Panel members share optimism, challenges re GPH-MILF peace process

PENANG, Malaysia (MindaNews/26 February) –  They did not speak in the same session at the 4th Consolidation for Peace Seminar here but representatives of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed optimism about the future of the talks even as they also acknowledged the challenges.

“Both the Philippine Government and the MILF have given primacy to the peace process. Power-sharing arrangement between the Central Government and a Bangsamoro Government is  negotiable issue,” Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies,  a member of the MILF peace panel, said of the prospects in his presentation February 22 on the “Challenges of Starting, Maintaining and Sustaining the Peace Process: The Bangsamoro Case” at the first day of the three-day COP4 seminar on  “Transforming the Conflicts and Supporting the Peacebuilders in Aceh, Mindanao, and Southern Thailand.”

Lingga cited the active participation of Malaysia, the third party facilitator, and the International Contact Group (ICG), composed of states and international NGOs, that assists the parties in arriving at a negotiated settlement by providing suggestions, inputs, creative ways forward in the negotiations and exerting “necessary leverage and assistance towards sustaining the trust and confidence of both sides at the negotiating table.”

The ICG comprises the governments of the United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and international non-government organizations – The Asia Foundation, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah.

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of the University of the Philippines, a member of the government peace panel, also cited the ICG and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in her presentation on February 23 on “The Role of International Actors in the GPH-MILF Peace Process.”

Ferrer said international support and participation in the GPH-MILF peace process have been substantial but noted that “domestic players continue to play the most crucial role in security issues,” citing the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group set up by both panels.
Domestic players also play a crucial role in “generating public support and providing substantial inputs” and in “forging and implementing an agreement” between the parties “and their various constituencies, other institutions in the country such as Congress, Local Government Units, Supreme Court,” she said.

“Thus, it is important for both parties to remain flexible and creative, continue to use mechanisms and practices that still work, but always adapting and creating even more avenues without the constraint of past practices that can be stifling,” she added.

Ferrer said the government is “pleased that the MILF has been very open-minded.”
“After all, this is the same MILF leadership that, together with the GPH panel before, created the ICG and the CPC (Civilian Protection Component) of the IMT at a time of difficulty where the need for creativity and new mechanisms were ardently felt.”

The CPC was set up in 2010 to monitor, verify and report on the parties’ commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law; and ensure constant care to protect the civilian population and properties against the dangers arising in armed conflict areas. The CPC, as agreed upon, will continue to function even if the IMT ceases to operate.
As of February 2011, the CPC members are Mindanao Peoples Caucus, Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Muslim Organization of Government Officials and the Non-Violent Peace Force.

Lingga acknowledged as challenges the “early resolution of the armed conflict; the Supreme Court decision against the initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain; spoilers; and the political will of the government leadership, whether it would “resolve the conflict or manage the conflict.

Earlier, at the informal exploratory talks on January 13 in Kuala Lumpur, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who was also present at the COP4 seminar but who opted to “just listen and learn,” (see other story) said, “six months up to one year timeline is enough to complete the process. But if the exercise is just to manage the conflict in Mindanao, as most if not all previous administrations did, the six-year term of office of President Benigno Aquino II  will not be enough. There will always be reasons to obstruct the negotiations, as there are people who prefer the war option to solve the problem in Mindanao.”

For Ferrer, the challenges include “balancing international and domestic components; fine-tuning roles and protocols; maintaining the initiative and flexibility on the part of the negotiating parties; passing the standards of representativeness and inclusivity; and reaching the substantive agreement.”

She said among the possible mechanisms to balance international and domestic components of the peace process could be a parallel mechanism similar to the ICG such as a Mindanao Contact Group that would provide a “measure of access to the formal talks for domestic groups.”

“The two panels have to discuss this,” she said.

The government panel has given assurance to the MILF that balancing “does not aim to diminish gains achieved by both parties in the peace negotiations, nor lack of appreciation of contributions.”

On the issue of  “representativeness and inclusivity,” Ferrer cited the limited participation of women even in the international mechanisms, although she acknowledged that the Terms of Reference for the CPC “is the first document that makes special mention of the welfare and interests of women by citing as a reference UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 which protect women and girls from all forms of violence, and promote their roles in peace-building, especially during and after conflict.”

She mentioned the deployment of an all-women CPC by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus.

She stressed the need for “consciousness of inclusivity” referring to gender, ethnicity/tribe, class, age, politics/ideology “in terms of beneficiaries, participants, leadership roles in development and other programs.”

Ferrer asked if a parallel mechanism similar to the ICG,  like a Mindanao Contact Group may be set up to allow for a “measure of access to the formal talks for domestic groups” but added the panels have to discuss this.
Before the government and MILF peace panels met for formal exploratory talks on February 9 and 10,  several peace groups in Mindanao and Manila had sent a letter to the two panels endorsing the idea of establishing a Mindanao Contact Group.

In their Joint Statement, the first ever under the Aquino administration, both panels expressed optimism one year is a reasonable period to come up with a politically negotiated settlement.

During that meeting, the MILF peace panel submitted a revised draft of the Comprehensive Compact” with the government peace panel asking for time to “review and submit its own proposals.”

The panels renewed the mandate of IMT and the AHJAG for another year, and agreed to meet again, “tentatively,” on March 29 and 30. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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