Gov't asks IMT to stay beyond Dec. 9; MILF says reckon one year from Feb. 28

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/02 December) — The Department of Foreign Affairs  has requested country-members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) to extend the tour of duty of their personnel in Mindanao for three more months from December 9, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said.

“We believe that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will support the request for the three-month extension of the IMT’s term,” said Deles in a press release issued by her office.

“Reciprocity and a stable environment on the ground make the environment conducive to resuming the talks, which we expect to start very soon,” the DFA’s notes verbales to the embassies of Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Japan. The IMT is led by Malaysia, which is also the talks facilitator.

The IMT has been monitoring the ceasefire, socio-economic and humanitarian agreements between the government and the MILF since 2004. Its current one-year mandate is covered by the Terms of Reference signed by the two parties in Kuala Lumpur on December 9, 2009.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews that at the panel-level, they are not thinking of extension but a correct reckoning of  the year-long mandate. He said his panel reckons it not from December 9, 2009 but from February 28, 2010, when IMT-5 or the 5th batch of IMT was deployed.

“Hindi pa siya mag-lapse” (The mandate will not lapse) until February 28, 2010, he said.

Iqbal explained this is his panel’s position on the matter but added this “can be overturned” by the MILF Central Committee.” The Central Committee, he said, will issue its statement tomorrow. Iqbal, also MILF Information Chief,  is a member of the Central Committee.

Protocol

Iqbal also noted that the protocol on seeking extension of the IMT mandate should be observed, which means both parties must sit down to make the formal request and not seek extension “by merely sending a letter to the embassies.”

Under the Terms of Reference with the IMT, the tour of duty can be extended if both government and the MILF peace panels request it.

At the height of renewed hostilities following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008, the panels held a “2 plus 1” (chair and panel member plus one  from secretariat) executive session in Kuala Lumpur, to seek extension of the IM’s mandate for three months or from September 1, 2008 to November 30, 2008.

The Philippine government tried to seek extension for another three months or until February 28, 2009 and the MILF said “we will not propose but we will not also oppose” but the panels were not able to meet before the lapse of the mandate on November 28 , 2008 because government dissolved its peace panel on Sepember 3, 2008.

Reckoned from?

In his presentation at the 6th Mindanao Media Summit in Davao City early last month, Maj. Gen. Datuk Baharom Bin Hamzah, IMT-5 Head of Mission, reckoned the IMT-5 history to February 28, 2010.

He said IMT-1 was from October 10, 2004 to September 10, 2005; IMT-2 from September 11, 2005 to September 8, 2006; IMT-3 from September 9, 2006 to September 3, 2007;  IMT-4 from September 4, 2007 to 30 November 2008, inclusive of the extension.
Datuk told reporters the IMT-5 is composed of 39 members, 20 from Malaysia, 15 from Brunei, three from Libya and one from Japan who is focusing on development aspects. Of the 39 members, 33 are soldiers, six are civilians.
IMT-5 is the fifth contingent  deployed to Mindanao since 2004 by the governments of Malaysia, Libya, Brunei and Japan, to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and MILF “in order to create a conducive environment for peace negotiation and development initiatives in the conflict-affected area of Mindanao.”
In May 2010, the Civilian Protection Component was added as another arm of the IMT.
In his presentation at the media summit, Datuk said IMT-5 has recorded only three armed skirmishes between the Philippine government and the MILF from January to October this year, a significant drop from 110 for the same period in 2009.
A total of 116 armed skirmishes were recorded from January to December 2009, and 222 from March to December 2008. In 2008, the highest recorded incidence was 77 in August, the month the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order barring the government peace panel from signing on August 5 that year, the already initialed MOA-AD.
The significant drop in armed skirmishes was noted in a March 2008 to October 2010 graph he presented at the media summit last month.
The European Union and Norway have accepted the invitations sent by the two parties early this year to join the IMT. The EU will serve as the lead monitor of the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development agreement. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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