Malacanang: “we accept and respect Malaysia’s 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.

But Dureza’s press statement said 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 while 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 left 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,” said Dureza.

Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies said, the consensus points between the government and MILF peace panels on the issue of ancestral domain “were agreed upon almost three years now why is GRP still studying them? Three years is long enough to study these issues. The MILF is not asking anything new from what were agreed upon in the consensus points. Aside from this, the Malaysian back channeling got the government’s commitment to sign the draft Memorandum of Agreement (on ancestral domain). The GRP panel agreed on the consensus points and now it is changing its position? What do you call this if not double talk and deception?”

Lingga said that if the government is “really interested to resolve the problem, ten years have elapsed since the negotiations began and no agreement has been reached. How long will it take to exercise due diligence? Ten years?”

Amina Rasul, executive director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy said the government and MILF peace panels had broken the impasse last year on the ancestral domain agenda in Kuala Lumpur. “Both sides were happy to make the announcement. Wasn’t due diligence conducted before government agreed to the ancestral domain proposal last year? I am confused.”

The peace talks ended in an impasse in early September 2006 but went back on track in October 2006 with both sides optimistic they would sign the Ancestral Domain agreement before the yearend. But in December, the talks bogged down again as the MILF peace panel refused to meet with the government panel in KL, claiming the latter veered away from the consensus points in its draft of the Ancestral Domain agreement.”

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Consortium on Bangsamoro Civil Society, said, “ but haven’t both parties been very diligent and quite careful in dealing with the peace process? But when they reached almost signing a Memorandum of Agrement (on the Ancestral Domain), the government backtracked to the constitutional-based framework? The spoilers and provocateurs may not be happy with a self-determination-based formula. Such were the consensus points but many would be happy because the withdrawal of Malaysia can be a good news for the government to allow other facilitators to comein or to use their military might as in the past if the peace talks fail.”

But historian and lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel, dismissed Dureza’s statement. “Dureza is not the government chief negotiator. MILF does not give much credence to his pronouncements. He missed the chance when he was GRP panel chairman. His track record was marked by major snag like the 2/11 Buliok deadlock!”

Mastura was referring to the military operations launched against the MILF in Buliok, Pagalungan and Pikit on February 11, 2003, on the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, Eid’l Adha.

On Thursday, the Malaysian national news agency, Bernama, reported that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced Malaysia would withdraw “in phases” its peacekeeping troops in Mindanao starting May.

“A decision has been made on our presence there (Mindanao)… we cannot be there forever,” Najib told reporters at the 11th Defense Services Asia Exhibition and Conference, reported.

Najib said 21 peacekeepers would return to Malaysia initially.

That number represents more than half of Malaysia’s 41-man contingent. The IMT’s tour of duty ends August 31 this year.

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. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)