The pullout of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) led by the Government of Malaysia will clearly have dire consequences on the lives of people in the conflict-affected areas. As an independent grassroots ceasefire monitoring mechanism, Bantay Ceasefire saw how the presence of the IMT had dramatically improved the lives of civilians. The track record of the IMT in the last four years will show that it is indeed indispensable to the mechanism for cessation of hostilities and to the peace process. Before the IMT arrived, there were two all out wars in years 2000 and 2003 which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. Before that, there were major fighting in Camps Omar and Raja Muda, just to name two. After the IMT arrived, there were no major fighting let alone all-out war. Last year, a full-blown war threatened to explode but was averted precisely of the IMT.
Records of the Joint Ceasefire Committee will show that prior to the coming of the IMT, we had over a thousand violations of the ceasefire agreement in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, however, these violations significantly dropped to less than 10 violations and we attribute this outstanding record on the strong presence of the IMT together of course with the hard work and commitment of the Joint Government and MILF Ceasefire Committee.
The presence of the IMT in conflict affected areas not only allowed the people to enjoy relative peace but also provided an environment conducive to peace negotiations. It also allowed aid agencies to operate relatively free and unhampered in the conflict affected areas.
The decision to withdraw the IMT, while regrettable, is understandable. Both the international community as well as the people of Mindanao do not deserve an open-ended peace process. Prior commitments on the negotiating table must be respected. It shows utter disrespect for the peace process and to those who have been helping move it forward to revisit and backtrack from prior commitments.
We are aware that there are powerful groups within and without the government, with vested political and economic interests in Mindanao, who feel that their interests are threatened by the peace process. We are aware that the troubles the peace process have undergone these past years are brought about by their growing influence in the negotiations. We urge them to look beyond their self-interests for the good of the people of Mindanao and the Philippines.
Both the people of Mindanao and the IMT and international community have proven their commitment to a just and peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict. We demand that the national government show the same commitment. We demand that it should give the highest priority to the interest of just peace and not to vested interests.
It has taken so much hard work on the part of civil society and the international community to build a constituency for peace in Mindanao, to make people believe that a just peace is possible, and to generate confidence in the peace process. Should the talks completely collapse, it will be well nigh impossible to restore that confidence.
Towards this end, we put forward the following calls and recommendations
1. For Philippine government and the MILF to resume the formal peace talks and sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain based on the agreed consensus points;
2. For the Philippine government and the MILF to request the Malaysian government to extend the IMT's tour of duty and reconsider its decision on the pull out of Malaysian troops
3. Persuade Congress to legislate the postponement of the upcoming ARMM elections; this will allow sufficient time for the GRP-MILF peace talks to conclude the negotiations and complete the ongoing Tripartite Review of the 1996 Peace Agreement. We believe that these processes should not be overtaken by the ARMM election.
Above all, we appeal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to push for the signing of a Peace Agreement with the MILF as a symbol of her long lasting legacy for the people of Mindanao.
To this we reiterate our campaign call: Let us Resolve the Mindanao Conflict, Sign and Implement Peace Agreement Now!