MILF chair says peace talks should start from where panels stopped

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat. Maguindanao  (MindaNews/09 August) –  “We have to move forward and moving forward means moving from where we stopped,” Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said on the resumption of the peace talks with the Philippine government.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair. MindaNews photo by Froilan GallardoMurad told MindaNews before meeting with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP)  that they are happy President Benigno S. Aquino III has vowed to do something about the peace process with the MILF within his first 100 days but hopes “we do not start from scratch.”

Reacting to Ebrahim’s statement, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, told MindaNews by telephone,  “definitely we’re not going to start from scratch. We do not intend to start from scratch and we will do everything possible to achieve a just and lasting peace within the term of the President.”

“We are happy that at least in the first 100 days in office he has done something really good to the peace process,” Ebrahim said. He cited the appointment of Teresita Quintos-Deles as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

“But then we feel is there is some .. what we need is a really clear direction on how the new administration will go through the peace process with us,” he told MindaNews at the office of the MILF peace panel here.

“Despite their desire to continue peace talks with the MILF, they are giving us the impression they want to start from scratch and that is very disgusting,” Ebrahim said.

The government and MILF peace panels last met on June 3, 2010 when they signed in Kuala Lumpur a “Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations”  and the “Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of  the International Monitoring Team.”

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.”

In his proclamation 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 conflict, inclusive of the interests of all — may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.”

In his State of the Nation Address on July 26, Aquino said, in Pilipino: “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 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. We recognize the efforts of the MILF to discipline those within its ranks. We are hopeful that the negotiations will begin after Ramadan,” Aquino said.

Ebrahim said he hopes the President will not consider the conflict a mere “situation.”

“Heart of all Agreements”

He said all the agreements reached between the government and MILF peace panels are a product of hard negotiations for over a decade.

He referred to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-Ad)  as “the heart of all the agreements.”

The MOA-AD was initialed in July 2008 and its formal signing was scheduled a week later, August 5,  but a temporary restraining order was issued by the Supreme Court, preventing then peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia from signing the document.

The Supreme Court later declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional and contrary to law. But, it also acknowledged that the MOA-AD “is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001” and that “the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.”

Almost a year after the botched signing, the panels met on July 29, 2009 to “reframe the consensus points of the MOA-AD to re-start the peace talks and move it toward the Comprehensive Compact.”

On December 9, 2009, the two panels agreed to cut short the negotiation by exchanging draft agreements drawn up following a seven-item guideline: identity and citizenship; government and structure; security arrangement; wealth-sharing, natural resources and property rights; restorative justice and reconciliation; implementation arrangement; and independent monitoring.

The drafts exchanged in late January 2010, however, were poles apart.

Ebrahim said of the MOA-AD: “We are not going to sign it anymore, we are not going to renegotiate but we are going to reframe the consensus points in order to have the comprehensive compact (agreement). So let’s define the mode of action,” he said.

“What is important is the state of mind is reframing the consensus points, and since there was no agreement on how to reframe, then we start from there. Maybe we can look at the positions of both sides and see how they can be reconciled,” he said.

It is a “normal situation,” he said, “that the position of both parties can be quite far apart. But the essence of negotiation is to push it closer,” he said.

The government has named three members of the five-person panel: UP College of Law Dean Leonen, UP political science professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani.

The MILF on the other hand deactivated its peace panel. Ebrahim said the Central Committee decided to deactivate it since there was no longer any counterpart on the other side due to the change in administration.

He said they can immediately activate the panel.

Ramadan is no obstacle

He described the appointments of Leonen and company as a “positive action on the part of the President of the Philippines, for not appointing politicians with vested interests as they will just spoil the peace process.”

He said it would help the peace talks if the people negotiating are “people who have a really deep grasp of the problem of Mindanao.”

“We have several times had an opportunity to exchange views with Leonen, Ferrer and Bacani and these three as we observed, have a deeper grasp compared to other Filipinos, especially Filipinos outside Mindanao.”

He said the Central Committee will still meet on the re-activation of their panel. He said they will fill up the position of  new panel member “if there is a need to change.”

The deactivated MILF peace panel was composed of MILF information chief Mohagher Iqbal as panel chair, lawyers Datu Michael Mastura and Lanang Ali as senior panel members and Robert Maulana Alronto and Musib Buat, another lawyer.

Ebrahim said he welcomes the President’s announcement about the possible resumption of talks after Ramadan “although sincerely, we feel Ramadan is not an obstacle.”

He said it is alright to negotiate peace during the Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting,  but added the President probably said after Ramadan “maybe out of respect for Ramadan.”

Ramadan begins around August 12.

He said they are also awaiting the “remaining two slots of the (GRP) panel.” He said the panel composition will be likely presented to them through the facilitators.”

Ebrahim said he hopes it is clear that the conflict is “a sovereignty-based conflict, a political conflict between the Philippine government and Bangsamoro people” and not equated “to a mere social conflict.”

“This is not a conflict beween Christians and Muslims or Muslims and Lumads or Christians and Lumads, or Moro and Lumads. This is not a conflict of religion. Religion is not an issue here,” Ebrahim added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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