Gov’t panel to consult LGUs on peace process with MILF

DAVAO  CITY (MindaNews/02 April) – Starting mid-April, the government peace panel will begin its consultations with local government officials in Mindanao on the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process announced.

The “first leg of consultations” will be on April 13 to 15 in Buluan, Maguindanao; Isulan in Sultan Kudarat and Koronadal in South Cotabato,  just two weeks before the government peace panel meets with the MILF peace panel in Kuala Lumpur.

The MILF peace panel has held five consultations in Mindanao with non-Moro representatives of civil society,  Christian religious leaders, Catholic bishops and the business sector on March 6 and 9 in Cotabato City, March 14 in Marawi City and March 30 and 31 in Davao City.  It will meet with leaders of Indigenous Peoples on April 7 in Cotabato City.

MindaNews asked government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen thrice this week when the government peace panel would consult with Mindanao’s stakeholders. He finally replied Thursday afternoon: “We have always been consulting informally. But for Local Government Units, it starts April 12 to 15 for first batch. Some CSOs (civil society organizations) and religious in between.”  He said they would start with Maguindanao.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in a press statement dispatched by e-mail afternoon of April 1 said the consultations will be in Buluan, Maguindanao on April 13; Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on April 14; and Koronadal City, South Cotabato on April 15.

It added that consultations with local executives of Sarangani, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and North Cotabato “will likewise be set in upcoming weeks” and that the consultations “aim to solicit the views and outlooks of LGUs on the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF” and “also seek to create awareness and engage the LGUs in the peace process discourse.”

The government and MILF peace panels resume talks on April 27 to 28 in Kuala Lumpur. The panels last met on February 9 and 10, their first formal exploratory talks. There, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal handed over its revised draft comprehensive peace pact to Leonen.

The OPAPP press statement said that in the April talks, “the Comprehensive Compact, the MILF’s starting position on the substantive issues of the negotiations, is expected to be discussed.”

Leonen described the MILF’s draft as “not a document seeking independence.”

“This is the starting position of the MILF,” Leonen said of his initial reading of the MILF draft. “It’s not that radical and it looks like it’s going for a win-win and principled agreement,” he said.

The draft is a “comprehensive document which we still need to study very carefully with our principals, validate in consultations and compare with our evolving negotiating strategies. The government panel always takes a comprehensive view before coming out with its interpretation of proposals and stating its position,” Leonen said in a statement on the  Formal Exploratory Talks with the MILF in February.

Vicente Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC),  said after the dialogue with the MILF peace panel on March 31 that he is not very familiar with how the negotiations are done but stakeholders should be given a “regular update” on what is going on. “The MILF has been doing this. What has government been doing?” Lao asked.

The OPAPP said the government peace panel “has already conducted a total of 18 consultations with different sectors including the academe, civil society organizations (CSOs), indigenous peoples, government officials, media, and the military.”

It did not say when and where these consultations were held.

In Mindanao, the April 1 announcement from OPAPP was the first on the government peace panel’s consultations. It referred to the April 13 to 15 meetings as the “first leg of consultations.”

The press statement added that “for the coming weeks, the panel will likewise hold consultations with CSOs.”

It  also said Leonen together with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, spoke in a “peace conference on Moro issues” at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City and that it was attended by various academic and non-government groups.

The OPAPP press statement said Leonen, “as head of the GPH panel for MILF talks, also sits in Cabinet meetings where he directly reports the progress of negotiations with the MILF to President Benigno Aquino III. Likewise, the GPH Panel also attends congressional and senate meetings to update legislators on the progress of the talks.”

Lack of consultation was among the major issues that led the Supreme Court to declare the MOA-AD  in 2008 as  unconstitutional.

The Court said the people’s right to information on matters of public concern under Section 7, Article II of the Constitution is “in splendid symmetry with the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest under Sec. 28,  Article II of the Constitution.”

The right to information, it added, “guarantees the right of the people to demand information” while Section 28 recognizes the duty of officials “to give information even if nobody demands.”

The SC then said that the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (at that time, retired general Hermogenes Esperon) “committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by Executive Order No. 3, Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code of 1991) and Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act).”  [Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews]

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