Gov’t peace panel chair says only three more issues to be resolved

Garcia initially hesitated to cite them, citing protocols of the peace negotiations but later identified “governance, resources and institutions,” as the three issues that are still being reviewed.

Garcia told a roundtable discussion on “The Malaysian Pull-out from the International Monitoring Team: Implications and Responses,” that on the issue of resources, the subject for review is “jurisdiction and control.”

On the issue of institutions, Garcia refered to “institutions that will be built under a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” and how this is being viewed by some in relation to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He declined to provide additional details.

But Datu Michael Mastura, senior member of the MILF peace panel, later told forum participants during the lunch break that what Garcia cited was practically the entire ancestral domain agenda.

The government and MILF had agreed to discuss only three major agenda items – security, relief and rehabilitation and ancestral domain. The latter is divided into four strands: concept, territory, resources and governance – all of which the government and MILF peace panels had already agreed upon.

In fact, before the talks were stalled anew in December 2007, the two parties were supposed to have finalized the draft of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Apparently to allay fears expressed by settlers, Mastura told the roundtable discussion that the MILF is not talking land tenure or land confiscation. “What we’re talking is very broad.”

But both panels expressed hope the moves could move forward. The talks stalled in December when government in its draft of the ancestral domain agreement, cited Constitutional provisions, a condition which at the start of the talks, was not invoked by the Philippine government based on a March 2001 “gentlemen’s agreement” between then MILF vice chair for military affairs Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and then Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita,” the signatories to the March 24, 2001 agreement to resume talks under the new Arroyo administration.

Mastura said President Arroyo and the Cabinet “cannot use (the Constitution) as an excuse,” as he cited the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland as an example.

“What the MILF wants to see is not posing the Constitutional issue as obstacles but letting go the negotiation, then after, you talk Constitutional because this is the way,” Mastura stressed, again citing the Good Friday Agreement, and even Kosovo, among others.

The Constitution “should not be made a condition sine qua non” to the resumption of the talks, he said.

“Negotiate. If the product of the negotiations can be accommodated … if it is reasonable…. and the only way is to change or amend the Constitution, then we will converge there…” Mastura said.

In the afternoon, a workshop on the impact of the pull-out of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) from Mindanao within one month from its departure to about a year later, yielded grim prospects ranging from fears of renewed hostilities to war, bombings and more mass evacuations.

The IMT’s tour of duty ends August 31 this year. Already, 29 Malaysians, including the Head of Mission, are returning to Malaysia on May 10.

The workshop participants were a multisectoral group with a considerable number of soldiers and technical committee members of the MILF peace panel.

But hope still springs eternal for peace as the workshop also yielded suggestions on how to cope with the grim scenarios, among them, by strengthening local ceasefire monitoring mechanisms, reducing “dependency on foreign intervention,” and coming up with our own peacekeeping force.

Brig. Gen. Rey Sealana, chair of the government peace panel in the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) earlier allayed fears of the vacuum that would be left behind by the departing Malaysian monitors, as he stressed the Joint CCCH with the MILF is working effectively on the ground to prevent clashes  and to preven clashes that had erupted, from escalating.

Fr. Roberto Layson asked “what is the guarantee” there will be no resurgence of hostilities between the government and the MILF and “who will guarantee?”

Atty. Camilo Montessa, Policy Adviser of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, the which co-organized the forum with the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, said the pull-out of the IMT should be viewed not only as a security issue but “more than” a security issue.

Montessa pointed out four scenarios in relation to the talks. Scenario 1 is the present situation: talks stalled. Scenario 2 is impasse or “no war, no peace.” Scenario 3 is still impasse: the President agrees to a new formula, MILF says no. Scenario 4 is breakthrough and this can happen if civil society groups – peace advocates, church, NGOs, etc.. help in bringing the two parties back to the negotiating table.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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