MILF on BUC-spearheaded community consultations: "we will not prejudge them"

In an earlier e-mailed note in reaction to a MindaNews report on the BUC-spearheaded community consultations and dialogue dubbed Konsult Mindanaw! ,  a research project that will involve 300 focus group discussions (FGDs) in various parts of Mindanao and southern Palawan in April and May this year, Iqbal said “we are not opposed” but maintained that consultations “must not take the place of the negotiation.”

 

“The MILF is not opposed to involving the masses of people especially those in the conflict-affected areas on issues that have direct effects on them. After all, the pangs of war are more felt by the ordinary man but ironically the fruits of peace are more favorable to the elites of society. This is the essence of the article published in luwaran (luwaran.com, the website of the MILF) today calling on the masses especially the migrants not to allow the oligarchs to decide for them,” Iqbal told MindaNews in an e-mailed note.

”But this as it may, the consultation must not take the place of the negotiation, because negotiation is actually an exercise of right to self determination by the Moros through the  leadership of the MILF. Whatever is the result of this negotiation is essentially the expression of the wishes of our people,” he said.

The FGDs will be conducted in eight regional groupings – Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao, Caraga, Central Mindanao, Socsargen, Northeast Mindanao, Lanao del Norte and Outside Mindanao.

An estimated 6,000 participants are expected to participate in the FGDs, according to Konsult Mindanaw! project team leader, Fr. Albert Alejo.

The BUC last year responded to President Arroyo’s invitation for the conduct of  “authentic community dialogues” following the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD)  and tapped the academe to design the community consultations and dialogues.

An 18-person Design  Committee on Community Dialogue comprising an inter-faith representation  from Mindanao’s academic community, the Ulama League of the Philippines an
d representatives from the Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) crafted the research

BUC co-convenor Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla announced to the Assembly that The Asia Foundation and Australian Aid for International Development (AusAID), have “signified immediate support” for the project.

In his e-mailed note, Iqbal also expressed concern that the consultation “should not be at the behest of the government.”

“If the groups undertaking consultation are getting direct or indirect aid from the government, then both the process and result are suspect,” he said. 

Iqbal’s concerns, however, were also concerns raised by the research team itself.

According to the Konsult Mindanaw! primer, copies of which were released at the BUC Assembly on Thursday, the school-based researchers “expressed apprehension about the project” when first consulted by the BUC.

“First, if the consultation is too much identified with Malacanang, then some sectors and communities, critical of the administration, might not welcome it. Secondly, if the consultation is limited to checking the reactions of the people in the MOA-AD, then those who are predisposed to oppose the MOA-AD might not cooperate. And thirdly, if the consultation is dominated by Christians, then it might generate suspicion of biases,” the primer said.

It also noted that the apprehensions expressed “almost coincided with the very timely press release of the MILF” on November 12, 008 where it warned both Muslim and Christian clerics against being partisan.

In a statement, Khaled Musa, MILF committee on information deputy chair, said  consultations will not be credible “if they will be using government money or other resources, or receive instructions from the government.” He said the MILF questioned the government’s decision in using religious personalities in conflict resolution, saying the armed conflict in Mindanao is not about the clash of religions but clearly the offshoot of  “greed, hatred and mistrust” for the Bangsamoro people.

Reminded that Archbishop Capalla had announced that TAF and AusAID will fund the project, Iqbal replied in an SMS to MindaNews early evening of February 6: “yes, but (the BUC) already received funds from the government before.”

Iqbal, however, added, “anyway, we will not prejudge them. Their output will speak for their work.”

In his earlier e-mailed note,  Iqbal  asked, “will not the result, if contrary to MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) be used by the government against the MILF? We do not want the people to be used in the counter-insurgency approach of the government.”

But Iqbal ended his note by saying he has “the highest regard for those named mentioned in the MindaNews report as forerunners of the project. I just want to sound out my concern.”

The Konsult Mindanaw! primer said the research team committed to support the project despite their apprehensions,  but “offered some preconditions.”

“First, they wanted assurance that the design and actual conduct of the consultations must follow the demands of scientific rigor, transparency, and fairness. Second, they asserted that the project should be financed by independent sources. Third, the consultation design should take seriously the gains and insights of the MOA-AD, while at the same time generating new ideas for the formal peace talks and for the broader peace process. And fourth, it should maximize the participation of diverse scholars and field practitioners, coming from different religious and cultural traditions.”

The BUC agreed with the researchers’ proposal and its 35th General Assembly in Jolo, Sulu in November, said: “we will take an active role in promoting community and sectoral dialogues to expand the constituency of peace beyond, but not neglectful of, the formal peace talks.”

“We are tapping the resources of our social, religious and academic institutions to help in assessing people’s perception of our situation, in drawing out a common vision of peace, in enriching peace education and generating new ideas on the broader peace process… We shall do this with utmost fairness and transparency,” it said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)