OPAPP, MILF to grace first national solidarity conference for Mindanao

MANILA (MPC/12 August) — With the Aquino government’s firm commitment to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao, some 100 participants will converge at the University of the Philippines in Diliman today for the first ever National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao (NSCM), an activity that aims to gather wider support for a negotiated political settlement of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), a grassroots-based organization that facilitates community participation in the GRP-MILF peace talks, the NSCM will cap the week-long peace lobby mission dubbed as “Conversations with Mindanao Grassroots” which started Monday here in Manila.

The delegation is composed of internally displaced persons from Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur including indigenous peoples from the Davao, Cotabato, and Bukidnon regions.

The peace mission met with Sec.Voltaire Gazmin of the Department of National Defense, Ombudsman Mercedita Gutierrez, lawyer Roque Agton of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Sec. Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Sec. Dinky Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Norwegian Embassy, and member-states of the European Union.

Lobby initiatives were also made at the House of Representatives on the first day of the peace mission. The delegation met with Rep. Nancy Catamco, first district North Cotabato, Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas, Davao del Sur,  Rep. Karlo Nograles, first district Davao City, Rep. Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao of Sarangani, Rep. Pedro Acharon, first district South Cotabato, Rep. Jesus Sacdalan, second district North Cotabato, Rep. Jose Zubiri of Bukidnon, and other Mindanao legislators.

NSCM speakers include Dean Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, and currently chief negotiator of the GRP Peace Panel, Mohaqer Iqbal, former chief negotiator of the MILF Peace Panel, BGen. Datuk Ibrahim bin Hamza, the Head of Mission of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), H.E. Ambassador Alistair MacDonald of the Delegation of the European Commission to the Philippines, and Badria Abas, an IDP from Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

This as MPC criticized a news report titled “MILF girds for war; Aquino braces for talks,” published in one of the major dailies.
The article quoted Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Ebrahim Murad to have allegedly said they have “amassed arsenals with help from military gunrunners and warned he was prepared for war if peace talks did not resume.”

MPC, which is on its fourth day lobby mission in Manila, in describing the article as “war trending,” pointed out that “the headline of the article did reflect or was not substantiated
in the story.”

Fr. Teresito Suganob, the vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi and member of the lobby mission, said that Murad’s statement that said they were “prepared for war if peace talks did not resume” clearly manifested that the revolutionary group “considers war only as a last recourse and stresses further that peace is their priority.”

In an interview, Fr. Suganob said that a responsible journalist, especially if he has witnessed the wreckages of the war in Mindanao “could not have simply missed a glaring fact that everyone—the
government, the MILF and the people affected by the war—are all gearing for peace.”

The priest also pointed out that “one very important quote that the report missed was the fact that Murad repeatedly said stressed that the talks have to move forward from where it stopped and I think that was the story there. But how could we have missed that?”

“All revolutionaries are for peace. They are revolting because in the end they want peace to reign and this fact reverberated in Murad’s words” during the FOCAP press conference at Camp Darapanan, said Fr. Suganob.

He added that the story came out when grassroots leaders from Mindanao were also having a lobby mission in Manila where they met cabinet officials to contribute their inputs to the peace process.

“We were encouraged by President Aquino’s pronouncement who said inhis inaugural address that he was determined to find a politically negotiated settlement with the MILF. His inaugural addressed was
reinforced with his order for the government peace panel to start the resumption of the talks after Ramadhan,” the priest said as he emphasized that the report could have taken the government’s peace
track as a context of the story.

“To top it all, the representatives of the grassroots, the bakwit who are the ones greatly affected by war, are now in Manila, trying their best, exerting so much efforts, energies and resources to contribute
and help ensure that the peace talk proceeds as envisioned by the President,” the lobby member said.

The news article has also become a subject of criticisms by some veteran Mindanao journalists, one of them saying “I think the government is serious about the peace talks, so is the MILF
leadership, but the story was mis-reported.”

Fr. Suganob said that if there is anyone who is interested in peace, it is the civilians of Mindanao who are the ones suffering the brunt of the war and “that is the reason why we are here in Manila to also
show to government officials that the government’s peace overtures enjoy the support of the grassroots and should in fact be supported by everyone.”

He likewise believes that even the MILF is equally interested in peace because “it is not only the MILF combatants that are affected and tired of the war but also their very own communities.”

At a briefing on the situation of indigenous peoples and security situation in Mindanao that the lobby group tendered for 13 members of the diplomatic community here, Atty. Mary Ann Arnado commented that she could see the hands of the hawks in the news item, citing a trend of “movements by peace saboteurs that usually come at a time when encouraging developments are happening in the peace process.”

Among those who attended the diplomatic briefing are representatives from the embassies of Greece, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Spain, France, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, European Union, Italy and the Czech Republic who all expressed to the peace process and the rehabilitation efforts for war affected communities.

Fr. Suganob, in relation to the news article, said “it is not only the Mindanao community and the entire country that are pushing and helping the peace process succeed but also the international community.” (Rick R. Flores is the communications specialist of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus).

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