UPDATED: GRP, MILF sign “Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations"

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 June) – The Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended nine years of peace negotiations under the Arroyo administration with the signing of a “Declaration of Continutiy for Peace Negotiations” and the “Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of the International Monitoring Team” shortly after noon today in Kuala Lumpur.

“Yes , we had a breakthrough! We have just signed the Declaration of Continuity of the Negotiations between GRP and MILF,” government peace panel chair Rafael Seguis, also Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, told MindaNews in a text message.

“We signed a Declaration plus terms of reference of the humanitarian component of the International Monitoring Team,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said.

“Today, we put closure to this stage of the peace negotiations with a clear statement by both Parties that we will preserve our gains and accomplishments, and work our best for the continuation of the talks. We give honor to our past, and anticipate the future with great hope,” Seguis said in a press release issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Seguis added that the Declaration, which he said will provide a smooth transition to the next administration, is a “retrospective affirmation of our accomplishments and a recapitulation of our past discussions as we toiled to come up with an agreement.”

Difficult

“The next administration will benefit from the continuity of the peace process,” Iqbal told MindaNews in a telephone interview.

Iqbal said they cannot imagine the talks with the next administration starting “from Ground Zero.”

“We cannot start from Ground Zero,” he said as he repeated the gains in the nine-year peace negotiations with the Arroyo administration.

But he acknowledged the discussions were “mahirap” (difficult).

He said there were “some position” of government that were unacceptable to the MILF but with the facilitation of Datu Othman bin Razak, some compromises were made.

He cited as example the use in the draft, of “GRP and MILF peace panels” as the parties to the agreement. “We argued it is not the panels but the Philippine government and the MILF that are the parties.”

The parties, through the panels, “decided to embody the results of their work” in a two-page 14-paragraph which it called the “Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”

President-elect Benigno Aquino had said in September 2009 that the first thing he would do for Mindanao “has to be on the peace aspect.”

“Everything rides on the idea that there is an attainment of peace otherwise no intervention will work to any good,” Aquino said.

Acknowledging that the pitfalls in the peace process between the government and the MILF are “legion,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo wrote a six-point “unsolicited advice” for the government peace panel under the Aquino administration, the first of which is to “be open to the positive gains of previous negotiations and do not start from ground zero.”

Consensus Points

The Declaration lists six points of consensus on an Interim Agreement ”with a view of moving towards the Comprehensive Compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement.”

The six points are

– “new formulas that permanently respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for just peace, freedom founded on parity of esteem, equal treatment for their identity, ethos, and rights and for the Bangsamoro as a whole to exercise self-governance on the basis of consent in accordance to an agreed framework which shall be negotiated and adopted by the Parties;

– “in good faith, building on prior consensus points achieved, these negotiations and their results will proceed on the basis of consent and courses of action free of any imposition in order to provide the parties definitive commitment to their success for peace settlement;

– “the ultimate goals of the talks is to consider new modalities to end the armed hostilities with responsibility to protect and for human security, in addition to resolve the legitimate grievances and claims for the people of Moro ancestry and origin;

– “in reframing the consensus points on Ancestral Domain, respect the existing property and community rights, taking into account in particular the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

– “as a general principle, indigenous peoples who originally inhabit particular constituent units shall receive protection and enjoy equal rights similar to those enjoyed by the Moro’s taking into account in addition to economic and geographical criteria, their individual and communal property rights, cultural integrity, customary beliefs, historical and community traditions;

– “Agreed upon texts and signed instruments on the cessation of hostilities and security agreements guidelines and development initiatives and rehabilitation guidelines to be subsequently incorporated in a comprehensive text of the compact agreement.”

Until concluded

“The Parties met under an atmosphere of cordiality and candor, determined to continue engaging with each other in the GRP-MILF Peace process until they finally conclude and reach a comprehensive compact,” the Declaration said.

Iqbal, however, noted some discussions were “heated.”

The parties also agreed to include the Terms of Reference of the Civilian Protection Component of the IMT and the Implementing Guidelines of the IMT and the Implementing Guidelines of the project on the Clearing of Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance signed on May 5 as “part of the overall gains since 1997 related to their determination to build on previous achievements and intended to move the GRP-MILF Peace Process forward into the next steps to bring about a political settlement.”

The parties also welcomed the participation of the European Union (EU) as the coordinator of the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of the IMT and accepted the guidelines proposed by the EU, as it also welcomed Norway in the IMT’s security component.

The government and MILF peace panels started formal peace negotiations in 1997, under the Ramos administration. The Estrada administration that succeeded it waged an “all out war” against the MILF in 2000. When Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to the Presidency following the impeachment of Estrada, she vowed “all out peace.”

Nine years of peace talks and two wars (2003 and 2008) later, the negotiations ended with a “Declaration of Continuity of Negotiations.”

The parties initialled the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008, the last of the three-agenda items before discussing the comprehensive political settlement but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on August 4, barring the government negotiators from formally signing the agreement the next day.

The government dissolved the peace panel then led by retired general Rodolfo Garcia, on September 3, 2008.

On October 14, 2008, the Supreme Court by a vote of 8-7, ruled as unconstitutional the initialed MOA-AD but added that “surely, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one will be drawn up to carry out the Ancestral Domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, in another or in any form, which could contain similar or significantly drastic provisions.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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