Groups urge GPH, MILF peace panels: meet to de-escalate violence, avert humanitarian crisis

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 Oct) —  Various groups have called on the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel to immediately meet to de-escalate violence and avert a humanitarian crisis, following the displacement of  thousands of  residents in some villages in Payao, Zamboanga and in Al-barka, Basilan.

In a statement, Bantay Ceasefire, called on the government and MILF peace panels “to immediately visit the impact areas  in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay and to mobilize the International Monitoring Team (IMT), Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

The IMT, CCCH and AHJAG are mechanisms agreed upon by both government and MILF peace panels to ensure proper coordination and implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

The AHJAG was an agreement forged on May 6, 2002 on the “isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups including so-called ‘Lost Commands’ operating in Mindanao.” It is a “joint team against criminal elements operating in MILF areas/communities” The AHJAG operates in tandem with their respective CCCH.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño called on the government and MILF to “immediately convene an emergency meeting to limit the fighting” and avoid a repeat of the humanitarian crisis that wracked Mindanao in 2000, when then President Joseph Estrada launched an all-out war against the MILF.

“In the name of the thousands of families that are now being displaced and all peace-loving Filipinos, we are calling on the Aquino administration and the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to immediately convene an emergency meeting to limit the fighting and mitigate its impact on the civilian population, Casino said.

Nearly a million villagers, mostly in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao areas were displaced by Estrada’s “all-out war” in 2000;  a little over 400,000 in the 2003 Buliok war under the Arroyo administration and another 600,000 in 2008, also under the Arroyo administration, in the aftermath of the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the MILF.

The 2008 internal displacement 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 and was higher than the “massive new displacements” in Sudan (550,000), Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000 to June 2008), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over 220,000).

 

The Philippine report in the IDMC “only includes people displaced as a result of the August 2008 upsurge in fighting between the MILF and government forces in Mindanao. It does not include people displaced in previous years and who have not been able to find durable solutions, nor people displaced by clashes between government forces and communist NPA rebels in Mindanao and elsewhere.”

“Stick to the peace process”

Casino also warned against indiscriminate bombing of villages. “Indiscriminate bombings of villages and communities affect the civilian population more than the combatants. If there are to be military actions, it should be very limited, targeted and make use of appropriate force,” he said.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo told MindaNews after the funeral of Fr. Fausto Tentorio in Kidapawan on Tuesday that they” agree with President Aquino in not buckling down to calls for all-out war.”

He said the parties should “stick to the peace process” as there are ceasefire mechanisms there that have been put in place. He noted there may be a need to review the mechanisms given the differing interpretations but “all-out war” should not be the option.

Earlier, Malacanang vowed that military operations against the killers of the 19 soldiers in Basilan will continue but clarified these will “only target lawless elements” and not the  the MILF.

“The pursuit of the lawless elements will continue. The President is very categorical, ‘you cooperate or you stand aside.’ Dahil we are trying to make the distinction kung sino talaga ang gusto talaga ay kapayapaan at kung sino po yung nakikihalubilo lang at nagkukubli,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing in Malacanang Tuesday.

President Benigno Aquino vowed “all-out justice.”

But Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Bangsamoro) party-list, in a statement, noted that under the Estrada administration, it was “all-out war;” under the Arroyo administration, an “all-out peace;”and under the Aquino administration, “all-out justice.”

“The word replacement may make it sound like three different things, but these three “all-outs” reflect the consistent militarist policy the government has used towards resolving conflict in Mindanao, whatever the context,” it said.

“You can brand a war any manner you like but its consequences remains the same. Another all-out war can only breed further injustice, human rights violations, loss of lives, destruction of livelihood, and will push any prospect for peace in Mindanao further back. If the President is genuinely against all-out war, he must exercise his power as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and direct the military to put a stop to the ongoing aggression against communities in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay,” Suara Bangsamoro said in a statement signed by Neil Murad, Secretary General.

The government and MILF peace panels have yet to meet after the August 22-23 peace talks in Kuala Lumpur where the government presented its “three-for-one” draft peace proposal which the MILF peace panel rejected.

The Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks has been shuttling between the panels to  get the parties back to the negotiating table. (MindaNews)

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