PNoy’s SONA silent on peace process with NDF, MILF

BUTUAN CITY  (MindaNews/25 July) — Unlike last year when he was emphatic about government’s peace efforts, President Benigno Simeon
Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) today was silent on the progress or the lack of it  — of  its peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Last year, he said: “Mahirap magsimula ang usapan habang mayroon pang amoy ng pulbura sa hangin. Nananawagan ako: huwag po natin hayaang
masayang ang napakagandang pagkakataong ito upang magtipon sa ilalim ng iisang adhikain. Kapayapaan at katahimikan po ang pundasyon ng kaunlaran. Habang nagpapatuloy ang barilan, patuloy din ang pagkakagapos natin sa kahirapan” (It is difficult to begin discussions
in earnest if the smell of gun powder still hangs in the air. I call on everyone concerned not to waste a good opportunity to rally behind our common aspiration for peace. Our foundation for growth is peace. We will continue to be shackled by poverty if the crossfire persists). The President spoke for 53 minutes but not even a sentence on the peace process was mentioned in his 95-paragraph speech. Government officials involved in the peace process did not appear bothered by the omission. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told
MindaNews “both major tables are in sensitive, complex stage at this time. But something will unfold soon.”

MindaNews asked Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF,  on the President’s silence. His
reply: “Everything done for good government and accountability provides context for government’s peace initiatives.”

Maguindanao Govrenor Esmael Mangudatu, whose province is among the hardest hit by armed conflict between government and the MILF,  said,
“baka nakalimutan lang” (he may have forgotten). The President’s SONA last year had eight paragraphs on the peace process with the MILF and the NDF. MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said “there is only one meaning.  The two peace talks are not on the radar of the government.”

“This President obviously does not know the real state of the nation. We – his ‘bosses’ – cannot abide by his lack of focus on what matters. It is the job of a leader to bring us to a good place. And that good place, we need to remind the President, is first and foremost, a place of peace,”  Irene Santiago, chair of the Mindanao Commsision on Women,  said.

Santiago was a government peace panel member from 2001 to 2004.

For Guiamel Alim, executive director of Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro
Civil Society (CBCS) , said, Where is Mindanao in the Philippine state? Where is peace and security. Why is peace not important?”

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, said the President’s silence is “not a very good signal in so far as
this government’s peace policy is concerned.”

“No wonder the GPH peace panel had to defer submission of its counteproposal in the GPH-MILF peace talks because the peace policy of
the principal himself is not loud and clear nor transparent to everyone,” she said. “The first year of PNoy’s administration is over and up to now, the
GPH-MILF peace talks have not yet achieved any breakthrough or milestone that will bring us closer to a political settlement of the
armed conflict.  I hope PNoy will not squander his precious time in office just like what GMA did to the big disappointment of the Bangsamoro people,” she said.

Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, secretary-general of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao and convenor of the Alliance Against Impuntity,
said the President’s silence is a “big disappointment!” “Failing to include the peace process, both with the NDF and MILF  is a manifestation of how low the PNoy administration seriously regards the real tuwid na landas towards a just and lasting solution to the root causes of what truly ails our country! It does not augur well to the future of the twin peace talks,” he said, adding that the President “is now clearly veering away from seriously pursuing with the talks because doing so will only further expose its lack of sincerity and political will. The SONA is full of rhetorics but short
in substance… full of nice lyrical words and more wishful thinking!

PNoy should watch his words, it may haunt him in the future.” Abul Alibasa of the Ranao Youth for Peace and Sustainable Development,
said they were expecting the Presdient would mention the peace process. “It was frustrating that PNoy never mentioned his commitment
in resolving the Mindanao problem. Instead, he emphasized ARMM election synchronization.”

Amor Pendaliday,  President of the Center for Muslim Youth Studies, Inc., said the President’s silence “implies that his government has no
iota of intention to resolve the Moro nation’s struggle for merdeka (freedom).”

Carlos Manlupig, chair of the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc., said, “Hope Is Vanishing.”

But lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, a consultant of the government peace panel under the Arroyo administration, and now executive director of The Art of Peace Group,  views the silence as a “positive sign.” “The President is showing that he is aware of the complexity of the
problem and the difficult balancing act that the Government is facing in the negotiatons with the MILF. The negotiations are at its most
crucial part and the last thing the negotiations need is a soundbite. This, for me, is a good sign that we might actually have peace within
our reach,” he said.

In last year’s SONA, the President said, “we will only achieve lasting peace if all stakeholders engage in an honest dialogue: may they be
Moro, Lumad, or Christian.” He vowed to “learn from the mistakes of the past administration, that suddenly announced an agreement reached without consultations from all concerned,” adding he is “not blind to the fact that it was done with political motivation, and that the interest behind it was not that of the people.”

He said he recognized “the efforts of the MILF to discipline those within its ranks” and were hopeful that the negotiations would begin after Ramadan. The first formal exploratory talks were held in February this year.

“To the CPP-NPA-NDF: are you prepared to put forth concrete solutions rather than pure criticism and finger-pointing? If it is peace you
truly desire, then we are ready for an immediate cease-fire. Let us go back to the table and begin talking again,” the President said in last year’s SONA. The GPH-NDF peace talks,  which suffered a six-year impasse, actually took off under the Aquino administration, ahead of the GPH-MILF.
The GPH-NDF peace panel chairs met on  December 1 to 2 in Hong Kong, eventually leading to preliminary talks on January 14 to 18 to pave
the way for the resumption of formal talks on February 15 to 21. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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