MIND da NEWS: For Government-MILF Talks to Succeed. By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 January) — That the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in an informal meeting in Kuala Lumpur in the presence of Malaysian third-person facilitator Datuk Othman, agreed to re-open their peace talks on February 9 and 10 with Datuk Othman still as the facilitator is good news.  With positive minds and mutual trust and confidence, the talks will succeed.

With reference to the Government’s complaints against Datuk Othman, take it from Shakespeare: “All’s well that ends well.” Government’s chief negotiator Dean Marvic Leonen said “they welcomed the solution offered by the Malaysian government regarding the issue of facilitation” without elaborating. The Aquino peace team erred in complaining based on the past Arroyo peace team’s allegation – taking unto itself the burden of proof. Was Othman really biased? They should see it for themselves with the International Contact Group as the witness.

The talks will not take off as smoothly as the peace advocates and the people in the conflict affected areas may wish. The Government and MILF negotiators will take some time to re-build confidence and positive minds. In reminiscence, the mutual confidence built in seven years was demolished with one stroke when the Supreme Court restrained the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain on August 4, 2008.

With the demolition, distrust – a formidable obstacle – set in. On the part of the Government negotiators, their principals and supporters, they distrust the MILF bid for a Bangsamoro associative or state-sub-state relation with the Philippines – that once it’s granted, the Moros will one day secede. On the part of the MILF, they distrust the sincerity of the Government. The only way to overcome this distrust is to negotiate with positive minds.  The same must be said of all stakeholders behind either side of the negotiation table.

The best approach to re-build trust and confidence is to re-start the talks from where it stopped under the Arroyo government and follow honestly the guideline set by the Court in its October 14, 2008 Decision. The understanding reached by the Government and MILF negotiators in the MOA-AD must be continued; the Arroyo Government and MILF have agreed on how to continue this understanding and the Court Decision has set the guideline.

The evident error on the part of the Government and its anti-Moro supporters in the wake of the MOA-AD Decision of the Court is that they only read the unconstitutional and illegal portions of the Decision and consider the MOA-AD as “dead” – null and void. They have refused to consider the “Summary” of the Decision which is the true guideline.

What does the Decision say?

The final ruling: “The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 is declared CONTRARY TO LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION.”

In Paragraph D of the Summary: “the MOA-AD is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001.  Hence, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.”

The talks can positively and creatively take off from these two vital paragraphs of the Decision as further elucidated by pertinent passages in the Decision with reference to the powers of the President to negotiate and the essence and process of amendment. The final ruling did not declare MOA-AD as “null and void” as the petitioners prayed for but only considered it “fatally defective”; it did not rule as unconstitutional the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Pace of 2001, the negotiation framework. In Paragraph D, instead of nullifying MOA-AD, the Court declared it “necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace”.

Whether by the layman’s or the lawyer’s English, the Court, in its Decision, exhorted the Government and MILF to continue negotiating according to the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001, underscored the significance of MOA-AD to the success of the negotiation, and suggested what was to be done.

The Arroyo Government and the MILF did exactly that in their July 29, 2009 Joint Statement and in their June 3, 2010 Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation. The path to the resumption of the talks – towards the Comprehensive Compact – has been laid out clearly.  With positive minds and trust in each other’s sincerity, the Government and MILF peace teams can sign a peace agreement by or before the end of 2013. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)

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