Civil society groups launch campaign to bring nego panels together

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 July) – Alarmed with the growing tension and sporadic skirmishes between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces, civil society groups here have designed a 16-day campaign plan that they hope would culminate with the convening of the peace panels. “Each day counts. We dread the sight of more people trooping to the evacuation center everyday. We do not want to hear more people dying,” representatives of organizations working in the conflict-affected areas, said.

Among those who met are the Peacebuilders Community, Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) and Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC), including the grassroots ceasefire monitor, Bantay Ceasefire, and representatives from Overseas Development Agencies.

The campaign will be launched on July 7, shall culminate on July 22 with CSOs convening the peace negotiators of the government and MILF.

“We will just call them to a meeting that will merely bring them together to discuss whatever it is that they have to talk about. We will not interfere with their agenda,” said lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, the secretary-general of the MPC

Rexall Kaalim, coordinator of Bantay Ceasefire, said that since the government and the MILF have yet to scheduled the resumption of the talks despite persistent calls for them to immediately go back to the negotiating table, “we, the people, will schedule a day for them to come together.”

Kaalim said they will use the scheduled meeting as reason to “persuade the restive forces on the ground to hold their fire, go back to their respective camps and give us 16 days to bring the panels together.”

Within the period, peace groups vowed to solicit the broadest support they could muster to help them pressure government and the MILF to go back to the negotiating table and sign the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain.

The peace groups will call on the Bishop-Ulama Conference, business groups and Overseas Development Agencies (ODA).

Elwyn Neri of the Peacebuilders Community said they would call preliminary conferences with military generals, church leaders, businessmen and foreign donors who have projects in Mindanao to convince them to support their plan.

Neri said that “while we are preparing the communities, our colleagues would also meet the opinion-makers and other stakeholders of peace in Mindanao.”

Kaalim said that if both panels would not heed their call to meet on July 22, they may ask “businessmen to close shop for a day or two. We will also request ODAs to suspend their operations in Mindanao until the government and the MILF resume talks.”

He explained that because of the tension happening on the ground, the ODAs could not really do what they want to do because of travel advisories. “This has happened in the past. When ODAs threatened to momentarily pull-out their staff in Mindanao and for the time being suspend their operations, the government and the MILF listened to them,” Kaalim added.

The government and MILF peace panels were supposed to have met in December to sign the agreement on ancestral domain but the MILF peace panel opted not to meet with the government when it saw government’s draft veered away from the consensus points earlier agreed upon.

The MILF peace panel received government’s revised draft on June 25 and submitted its reply on June 29. The government panel received the MILF’s reply on July 1. (Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews)

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