P-Noy hopes peace nego with MILF to start after Ramadan; MILF says “okay even during Ramadan”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 July) –   Lasting peace can be achieved only through “honest dialogue,” President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) today where he expressed hopes that peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will begin after Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.

Ramadan this year begins around August 12 and will end a month later.

The MILF immediately welcomed the President’s statement. “It’s a welcome development. I hope the talks are real problem-solving exercise,” Mohagher Iqbal, MILF information chief and former MILF peace panel chair, told MindaNews.

Iqbal even added that peace negotiations would be “okay even during Ramadan” but admitted the MILF has yet to organize its new peace panel.

The government itself has yet to name the four members of the panel Dean Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines College of Law will head.

Aquino cited two obstacles on the road to peace: “the situation in Mindanao and the continued revolt of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front).”

“Tungkol sa situwasyon sa Mindanao: Hindi po nagbabago ang ating pananaw. Mararating lamang ang kapayapaan at katahimikan kung mag-uusap ang lahat ng apektado: Moro, Lumad, at Kristiyano. Inatasan na natin si Dean Marvic Leonen na mangasiwa sa ginagawa nating pakikipag-usap sa MILF,” (Our view has not changed when it comes to the situation in Mindanao. We will only achieve lasting peace if all stakeholders engage in an honest dialogue: may they be Moro, Lumad, or Christian. We have asked Dean Marvic Leonen to head our efforts to talk to the MILF), he said.

In his inaugural speech on June 30, President Aquino said his government “will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of Mindanao. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.”

Leonen is a constitutional law expert as well as an expert on ancestral domain issues of the Lumad (indigenous peoples) and the Moro.

“Iiwasan natin ang mga pagkakamaling nangyari sa nakaraang administrasyon, kung saan binulaga na lang ang mga mamamayan ng Mindanao. Hindi tayo puwedeng magbulag-bulagan sa mga dudang may kulay ng pulitika ang proseso, at hindi ang kapakanan ng taumbayan ang tanging interes,” (We will learn from the mistakes of the past administration, that suddenly announced an agreement reached without consultations from all concerned. We are not blind to the fact that it was done with political motivation, and that the interest behind it was not that of the people), he said.

He also acknowledged the efforts of the MILF to discipline its ranks. “Kinikilala natin ang mga hakbang na ginagawa ng MILF sa pamamagitan ng pagdidisplina sa kanilang hanay” (We recognize the efforts of the MILF to discipline those within its ranks).

But to the communist rebels, President Aquino asked: “handa na ba kayong maglaan ng kongkretong mungkahi, sa halip na pawang batikos lamang?” (are you prepared to put forth concrete solutions rather than pure criticism and finger-pointing?).

“Kung kapayapaan din ang hangad ninyo, handa po kami sa malawakang tigil-putukan. Kayo po ba a handa din? Mag-usap tayo. Mahirap magsimula ang usapan habang mayroon pang amoy ng pulbura sa hangin. Nananawagan ako: huwag po natin hayaang masayang ang napakagandang pagkakataong ito upang magtipon sa ilalim ng iisang adhikain.” (If it is peace you truly desire, then we are ready for an immediate cease-fire. Let us go back to the table and begin talking again.  It is difficult to begin discussions in earnest if the smell of gun powder still hangs in the air. I call on everyone concerned not to waste a good opportunity to rally behind our common aspiration for peace.”

“Our foundation for growth is peace. We will continue to be shackled by poverty if the crossfire persists,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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