Mindanao legislators and grassroots leaders discuss info sharing

QUEZON CITY (10 August) — Mindanao legislators and grassroots organizations are working out a mechanism that will sustained constant sharing of information to ensure “no one is left out in the peace process” between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

This developed as Mindanao congressmen expressed their support to the peace process though some have apprehensions also brought about by lack of information and understanding with what is going on with the peace talks. This was the conclusion of the more than 20 delegates of the week-long lobby mission dubbed “Conversations with Mindanao Grassroots” organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) after spending all of Monday talking with congressmen from all over Mindanao.

Thankful to North Cotabato Congressmen Nancy Catamco and Jesus Sacdalan, who helped organize the meeting between Mindanao legislators and the lobby group, Fr. Teresito Suganob, a Marawi City-based member of the lobby group, said they were “very satisfied and inspired” with the outcome of  the meetings they had with the legislators.

“We are very much inspired with the unexpected overwhelming support that our congressman extended to us—especially on our appeal for them to support the peace process,” Fr. Suganob said.

Aside from Representatives Catamco and Sacdalan of the second and first districts of Cotabato, respectively, Fr. Suganob named Congressmen Manny Pacquiao of Sarangani, Carlo Nograles of Davao City, Imelda Dimaporo, Ailah Dimaporo, Jim Hataman-Salliman among more than 10 legislators they met whom he claimed to have expressed support to the peace process. Others who were in the “informal consultation” were Representatives Jun Acharon of General Santos City, Plaza of Surigao and Zubiri of Bukidnon.

“We requested them to be active in monitoring and involving in the peace process because we know they play a significant role in helping make the negotiations succeed. Their expressed support is an affirmation of the efforts of many grassroots people doing community peace-building work,” the priest said while particularly thanking Representative Catamco whom he described to have “shown the kind of support of a fellow Mindanawan whom I believe has similar advocacy with ours.”

The week-long lobby mission will be capped with the National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao where around 100 community leaders and civil society organizations will try to “discuss, understand and define our contribution to the call of President Aquino to find a politically negotiated settlement” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Representative Ailah Dimaporo, who claimed she came from the non-government organization before running for congress, as of now considers “politically negotiated settlement quite general.”

She, however, suggested that the parameters of a politically negotiated settlement should recognize that 1) “Mindanao cannot be separated from the Philippines, 2) ensure protection and safety of the people, 3) respect the rights and culture of any group, and, 3) development should have specific target areas that will, in turn, act as a catalyst in development of other areas.”

The lobby group was also informed by the two lady Dimaporos of separate privilege speeches that expressed their support to the peace process, but to better manifest their solidarity with the lobby group, the younger Dimaporo, Alia, promised she would sponsor a House resolution, to be signed by the Mindanao bloc  in Congress, expressing support to the peace process and reiterating President Aquino’s call for a politically negotiated settlement.

Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, one of the three legislators called the “tres marias,” who opposed the peace agreement forged by government and the Moro National Liberation Front on September 2, 1996, however, recognized the “difficulties” for Mindanao people to come up with a unified position on the peace process. “We are coming from different parts of Mindanao and different interests with different point of views,” she said.

However, Fuentes said that “ever since I have been supportive to the peace process, but the negotiators also have to listen to what we do not like.”

She further claimed that the 30 percent of her constituents, who are indigenous peoples, do not want to be represented by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Congresswoman Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo pointed out “information dissemination” as a major concern where legislators and non-government organizations could help push the peace process forward.

“Many people do not really understand what is going on with the peace process. We have to help explain and make them understand but at the same time our constituents should be assured of their safety because only then can we be also assured of their support,” Quibranza-Dimaporo stressed.

Catamco, Sacdalan and Pacquiao also suggested a mechanism for a regular sharing of information between the peace groups and the Mindanao legislators where everyone will be updated with what is going on the peace talks and together they decide on what both groups could jointly do to help push the talks to its final conclusion. (Romy B. Elusfa is a member of the “peace lobby” delegation).