GPH, MILF pay tribute to Robredo in KL talks; MILF hopes Roxas will do a Robredo, for peace

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 September) –  They did not discuss it before the opening  rites of  the September 5-8 peace talks in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday morning, but the peace panel chairs of  the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were on the same page, as both started their opening statements paying tribute to Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash on August 18.

GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said he was tempted to ask for a moment of silence to honor Robredo and his work in the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) “but then I realized that there may be a better way to honor him as well as those who passed away living lives founded on the belief that there can be better societies, that are better governed and therefore more humane. There is a better way for all of us today to honor all of them. And this is within the next four days.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who spoke after Leonen, reiterated the MILF’s “expression of condolence and sorrow” over Robredo’s death, describing him as “a great loss” not only to his family and the Aquino administration “but also to the peace process in Mindanao.”

Robredo, Iqbal said,  “will always be remembered as a strong supporter and mover of this peace-making effort.”

He expressed hope that Robredo’s successor, Mar Roxas, “will actively work”  behind President Aquino’s “efforts to finally settle the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.”

Future more important than past

“We hope that what he did to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008 leading to the defeat in the Supreme Court is going to be a thing of the past.  To the new DILG Secretary, here’s our message: The future is more important than the past,” Iqbal said.

Roxas was among the chief supporters of those who petitioned the Supreme Court to stop government from formally signing on August 5, 2008, the already-initialed MOA-AD.

The High Court issued a temporary restraining order afternoon of August 4, aborting the signing scheduled for the next morning in KL. It later ruled the MOA-AD unconstitutional.

Leonen said they can honor Robredo if they “forthwith make haste so that we can usher in agreements that will set up the platforms, so that we can build more trust and confidence amongst our constituents, and also catalyze the kind of societies that our people deserve.”

“It is not the minute of silence therefore that we now seek. We seek that all guns be silenced permanently. And by all guns, we mean all guns. That it is these guns that will become a memory and that our disagreements, our disappointments and perhaps even our anger will never be again channeled to cause deaths in violent confrontation. We seek that our differences be settled in peaceful and deliberative fashion with the government at any level, which follows laws that have earned the respect of its constituents,” he said.

Take home a completed product

He proposed that they make as an objective in this week’s talks “that we take home to our  principals a completed product, a consensus draft, even a very rough draft with some options of a framework agreement for their serious consideration.”

The two panels have repeatedly said they hope to sign a framework agreement soonest.

The panels have been negotiating peace since 1997, interrupted only by major wars in 2000, 2003 and 2008.

Under the two-year Aquino administration, this week’s negotiation is the 11th since the two panels began their “exploratory talks” in February 2011.

On August 4, 2011, President Aquino broke protocol and met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan where they agreed to fast-track the peace process,  ensure an agreement is signed within the first half of the Aquino administration so that implementation can be done until the President bows out of office on June 30, 2016.

Barely two weeks later, however, the MILF rejected the GPH panel’s proposed “3 for 1” peace formula. It took months of back-channeling on the part of the Malaysian facilitator before he two panels met again in KL in December. Since then, the panels have been meeting monthly except in June.

In April, they signed the “Decision Points on Principles,” the first major agreement signed under the Aquino administration. This agreement provided for, among others, the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Challenges

Iqbal refered to the current talks as “passing through a defining moment, nay critical phase, which allows no complacency on the part of the parties.”

He spoke about spoilers who “want us to stop and fail,” citing the attacks of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on August 5. The attacks triggered a military response and  the closure of a strategic portion of the Cotabato-General Santos highway for nearly a week.

Iqbal said the attacks happened in collusion with “some personalities or groups”  whom he did not name “lest it will stir another complication.”

He claimed they mobilized “more than 3,000 of our forces and encircled the 200 or so BIFF force” and demanded that they “cease their aggression or we will be forced to resort to our last option.”

He added that  five of the BIFF’s commanders signed a “deed of commitment not to create trouble while negotiation is moving forward.”  BIFF chair Amiril Umra Kato and vice chair Mohammad Ali Tambako have yet to sign the document but Kato could not as he is “seriously ill and can hardly speak or move – and is no longer in control of the group.”

Kato was the commander of the MILF’s 105th Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces who resigned  in December 2009 and formed the BIFF in  March 2010. But the BIFF became visible only by early 2011, until Kato suffered a stroke in November the same year.

Iqbal acknowledged that challenges such as presence of peace spoilers “will not cease in the near foreseeable future” and can be “inherited even beyond the signing of an agreement.” He said both parties should “rethink proactively how the new political entity — and the MILF — would be able to cope up with these challenges.”

Reliable partners

Leonen said the events of the past weeks have shown that while there are those willing to go to violent ends to scuttle any peace agreement, “there are many more who are willing to unite to provide conducive environments to settle our long-standing differences so that the better societies in the dreams of our martyrs can become realities”

“If there is anything to be discovered, it is to see who our reliable partners are to achieve these goals,” he said.

Leonen said they do not aim for a perfect agreement but one that produces “the first platforms that can inspire both sides to build on the trust and confidence that we may now have with each other. And magnify them as both sides overcome the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead after the peace agreement is signed.”

“It is this long road that all of us will have to take. Our principals have already committed to take measured political risks to point to where that road will start. It is there where we will see the partnership of our peoples – to better the lives of the future generations. It is there where we will truly start to honor all of our dead,” he said.

Iqbal noted the “stiff and protracted battle of ideas” raging among Moro groups in Mindanao – one batting for a radical approach, the other pursuing a negotiated political settlement.

“An outright verdict in this controversy is not forthcoming. An idea cannot be defeated by any other means effectively, except by a better idea and well-thought-out program of action. This can only effectively happen and put to rest when after signing an agreement with the government, the MILF can deliver and the condition of the people will change for the better.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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