MNLF not opposed to GRP-MILF talks but ..

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/21 September) – The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction chaired by Muslimin Sema does not oppose the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but Sema says the MNLF “cannot, even by imagination, see any agreement to be forged between the GRP and MILF.”

“Who are we to oppose peace when it is the most positive state that we should all be in? Yes, there should be peace in Southern Philippines,” Sema, also vice mayor of Cotabato City, told the ARMM Peace Summit at the opening rites Monday afternoon at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex.

Sema said they cannot imagine an agreement forged between the government and MILF because “certainly, the erstwhile MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) cannot be enforced as it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the Philippines.”

“On that precedence, any state-sub-state solution framework as firmly advanced by the MILF is then perceived to be unconstitutional. What other solution then should be laid on the negotiating table?” Sema asked.

The MOA-AD would have provided for the ARMM and towns that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in 2001 as the core area for what has been refered to as Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). Several other areas contiguous to the ARMM were to be part of the BJE if they opt to vote for inclusion in a referendum a year later while other neighboring areas may opt for inclusion in a referendum 25 years later.

Sema said the only solution they see is “the enhancing of autonomy already in place.”

“The GRP will only have to look back into the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, if peace is truly their objective. The GRP can resolve the problem by transforming the autonomy in place into a genuine government with shreds of sovereignty and this can be done by amending the present organic act, Republic Act 9054. Without doubt, through such direct action, it can invite MILF to join the mainstream.”

Sema represents the MNLF Executive Council that ousted Nur Misuari as MNLF chair but declared him Chairman Emeritus in 2001. The Council reportedly holds influence over the majority of MNLF members but Misuari, who was jailed for alleged rebellion from late 2001 to the early part of last year, claims he has the numbers.

Misuari has since resumed attending meetings at the Organization of the Islamic Conference where the MNLF, as representative of the Bangsamoro, holds an observer status.

At the first Tripartite Meeting to review the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement in Jeddah on November 10, 2007, Misuari warned the Philippine government from signing a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), citing claims by an American diplomat was not around during the opening session but made his presence felt through a 38-minute, 15-page speech he asked MILF spokesperson Al Tillah to read.

Sema, who served as MNLF Secretary General under Misuari when the 1996 peace agreement was signed, said he believes the solution they are putting forward “will be acceptable to both the MNLF and MILF, as the MNLF and the MILF have been struggling for the same homeland and the same people.”

“Both Fronts have compromised their original positions to destructive levels of compromises if only to achieve peace in the homeland and for the people. The MNLF has accepted autonomy, as long as it is genuine, as a viable solution for the Bangsamoro Homeland, and the MILF is only negotiating for the remaining Muslim-dominated territories which were left out owing to the illegal plebiscite conducted unilaterally by the GRP in 2001 despite the MNLF’s opposition, he said.

These territories, Sema added, are still the subject of discussion in the ongoing Tripartite talks because the MNLF “did not accept the result of the plebiscite in 2001 since it is contrary to the provisions of the 1996 FPA, wherein it was agreed that the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development will be deputized by the Commission on Elections for purposes of the conduct of the plebiscite in the areas.”

He said RA 9054 is “in stark contrast to the form of autonomy demanded by the Moro people.”

“The GRP can correct the errors committed by going back to the letter and spirit of the 1996 FPR, and will undoubtedly and effectively address the demands of the MILF, now enshrined in the MOA-AD,” Sema added, as he stressed that the 1996 FPA “implemented in letter and spirit now is better than armed struggle in the near future.”

The MILF declined the invitation to the ARMM Peace Summit that is aimed at, among others, “helping come up with a paradigm for peace and development thrusts that may serve as reference of the Aquino administration and the MILF in their imminent resumption of peace talks.”

ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said in an earlier press statement that the MILF leadership “has declined to join the gathering in view of a mechanism it has reportedly agreed with the state in the would-be renewed peace talks.” Sinarimbo did not elaborate.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews the MILF “has no role in that (peace summit).

“It is purely inspired by the state. However, the MILF recognizes the good intention
of the movers,” he said.

But Iqbal also asked, “what is left undiscussed in the GRP-MILF peace process? All substantive and related issues are discussed in the GRP-MILF peace track.”
“The political solution contained in the comprehensive compact. This is the one left for discussion,” Iqbal said.

The government and MILF peace panels under the Arroyo administration signed in Kuala Lumpur on June 3 this year, a Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations and the “Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Component of the International Monitoring Team.”

“Today, we put closure to this stage of the peace negotiations with a clear statement by both Parties that we will preserve our gains and accomplishments, and work our best for the continuation of the talks. We give honor to our past, and anticipate the future with great hope,” then government peace panel chair Rafael Seguis said in a press release.

Seguis added that the Declaration, which he said will provide a smooth transition to the next administration, is a “retrospective affirmation of our accomplishments and a recapitulation of our past discussions as we toiled to come up with an agreement.”

The Declaration lists six points of consensus on an Interim Agreement ”with a view of moving towards the Comprehensive Compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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