MILF peace panel holds five consultations in Mindanao; GPH peace panel, zero

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 April) – While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel has held five consultations with non-Moro sectors on their proposed Bangsamoro sub-state, two of these held this week with Mindanao’s Catholic bishops and business executives, the government peace panel has yet to start conducting its own in Mindanao.

The panels resume talks in Kuala Lumpur on April 27 and 28.

Wednesday’s dialogue between the MILF peace panel and the bishops was facilitated by the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) in cooperation with the Bishops-Ulama Conference and was held at the BUC office here while Thursday’s dialogue between the panel and the business sector was facilitated by International Alert (IA) which also co-organized it with the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC) and MPC. [see related story]

At the end of the three-hour dialogue, Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla proposed that similar consultations be done with the bishops of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and the DIOPIM areas of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi; and in Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions, a proposal dialogue facilitator Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) said they would immediately work on it before the two panels resume talks in late April.

Only five of the 10 bishops who confirmed attendance, made it. A sixth bishop sent a representative.

Arnado said the MILF peace panel will meet with representatives of Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) on April 7 in Cotabato City.

On Thursday, at the dialogue facilitated by Francisco Lara of International Alert, 11 of  15 business executives who confirmed attendance, showed up while at least four others who did not confirm, came. At the end of the three-hour dialogue, those present said they wished more businessmen had attended. Organizers are scheduling a similar dialogue in Makati City for the business sector in Metro Manila.

The dialogues started with an opening statement from MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and a Powerpoint presentation on the “Salient Features of the MILF Final Working Draft on Comprehensive Compact” by panel member, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga. An open forum immediately followed.

The MILF peace panel handed over to the GPH (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) peace panel on February 10 its revised draft peace agreement, which GPH peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen described to MidnaNews on February 11 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.

No copies of the MILF’s revised draft were given to the Bishops or the business executives but organizers said photocopies of the January 2010 draft were earlier sent to them. Copies were also distributed during the consultations.

“What has been distributed is our draft presented to the previous panel. We have withdrawn this and revised it. Somehow, 85% of the revised draft is like this. What was withdrawn was some 15% of the draft,” senior panel member Datu Michael Mastura, a lawyer and historian, said.

Also distributed were copies of  the 11-point “General Features of the MILF comprehensive compact draft” and a printout of Lingga’s Powerpoint presentation.

Iqbal in his opening statement said they came here to “reach out to you and explain the side of the MILF on the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao” even as it is “not our primary responsibility to do so, because this belongs to the government and its peace panel.”

Before this week’s consultations, the MILF had met with non-Moro CSOs in Cotabato City on March 6;  with Christian religious leaders in Cotabato City on March 9 and with CSO representatives in the Lanao areas and Cagayan de Oro, on March 14.

Since the first formal exploratory talks with the MILF under the Aquino administration on February 9 and 10, the government peace panel has yet to consult with these sectors in Mindanao.

MindaNews asked Leonen thrice since the weekend on 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 the 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 seeks to create awareness and engage the LGUs in the peace process discourse.”]

Leonen on Thursday did not reply if the government has its own draft peace agreement already.

Lack of consultation was a major issue 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).”

Vicente Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), after the dialogue said he is not very familiar with how the negotiations are done but said 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. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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