GPH names 2 new peace panel members

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/9 January) – The government peace panel has named two of its consultants in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as regular members.

Dr. Hamid Barra, who has been consultant since 2010, replaces Upi Mayor Ramon Piang, a member of the panel representing Indigenous Peoples.

“Being a local executive, a mayor, we have made arrangements for (Mayor Piang) to still be a member of the panel to represent the indigenous peoples and local government while at the same time attending to critical issues in his area,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said.

Yasmin Busra Lao, who was introduced as consultant in the peace talks in December, is now also a regular member of the panel. Lao ran for the Senate in 2010 under the Liberal Party slate of President Aquino.

Barra and Lao are both from Marawi City

Leonen announced the change of status from consultants to regular members in his opening remarks at the Executive Boardroom of the Royale Chulan Hotel Monday morning, January 9.

Barra was former president and now chair of the National Ulama Council. He was also co-convenor of the Bishops Ulama Conference.

“He’s a respected Islamic laws lawyer having studied here in Malaysia. He has guided our panel in very difficult issues pertaining to Islamic laws in the past,” Leonen said.

President Aquino had earlier named Barra as chair of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) but the Supreme Court granted the petition for status quo ante of Bai Omera Dianalan Lucman, the appointee of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In introducing Lao, Leonen said she is very active in civil society and is now “also very active with respect to the transformation of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). I think she has pioneered in terms of questions on the Bangsamoro women, especially with respect to gender equality.”

He said the government peace panel now has a “complete set of five” – referring to himself, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, business executive and former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, Barra and Lao.

“We hope that this composition will serve as fuel for the negotiations in terms of crafting the substantive part of our talks,” he said.

Leonen said they will soon be making announcements “about the installation of alternate members of our panel.”

But he was silent on another supposed regular member of the panel, the NCMF chair.

RA 9997, the law creating the NCMF, provides that its head, who holds a Cabinet rank, will also “participate in the peace process involving conflicts between Filipino Muslim groups and/or individuals and the government in cooperation with appropriate agencies, individuals and institutions” and pursuant thereto, the NCMF Secretary or his/her duly designated representative “shall sit as a regular member of the government’s peace panel in negotiating peace with the Muslim Filipino groups or individuals.”

Last week, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) announced the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ designation of Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer as the new senior military adviser (SMA) of the GPH panel in the talks with the MILF.

Ferrer, former commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, replaced SMA Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar who retired in August.

Ferrer was a pioneer member and secretariat head of the GPH Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) upon its establishment in 2004. The AHJAG is a joint effort of the government and the MILF which seeks to interdict and isolate lawless elements taking refuge in or near MILF communities. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)