MPC: Resume talks immediately and unconditionally

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus along with allied peace networks join the call of the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and civilians in the conflict affected areas in urging both government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to formally resume the peace talks immediately and unconditionally.

It has been almost five months since President Noynoy Aquino  announced during his Inaugural Speech that his government will resume the formal talks after Ramadan.  Ramadan ended in early September.  It is now December and the peace panels have not met at all.

We appeal to the President to deliver what he has promised to his avowed “boss” – the Filipino people –  during his Inaugural Speech, to resume the talks now.  No amount of conferences, consultations and meetings could ever substitute for the real, face-to face meeting of the protagonists of the conflict.

The issue on who should be the facilitator is something that can be addressed squarely at the negotiation table by both parties.

The peace panel members of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines are highly educated and brilliant personalities representing the President of the country as its principal.  They can surely withstand any perceived bias of one individual in the person of Datuk Othman bin Razak.  There are other governments like United Kingdom, Japan and international organizations in the International Contact Group (ICG) which are recognized as observers in the peace talks.  MPC believes that these personalities and institutions cannot be easily outmaneuvered and bullied by one so-called “biased” facilitator named Othman, assuming for the sake of argument that this is true.  With all the powers, ability and might of the government, they cannot simply use this Othman issue as an excuse not to begin the talks.

The formal resumption of talks is a matter of survival for the civilians in the conflict-affected areas.  For the hundreds of thousands of IDPs who have hardly recovered yet from the humanitarian crisis brought about by the 2008 punitive wars, each day of delay in the peace talks is a day of a collective sense of insecurity, uncertainty and apprehension.  In Pikit for instance, 300 families have already evacuated due to ongoing propaganda to prepare for war because there is no hope for the peace talks.  This is exacerbated by some movements on the part of  Marine soldiers in Cotabato City and some parts in Maguindanao which frighten local residents.

We appeal to President Aquino, Dean Marvic Leonen and Secretary Teresita Quintos- Deles to take the higher moral ground in extending the hand of peace to the MILF.  The President was on the right track when he announced that his government will work towards a negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.  The crucial step towards that will be to resume the formal talks with the MILF.

In conclusion, MPC reiterates the following recommendations:

1.     For the GRP and the MILF to immediately resume the formal talks – that is before Christmas and before the end of the year.

2.     For the Government to appoint a full-time high ranking officer of the AFP to lead its Ceasefire Committee and provide the Joint GRP-MILF Ceasefire Committee and the IMT with the necessary logistical, material and financial support in order to carry out their mandates.

3.     Immediately renew the Terms of Reference of the International Monitoring Team without waiting for it to lapse on either December 9, 2010 or February 28, 2011.

This matter can only be done through a face-to-face meeting of the peace panels in Malaysia.

4.     For OPAPP to establish a clear communications plan that will regularly inform people on what is the real score in the peace process not just at the national level but more importantly at the local level.  This is imperative especially at this point when speculations, disinformation and hysteria are going around that affect the safety and security of people.

Finally, we call on all peace-loving Mindanawons to be more patient and at the same time more vigilant in keeping the peace within our communities amidst the uncertainties of this long overdue face-to-face talks between the government and MILF peace panels.