Civil society on GPH-MILF agreement on principles: “let us be vigilant and do a devil watch”

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/26 April) –  “Should we celebrate or just be hopeful?”  Amina Rasul, President of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy (PCID) asked in a Mindanao e-group about the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012” that the two peace panels signed Tuesday at the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel here.

Guiamel Alim, executive director of Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), says “it is too early to rejoice but we can also celebrate this small victory and milestone in the peace talks.”

“The substantive talks are yet to start. And they say, ‘the devil is in the details.’ Our role then to drive away the devils. Let us be vigilant and do a devil watch. The series of talks which at times were marred by prejudices and no-confidence, proved that talking to each other produced good results than talking about each other,” Alim said.

Historian Rudy Rodil, a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) viewed the signing as “a miracle.”

“The two panels have risen above the gloom of the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain of August 2008). It took a while but that is not important now. I say PADAYON!” (Move on).

For Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, the signing was a “refreshing breakthrough after long months of negotiations.”

“Congratulations to the peace panels! The decision points on principles clearly present the foundations and basic layout for a comprehensive peace agreement.  I note with great interest item no.10(f) on the ‘right to seek constitutional change by peaceful means’ as this is definitely part of the strategic direction to take after the signing. I call upon all political leaders and the all sectors of society, especially the church and business, to lend the necessary support to the parties as they have finally reached the point of no return in the talks.”

‘Thwart attempts to derail’

In a statement, the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a coalition of seven peace groups in Mindanao,  lauded the “significant milestone” and described the “Decision Points on Principles” as “substantial breakthroughs” that should pave the way for both parties to craft a peace agreement “anchored on the legitimate claims and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people as well as on the integrity of the Filipino nation (or Philippine state.”

It noted that since the list of agreed principles does not preclude future agreements on other key points, MPW “enjoins the GPH and MILF to further cement the foundation of the peace negotiation and its outcome by recognizing and manifestly expressing the Right to Self-Determination as the cornerstone for peace in Mindanao.”

It urged the public to “echo the spirit of compromise shown by the GPH and MILF in every home and workplace. We urge every citizen to voice support toward peace and mobilize in their thousands, nay millions, to work for peace by defending these important gains of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations. We further enjoin the GPH and the MILF to stand firm against cynics, naysayers and spoilers of this breakthrough among and outside their ranks and for our people to thwart attempts to derail this step that brings us closer to peace.”

For veteran journalist and MindaNews columnist Patricio Diaz,  former editor of the Cotabato City-based Mindanao Cross and later Mindanao Kris and author of several books on the Moro struggle for self-determination, the agreement is “basically the MILF Draft Comprehensive Agreement” and added that if the negotiation starting next month “would take up the MILF Draft provision by provision the negotiation will be faster –focusing on contentious issues.”

Diaz also noted an “implication in Leonen’s opening and post-signing statements of an entirely new negotiation based on the ‘Decision Points.’ This will take time. It took almost four years to agree on the MOA-AD.”
He said the agreement is “exactly just that: principles to guide the negotiation starting from the 28th Exploratory Talks. How the ten principles will be used as ‘guides’ is still to be seen. If they will guide the Parties in refining the MILF Draft Comprehensive Compact –since the ten points are basically the Draft – a final agreement may be signed soon. But, if they will be the basis of an entirely new negotiation seeking the convergence of the MILF Draft and Government’s “3 in 1 Formula”, the signing of a final agreement may take much longer.

The signing on April 24 was done during the 27th Exploratory Talks – the 27th since peace talks resumed after the 2003 all-out war but the eight under the Aquino administration.

‘Virtual watershed’

For Judge Soliman Santos, who has also written several books on the Bangsamoro peace processes, “Paragraph 2 is the most significant consensus point substance-wise. It indicates or lays the ground for a real breakthrough of  ‘a new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM’ that breaks through/away from the ‘unacceptable status quo.’ The only logical direction of this is a qualitatively higher form of self-determination/self-governance than the level of the ARMM, which is a constitutionally mandated level, not just a RA 9054 level.”

Jesus Dureza, former GPH panel chair and former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process under the Arroyo administration said the agreement signed by the two panels on Tuesday is a “virtual watershed.”

“How to make it cascade  is crucial.  It’s  also a roadmap that everyone henceforth must traverse together. How  the other stakeholders will come around and converge  will determine the final trajectory,” he said.

But Dureza also cautioned that “despite the euphoria it truly deserves, the framework agreement is still a long way off from the final peace agreement.  But believe me, it can be done. More than ever, the  GPH and MILF panels now need everyone’s support to make it happen,” adding that negotiating peace “is  not and should not be the exclusive task of the two sides. It’s a communal effort of all stakeholders.”

“People should not pretend to be more ‘orthodox’ than the central leadership of the MILF or the principal negotiator of the GPH. We now have the 10 decision points between the GPH and the MILF and the said document is a MOVE forward,” said Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., executive director of the the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance, a former head of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee, a quick reaction team investigating alleged violations of ceasefire violations from the late 1990s to the “all-out war” waged by the Estrada administration.

Described as “a miracle,” a “significant milestone,” a “refreshing breakthrough,” a “virtual watershed,” the agreement, however, merited little attention in the Philippine media, coming as it did on the same day the Supreme Court released its 14-0 decision affirming its earlier decision on the distribution of the nearly 5,000 hectare land owned by the family of President Aquino’s mother, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, to the farmers.

Camilo “Bong” Montesa,’ who served for five years as legal and strategy advisor of the GPH panel under the Arroyo administration, said on Aptil 25: “I think that the public’s (or at least, the usual pundits) mind is elsewhere – Hacienda, Noy’s tirade against media, violent demolitions. The cup is so full that what happened in KL is not on the radar, a non-event. It would be interesting to explore what this will mean in the future – the non-interest.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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