PNoy wants peace pact with MILF “within one year”

ISULAN, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews/15 April) –  President Aquino wants a peace settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “within one year” so implementation can already start within his term, government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen told officials of Sultan Kudarat province during a consultation on the peace process with Sultan Kudarat officials Thursday.

Leonen said President Aquino has committed “not to pass this problem again to the next administration,” and that “it is not within the worldview of this administration to say ‘i-dribble  natin ito’ and pass on to the next president.

He said they hope to begin “implementation within six years, which means an agreement within one year. I know from where you stand it seems improbable. But from where we stand, knowing the people in the national government now, knowing the sentiments of some of the senators and representatives in the House, ang tingin ‘nyo ba they do not want a solution to this problem?”

The MILF peace panel has also expressed optimism in the  recent consultations with non-Moro sectors but questions on territory of the MILF-proposed Bangsamoro sub-state, such as those raised in the consultations here, could hamper the panels’ shared optimism. To recall, the issue on territory led to several instances of impasse in the peace talks under the previous administration.

The Aquino administration still has 62 months out of its 72-month term.

Leonen, also Dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of  Law, said that since their appointment to the  peace panel, “we have seen extraordinary cooperation from the DILG (Departmetn of Interior and Local Governments), the DND (Department of National Defense) which includes all the Armed Forces of the Philippines, towards a single objective, because our President, His Excellency Benigno Aquino who is just a few kilometers from here right now (Aquino was in General Santos that same day), wants an agreement at the soonest possible time because he knows the potential of this region, and he knows that it is possible to come to  a principled agreement, meeting the demands of justice but at the same time recognizing the need of one territory, one national sovereignty.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told a press conference in Camp Darapanan,  Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on February 5 that he was “optimistic that in a short time, we can come out with the proper political formula from the negotiating table. We can have the beginning of a just peace in the Bangsamoro Homeland in our time and generation.”

Two days later, at the UP College of Law in Quezon City, Leonen told a press conference that  if the MILF “remains sincere and is open to being pragmatic but at the same time principled in their stance, one year is a reasonable period to come to a fundamental agreement on a politically negotiated settlement. We are cautious, however, not to state deadlines in terms of periods of number of meetings. The realities of political negotiations and unforeseen events should allow the negotiating parties some room to adjust and accommodate.”

In his opening statement at the informal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur with the government peace panel on January 13 – the first time the panel chairs met – MILF peace panel chair Mohagher  Iqbal said, “six months up to one year timeline is enough to complete the process. But if the exercise is just to manage the conflict in Mindanao, as most if not all previous administrations did, the six-year term of office of President Benigno Aquino II  will not be enough. There will always be reasons to obstruct the negotiations, as there are people who prefer the war option to solve the problem in Mindanao,” he said.

War is no option

In his opening statement before the Sultan Kudarat officials, Leonen reiterated what he said a day earlier before the local officials of Maguindanao,  that “war is not an option,” as he presented slides on the financial and human costs of war.

He pointed to the estimated cost of combat operations from1970 to 1996 at P73 billion and asked the mayors, vice mayors, board members and barangay leaders from the 11 towns of Sultan Kudarat what this amount could mean to their municipalities.

“The cost of war is just too much,” he said.

He said “very rough estimates” would point to the cost of the “all-out war” in 2000 at P20 million a day or P1.337 billion during the entire period, and the cost in terms of people and communities displaced by war. He said municipal leaders know what it means to have displaced constituents and how wars affect the psyche of the children and other members of the family.

He said the world talks about Bosnia, about several flashpoints worldwide but “if we actually look at Mindanao, this is a human disaster in terms of the cost of war.”

He said the government panel is conducting consultations “because this administration has committed not to commit the mistakes of the past in terms of the peace negotiations with the MILF,” referring to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2008.

The municipal councils and provincial board of Sultan Kudarat passed resolutions in 2008 opposing inclusion in what the MILF then referred to as “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” or BJE.

The MOA-AD listed under Category A the core of the proposed BJE the five provinces and two cities of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  and the six towns of Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in an expanded ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite.

Also listed in Category A were 735 barangays, including 214 of 218 barangays in Sultan Kudarat’s 11 towns,  “wherein the Government stipulates to conduct and deliver, using all possible legal measures, a plebiscite within 12 months following the signing of the MOA-AD.”

All barangays in ten towns – Bagumbayan, Columbio, Esperanza, Kalamansig, Lambayong, Lebak, Lutayan, Palimbang, Pres. Quirino and Senator Ninoy Aquino – were included in Category B, along with three of 17 barangays in Isulan, the capital town. The remaining 14 barangays of Sultan Kudarat were listed under Category B or “Special Intervention Areas” referring to “conflict- affected areas outside the BJE which shall be the subject of special socio-economic and cultural affirmative action implemented by the Central Government pending the conduct of a plebiscite not earlier than twenty-five (25) years from the signing of the Comprehensive Compact to determine the question of their accession to the BJE.”

“The areas reflected are subject to further negotiations by the Parties,” it said.

No to inclusion

In the workshop that followed on the issues and concerns on the peace process and what they believe is their role as officials, Bagumbayan Vice Mayor Jonalette de Pedro Piadora, who reported on the discussions of the vice mayors’ group, said the “territorial expansion issue is of utmost  importance” because the province of Sultan Kudarat “should not be included in the ARMM expansion.”

The group also said history “should not be the basis but present situation and laws;” that local governments should have representatives in the government peace panel.

Questions on the whether the MILF is the “legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people” were raised, as well as questions on the”possibility of another breakaway group aside from the MILF.”

Piadora, Vice Mayor Emely delos Santos and Isulan Vice Mayor Arnold Armada told MindaNews government should already say in the negotiating table that Sultan Kudarat does not want to be included in a proposed Bangamoro sub-state.

Columbio Mayor Amirh M. Musali, who describes himself as a “Moro leader residing in a Catholic municipality,” earlier asked in the open forum what happens if the MILF does not win in the plebiscite given that most do not want to be part of the ARMM, the core of the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state.  “Wouldn’t that be a problem again,” he asked in Pilipino.

Musali then suggested, “why not give time for the plebiscite?”

“Naaawa po ako sa tao na maging part sila na hindi pa sila ready, ngayon ayaw nila yung pupuntahan nila,” he said, adding residents could  be enticed to join if they see the area they are supposed to join is progressive.

Piadora’s group, however, said, there is no point in letting residents go through a plebiscite because it would  just be “a waste of money.”

Leonen assured the officials that they would be consulted again “when we are almost certain there may be an agreement. We will not tell you after the agreement,” Leonen said, reiterating the Aquino administration does not want a repeat of  what happened to the MOA-AD. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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