 41. Brunei has 10 soldiers and Libya has five while Japan has one development expert in the IMT.

Layson said the Philippine government knows “how important the role of the IMT is in preventing the escalation of violence and preserving the peace in Mindanao while the peace talks are going on. This is based on record.”

The Malaysian-led IMT has been credited for helping stabilize the situation on the ground, since 2004.

MindaNews checked the records of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (Joint CCCH  and found that the number of skirmishes has steadily gone down from 569 in 2003, a year of war, to 16 in 2004, the year  the IMT came to Mindanao, to only 8 in 2007.

The CCCH recorded 698 armed skirmishes in 2002, 569 in 2003, 16 in 2004, 13 in 2005, 10 in 2006 and only eight in 2007. Within the period, the economy of Mindanao’s six regions grew steadily. (see graphs)

Amina Rasul, executive director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID), said she hopes, “as do all concerned, that the IMT will not withdraw from the Philippines.”

“The IMT has been the force that kept clashes between the MILF and the government down.  Without them, who will prevent the massacre of innocents?” Rasul asked.

Apparently peeved by statements blaming the Philippine government, Dureza issued a press statement on April 27, a Sunday, that “Malacanang took exceptions to press allegations blaming the government for the slow pace in the peace negotiations resulting to the withdrawal of the Malaysians from the ceasefire monitoring team.”

Dureza, government peace panel chair from 2001 to May 2003, said that the Philippine government is committed to push the peace process forward and “is not delaying but doing due diligence in completing the government’s final draft of the ancestral domain agreement to ensure that it is implementable and defensible from attacks of unconstitutionality.”

“While we understand the apparent impatience of some sectors, the government cannot treat these pending issues in a cavalier manner or with undue haste,” the statement read.

The government peace panel headed by Secretary Rodolfo Garcia,  a retired Army general who served as Deputy Armed Forces Chief of Staff,  according to Dureza’s statement, “has been doing work on the government draft without let up.”

“If there is any sector most interested to resolve these problems, it is the government. Let no one, whether foreign or domestic elements publicly posture as if they are more interested than us in a peaceful settlement with our rebels. We are doing our level best. Of course with utmost due diligence,” he said.

Dureza expressed government’s  appreciation for Malaysia’s help in the peace process and says it ”respects and accepts their latest decision.’

“We appreciate the help of the Malaysians in our peace process and we respect and accept their latest decision. We hope that they will continue to support our peace and development efforts,” he said.

Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) said sectors who are alleged to blame government for its slow pace “have all the right and basis to do so as government should have the moral ascendancy in these negotiations being precisely the government.”

Miclat said “these sectors are not expecting government to be cavalier but to be consistent, unified, transparent and most of all, sincere. There are elements within government especially the panel who are so but there are more powerful ones who have no iota of an idea what is happening here, determining and deciding our fate.”

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) asked how Dureza could accept the Malaysian pull-out. “His job is to ensure that the negotiations step up towards peaceful resolution. Accepting such decision is like condemning the civilians in Mindanao  back to war and displacement.”

Last year, the government and MILF peace panels sought and were granted their request for the extension of the tour of duty of the IMT to another year, until August 31 this year. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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