ZC Mayor wants lasting peace, not appeasement

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/18 May)  —  Mayor Celso Lobregat on Tuesday conveyed to the government peace panel the City Council’s resolution against inclusion of any of its 98 barangays in the Bangsamoro sub-state proposed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but maintained they are not “peace spoilers.”

“We would like to correct the impression that we are peace spoilers,” he said, adding they are for an “honorable, just and sustained peace. We are not for appeasement.”

The mayor likened “appeasement” to the act of giving candy to a crying child “para lang tumahimik” (to keep quiet).

“I am fully in agreement with that idea of the Mayor” (for honorable peace, not appeasement), said government peace panel chair, Dean Marvic Leonen. He stressed the government peace panel is pursuing a principled negotiated settlement to come up with a peace agreement that is “rational, workable, deliverable and politically viable.”

In a bid to broaden support for the current peace negotiations between the government and the MILF, Leonen’s panel held a closed-door  “executive session” with elected government officials of the city Tuesday, barring members of the media from the session which he later described as having an “air of candid exchange.”

Leonen praised the local government officials for their “steadfast adherence to their principles.”

“We would like to correct the impression that we are peace spoilers,” said Lobregat. He said government must be able to give to other local government units what they are willing to give to the MILF.

The city and its elected officials have strongly opposed efforts to include its territory in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), staging street protests in the past.

In August 2008, its leaders, notably Lobregat, were instrumental in the junking of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) forged by the Arroyo Administration and the MILF.  The city government joined the province of North Cotabato in bringing the issue to the Supreme Court which later ruled the MOA-AD as unconstitutional.

At the press conference held after the closed-door executive session, Leonen took pains in explaining why media was barred from the session. “Real-life negotiations are always closed door,” he said, adding “there are ideas that are being tested there” and that since they are tentative, others who are not aware of its context may misinterpret the discussions.

Leonen, however, said Zamboanga City Council Resolution No. 504 passed on May 11 reiterated the position of the city government on various issues related to the current peace negotiations, including the Supreme Court ruling on the MOA-AD.

He explained the essence of the resolution by saying, “we are for honorable, just and sustained peace; we are not for appeasement.”

The government peace panel met with local government officials in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces last month and in Basilan last Monday.

The panel is preparing to present its counter-proposal to the MILF’s draft peace settlement, during the exploratory talks on June 27 and 28, the 22nd since talks resumed after the 2003 Buliok war but the third under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino.

The MILF peace panel handed to the government peace panel its draft peace settlement which includes the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state, during the first formal exploratory talks in February.  In his initial reading of the MILF draft in February, Leonen said it was “not a document seeking independence.” (Jules L. Benitez, MindaNews contributor)