Bishop urges PNoy to use “very high political capital” for peace settlement with MILF

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 September) — The government has a “very high political capital“ that could be capitalized in resolving the Bangsamoro issue but government has to deliver it fast before the “window of opportunity” is lost, said Bishop Ephraim Tendero, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC).

Speaking before some 130 peace activists on the final day of the Second National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao (NSCM-2), Tendero cited three compelling reasons that could not only move the peace process forward but ultimately reach a political settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the term of President Aquino: the President’s popularity, the MILF’s commitment to negotiate for a political settlement, and a strong tri-people movement pushing the peace process onward.

“We have a President with a very high political capital reflected in his approval rating, which is very important in getting peoples’ support for the peace agreement” that both the government and MILF peace panel had earlier hoped would  be signed by April 2012.

The President’s meeting with MILF chair Al-haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan on August 4,  was also construed by Bishop Tendero as a manifestation of the Aquino administration’s sincerity to once and for all put an end to the four-decade armed conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of individuals,  the latest massive displacement of which was in 2008.

The internal displacement of 600,000 residents in 2008  due to renewed skirmishes following the aborted signing of the already initialled Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was “the biggest new displacement in the world” out of 4.2 million newly displaced in  2008, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said in its April 2009 report .

Amid Bishop Tendero’s optimism that an accord could possibly be reached with the MILF during Aquino’s term, he challenged the peace groups to move fast because no one is certain “until when that window of opportunity will be there. This is the most opportune time even if the President still has five years to reign in power.”

Similarly, the church leader, who was spiritual consultant of Malacanang under the Arroyo administration, cautioned peace groups against being complacent with the MILF’s commitment to strike a political settlement, citing the fact that the present leadership of the Front is already aging. If the problem is not solved now, the young idealist and adventurous youths may take over.

“The openness of the leadership of the MILF is a positive factor, but they are already in their senior years. We have the younger ones who are more adventurous,” Tendero said.

The two-day NSCM-2 was convened by big peace networks and religious organizations in an effort to bridge the so-called “heaven and earth” gap between the respective proposal the government and the MILF brought to the negotiating table. Tendero’s PCEC, the Bishop Ulama Conference, Mindanao Peoples Caucus and the Manila-based Mindanao Solidarity Network are among the conveners of the Conference.

ARMM Executice Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo, one of the panelists on Day 1 of the Conference last Thursday, said “there is no on the sincerity and popularity of the President, so ayusin na natin ang dapat ayusin,” even as he added that “overhauling” the Autonmous Region in Muslim Mindanao should not be left in the hands of government alone.”

The government’s “three for one” proposal offered on August 22 includes massive economic development, a peace accord and cultural and historical acknowledgment” which will be carried out through the “transformation” of the ARMM.

The MILF panel, which submitted its draft peace settlement on February 10  rejected the proposal, saying  the gap between the proposals is “heaven and earth.”

The Malaysian facilitator is in the country shuttling between the MILF and GPH panels to narrow down the gap.

Sinarimbo shared Bishop Tendero’s optimism, though he cautioned the government against over simplifying the Bangsamoro issues.

He said  emphasizing so much on delivery of basic services and implementing development projects in the Bangsamoro communitiesi may not actually solve the problem.

“There seems to be a problem in appreciating the problem. Yung perspective ng government that this is a question of underdevelopment, sa tingin ko ho ay hindi tumpak. Mahaba na ang experience natin in terms of addressing poverty and in terms of bringing in development.”

What government should address, he said, are the “political issues. Beyond the political issues we need to address the needs for schools, roads, health centers and water. These are the practical problems that are already there and I think they can be immediately addressed.”

Sinarimbo even considers the MILF’s proposed sub-state as a “motherhood statement” that is difficult for the Bangsamoro people to appreciate as a solution to the problem.

What he thinks is important is for both government and the MILF to clearly define “what is it that is in an asymmetrical relationship” between the national government and the sub-state—like how much budget goes to the sub-state?”

The process of asking budget, Sinarimbo said, should also be changed, saying that barangays outside of ARMM are more autonomous than the ARMM in terms of their budget.

“Your barangay need not present and defend its budget with the Department of Budget and  Management,” he stressed.

The 75-25 wealth sharing that the MILF has proposed was, for Sinarimbo, “fair enough,” citing the 70-30 wealth sharing between the central government of Aceh and the minority government of Christians. (Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)

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