Gov’t, MILF reset talks for March

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 February) — The Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels have postponed to March their February 18 to 19 meeting in Kuala Lumpur to review the drafts on the comprehensive peace settlement that they exchanged on January 27.

The postponement was upon the request of the MILF panel and also in deference to the Mindanao visit of the reconnaissance team of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) on February 18 to 20.

Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak, the Malaysian facilitator announced on January27 that the IMT will be deployed back in Mindanao before end of February. The IMT left on November 30, 2008, when its mandate lapsed following the collapse of the talks after the aborted August 5 signing of the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel said the government’s draft peace agreement “essentially offers the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

“This offer was done in April of 2000 (sic) and repeated in February of 2003, just before the attack on the MILF Buliok complex in North Cotabato,” Iqbal said.

The two panels were supposed to meet on January 28 but the MILF opted against it. The panels instead met separately with the International Contact Group (ICG) which was represented by Hitoshi Ozawa and Yoshihisa Ishikawa, Minister and First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in Manila respectively (Japan); Ambassador Boyd McCleary, British High Commissioner to Malaysia and Mr. Christopher Wright, Second Secretary, British Embassy in Manila (UK); and Yasin Temizkan, Chargé d’ Affaires, Embassy of Turkey in Kuala Lumpur (Turkey).

The INGO (international non-governmental organization) members who were present were David Gorman, Mediation Adviser of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC); Dr. Steven Rood, country director for the Philippines of The Asia Foundation (TAF); Herizal Hazri, Program Director in Malaysia; Thomas Parks, Regional Director for Governance and Conflict based in Thailand; Ms Cynthia Petrigh, Advisor on Peace Process, Conciliation Resources (CR, London); and Dr. Din Syamsuddin, President of Muhammadiyah accompanied by an adviser, Surwandono.

The MILF told the ICG that the government draft does not conform to the basic principles set forth on July 29, 2009, when the panels ended the year-long impasse in their talks.

The two panels then agreed on the following:
– Mutual effort to sustain both the Government’s Suspension of Military Offensives (SOMO) and the MILF’s Suspension of Military Actions (SOMA);
– Acknowledgment of MOA-AD as an unsigned and yet initialed document, and commitment by both parties to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement;
– Work for a framework agreement on the establishment of a mechanism on the protection of non-combatants in armed conflict;
– Work for a framework agreement on the establishment of International Contact Group (ICG) of groups of states and non-state organizations to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process.
Iqbal said they explained to the ICG that the government’s draft is on the ARMM which, the MILF stressed, is a “failed forumula.”

Though not explaining what kind of political package it was offering the MILF, Seguis in his January 28 press statement said the government’s draft peace agreement is “compliant with the Constitution and pertinent laws” and is “also guided by the Supreme Court decision on the aborted MOA-AD.”

Seguis said the government’s 2010 draft peace agreement “mostly identities executive ‘doables’, proposed legislative actions to strengthen regional autonomy, and openness to hear MILF proposals for constitutional change.”

“The GRP draft is clear that discussions that will concern legislative and other policy actions will still be proposals which would be submitted to Congress,” he said.

“There is no mention of any ‘Bangsa Moro’ sub-state in our draft,” Seguis added.

Iqbal told MindaNews the MILF has proposed a “State – Sub-state relationship” that would require amending the 1987 Constitution’s Article 10, Section 15-21.

Sections 15 to 21 of Article 10 on Local Government, focus on the autonomous regions. In the 1987 Constitution, these sections provided for the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras but only the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao has been created. The Cordillera region has remained an administrative region.

The arrangement, Iqbal said, would be “similar to Sarawak” in Malaysia. Malaysia has a federal form of government.

But lawyer and peace advocate Soliman Santos, author of “The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process,” told MindaNews , “we can amend the Constitution’s provisions on ARMM only and place in the amendments something like the Sarawak sub-state arrangement.”

Santos said the Constitution “can be changed in any way as long as the process is proper” and that there is no need to shift to a federal system of government “wholesale, across-the-board (nation).”

He said what can be amended are “provisions for a special region as was done with ARMM (& CAR) but this time of higher degree of self-determination like the Sarawak sub-state arrangement if that is agreed upon. This would already place it on the same constitutional level as the rest of the Constitution, and therefore obviates any issues of unconstitutionality.”

Santos, whose masteral law thesis at the University of Melbourne in 1999 was on the “Constitutional Accommodation of a Moro Islamic System in the Philippines,” said there are several ways of adopting a “State- Sub-state relationship” in the Philippines: by amending the autonomous region provisions of the Constitution or by “appending to or incorporating by reference in the Constitution whatever comprehensive peace agreement is reached” between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Still another option, Santos said, is to craft a “new organic act for the ARMM or whatever new name, enacted by Congress acting as a constituent assembly, and therefore that organic act will be on the same level as the Constitution.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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