Dureza: best-case scenario in GRP-MNLF and GRP-MILF talks by March 2008

Dureza said once the review of the 1996 “Final Peace Agreement” by the Philippine government-MNLF-Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is completed, the provisions will be “downloaded into a bill to amend the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao law.” 

In the talks with the MILF, once an agreement is signed, “you have no other way but to download it to legislation.”

He told reporters after the dinner with European Union parliamentarians Wednesday that the two proposed legislations will then be consolidated into one bill. “Now you can both already converge (the provisions of both GRP-MNLF and GRP-MILF pacts) into a legal framework for the Bangsamoro.”

Dureza acknowledged it’s a race against time. “If we don’t do something now, in 2008, by 2009, everybody’s going to campaign already (for the Presidential and local polls).

But before the 2010 polls, however, the more immediate is the August 2008 elections in the ARMM since the campaign period for this election starts in June. The ARMM is the area for autonomy of the MNLF and the “core” of the MILF’s proposed “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.”

If a new law amends or supersedes the law creating the ARMM, it will have to be before the campaign period starts or the incumbent officials may end up on holdover capacity until a new law shall have been passed. Congress, however, has to pass a law to allow the incumbents to sit on holdover capacity.

The next GRP-MNLF-OIC Tripartite Meeting is scheduled on January 14 at a venue still to be announced. The government and MILF peace panels are set to meet anew in December to finalize the draft agreement on ancestral domain before signing the “comprehensive compact” when the formal talks resume “early next year.”

What’s going to happen to the ARMM? Dureza was asked.

The ARMM elections could be cancelled, he said. “The output here will be a law to provide the legal framework for the BJE. That means you cancel (the ARMM elections) because there will be no more elections because a bill, a law will be passed and you now have both of these guys forming a transition council and then they now craft their own charter. They have to craft their own charter. Sila magka-usap-usap. (They should talk). It’s their own call,” he said.

“But you’re assuming a best-case scenario here. What if the GRP and MNLF do not agree on the review and there are spoilers in the GRP-MILF agreement?” Dureza was asked.

Dureza was adamant. “There is no other way. ..It’s their own call eh,” he said.

“ Whether they like it or not, the convergence will take place in Congress,” he stressed.

Dureza expects a law hopefully by March.

March, however, is too close to January, which is when the GRP and MNLF meet with the OIC for the review.  June is also too close to the start of the campaign period. 

Congress goes on recess Christmas time, Holy Week and summer. It resumes sessions on the third Monday of July.

Dureza says this is the reason why this entails a huge “marketing work … for Congress, for the stakeholders to make it happen. Because if we don’t have something there by August, then we wait for another three years again” (for the new set of ARMM officials to complete their terms).

“Unless you go on holdover?” MindaNews asked Dureza.

A holdover scenario means Congress will have to pass a law allowing the incumbent ARMM officials sit on holdover capacity until a new law shall have been passed.

“That’s the second best scenario,”  he said.

ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan had earlier told MindaNews he will sacrifice his post for peace, if necessary, but is ready to seek reelection.

Since the signing of the “final peace agreement” in 1996, Ampatuan is the first non-MNLF member who has been elected governor. MNLF chair Nur Misuari served as ARMM governor from 1996 to 2001 while Parouk Hussin, MNLF foreign affairs secretary, served as governor from 2001 to 2005.

Misuari and Hussin served beyond their supposed three-year terms of office on holdover capacities because Congress failed to pass the law that would have expanded the ARMM and the other provisions of the 1996 agreement.

Ampatuan told MindaNews in a 2005 interview during the campaign for the ARMM elections that he supports the peace initiatives of President Arroyo and that he had told the leaders in the ARMM “that if I and my running mate are given the chance to lead the ARMM as governor and vice governor, respectively, if within our term

a peace agreement would be forged, in the name of unity and peace, in the name of the Bangsamoro, in the name of Islam, we are willing to sacrifice our posts for the Bangsamoro.”

“If we are elected, I as governor and my vice governor, we are willing to leave our posts for the sake of the majority, in the name of peace and unity and in the name of Bangsamoro and Islam,” he said.

Ampatuan, a member of the Philippine government delegation to the Tripartite Meeting in Jeddah early this month, told MindaNews he is aware of the possibility that their terms of office would be extended on holdover capacity because of the peace process. “But on the other hand, we are ready for our reelection,” he said, adding the governors of the ARMM provinces have expressed their support for him.

“Ganun pa man sa ngalan ng Bangsamoro, kung ang makakabuti, if ever, if ever, kaya nating isakripisyo ang posisyon natin” (But then, in the name of the Bangsamoro, if it will do good, if ever, if ever, we can sacrifice our posts,” he told MindaNews.

“Hanggang ngayon yun pa rin ang stand natin. Kung yan ang makakapag-resolve sa minimithi ng Bangsamoro, ba’t hindi. Malaking bagay na maging dahilan na magkaroon ng tunay na kapayapaan sa Mindanao” (Until now, that remains our stand. If that will resolve the aspirations of the Bangsamoro, why not. It’s a major thing to be the reason behind genuine peace in Mindanao), he said.

Dureza acknowledged that while he is talking about best-case scenario, he knows “it’s very difficult.”

“Optimist ra ko kaayo. (I am too much of an optimist). I have no other reason but to be an optimist,” he said.

In his recent visit in Sultan Kudarat province, Dureza narrated he was told “give us to the BJE” but he told them to wait since a plebiscite will be called “immediately.”

“ Oh but its’ going to come immediately. How can you experiment with a BJE and add more areas without consulting (the people), you’ll have another conflict.”

He said the law “that will be passed in March or thereabouts will provide the plebiscite mechanism also because you cannot fill in BJE with new areas unless you consult the people and ask them,” he said.

“If they vote yes, yes. If no, no. They (those who voted no) will become special intervention areas.

Dureza said if there is no new law by March 2008,  the incumbent ARMM officials will likely sit on holdover capacity. But during this period, he said, “let the council (transitional council involving both MNLF andMILF) start functioning.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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