GMA to leave a “basic architecture” to ensure continuity of GRP-MILF talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 May) – When the Arroyo administration ends at noon of June 30, 2010, it will leave behind a “basic architecture” to ensure the “continuity of the talks under the administration of the newly elected President,” government peace panel chair Rafael Seguis said in a press statement dated 29 May.

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels are “expected to convene next week in Kuala Lumpur to continue their talks,” the press statement read.

Seguis said the peace talks have achieved considerable gains in the past few months. “The International Monitoring Team has been redeployed, and added to it the Civilian Protection Component. Both parties have agreed to ensure the return of the remaining internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their respective communities and places of origins,” he said.

“Most importantly, we have kept the peace, and have put in place measures to further protect civilians in conflict-affected areas and ensure economic development programs and livelihood opportunities continue to expand, for the benefit of all the peoples of the region,” he said.

Seguis issued the press statement in reaction to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal’s comment that the MILF is “disgusted” by the failure of the Arroyo administration to sign a peace agreement with them after nine years of talks.

“It is disgusting that after almost 10 years in office, the peace process was not completed during her term,” the Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted Iqbal as saying in a telephone interview.

Seguis noted that Iqbal’s comment is “understandable as it reflects the frustration of some parties” but “playing to the sidelines and imputing blame while delicate talks are ongoing are not helpful. Peacemaking is never easy, and the search for a political settlement to long-standing conflicts, such as that in Mindanao, requires continued focus, lots of compromises on both sides and tons of patience.”

The AFP report said Iqbal “singled out the collapse of a draft major agreement in 2008 that would have created a large autonomous area in Mindanao under their control” but Seguis said the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008 was aborted because it was judicially challenged and the Supreme Court granted the petition filed before it to stop the Philippine government from formally signing the already initialled MOA-AD. The MOA-AD was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was aborted for a reason. It was judicially challenged and subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court. In a vibrant and strong democracy like ours, it is not fair to put the blame on President Arroyo for an action which was made by an independent and co-equal branch of government. Ours is not a totalitarian government. We are governed by the rule of law and not of men. We need a political settlement,” Seguis said.

Ms Arroyo earlier this week vowed to continue her peace initiatives, particularly in Mindanao, after her term as President ends and her term as Representative of the second district of Pampanga begins.

“When I became President, I declared a policy of all-out peace in Mindanao. As President, I have fought every day in office to bring that peace to that great island. I will continue to do so until the last minute of my term as President and maybe even beyond. As Congresswoman I will file the bills that I feel are needed in order to bring just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” she said at the end of the two-day Roundtable Dialogue with International Negotiators jointly sponsored by Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue at the New World Hotel in Makati City.

Arroyo said that as representative, she will “file a bill in Congress calling for a policy review towards an enhanced autonomy in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to fully realize the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.”

“It will be an enhanced autonomy, that’s one very basic bill that we will file,” the President said in a media interview after the event.

“Enhanced autonomy” is what government offered the MILF in January. It was the third time the Philippine government offered “enhanced autonomy” to the MILF – the first in late May 2000, under the Estrada administration, in the midst of the “all out war;” the second and third under the Arroyo administration on the eve of the war in February 2003 and in the latest exchange of peace drafts in Kuala Lumpur in January 2010.

The MILF had repeatedly rejected the offer, claiming the ARMM is an experiment that has failed.
“Mindanao is poised for peace. Whether we achieve it in the near future remains to be seen. For sure, there is more work to be done, but the efforts we have made over the last nine years have brought us closer to achieving long-term peace in the region,” Arroyo said.

“What is needed now is recognition by all parties that a political settlement will transform the peace on the ground to a permanent and just peace, and lead to better economic prospects and a brighter future for the people of Mindanao, That is the best result for everyone,” she said.

Seguis enumerated the “breakthrough agreements” with the MILF signed during the Arroyo Administration, notably the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, the Implementing Guidelines of both the Security and Relief, Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Aspects of the Tripoli Agreement, the Term of Reference of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), the Framework Agreement on the International Contact Group, the Agreement on the Protection of Civilian Component of the IMT and the Implementing Guidelines on the Clearing of Land Mines and Unexploded Ordnance in Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao. (MindaNews)

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