Satur, other strange bedfellows in KL

By Fe Zamora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:11:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines—No, it has nothing to do with past reports that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had forged a “tactical alliance” with leftist groups.

“We were invited by both panels,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said, explaining his presence at the scuttled signing on Tuesday in Malaysia of what could allegedly have been a landmark agreement between the MILF and the government.

“I was there basically as a peace advocate and as a friend of the Bangsamoro,” Ocampo said in a telephone interview Wednesday. He said it was also his way of expressing “appreciation to their efforts to advance their principle of self-determination.”

Ocampo was with Mujiv Hataman of Anak Mindanao and other personalities whose presence in Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia just outside Kuala Lumpur, was deemed a statement by itself.

Ocampo blamed the government for its “lack of sincerity” in seriously pursuing a peace process with the MILF.

He noted, for instance, that as early as 2005, the MILF and government panels already discussed the inclusion of certain areas in Zamboanga City and North Cotabato.

“Even before, the government should have consulted with the LGUs (local government units), the stakeholders. It’s very apparent now that the government failed to do this,” Ocampo said.

Ocampo was a former spokesperson of the National Democratic Front, an umbrella organization for communist groups and the New People’s Army. The NDF has had a problematic peace process with the government.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order preserving the status quo requested by local officials in Zamboanga City and North Cotabato who questioned the proposed expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Also in Malaysia upon the invitation of the Philippine peace panel were Sulu Rep. Yusop Jikiri, a former high-ranking official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, chair of the House committee on Muslim affairs; and Anak Mindanao party-list Representative Hataman.

Jikiri said that instead of witnessing a signing ceremony, lawmakers and members of civil society met with Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to be apprised of what may be expected following the Supreme Court’s action.

A great embarrassment

“There is a great embarrassment,” Jikiri said, pointing to the presence in Malaysia of officials of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the US and Japanese ambassadors.

“The Supreme Court TRO was premature because while it is an agreement it is still subject to a plebiscite,” Jikiri said. “It is a disappointment.”

Balindong said that while he met with some officials in Kuala Lumpur after the cancellation of the signing ceremonies, he also went to see the sights in Kuala Lumpur, including the Petronas towers.

50-man delegation

In all, some 50 people were in the Philippine delegation, including invited diplomats, politicians and representatives of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

There was Ruben Torres, former labor secretary and executive secretary under the administration of President Fidel Ramos. He helped broker talks with the MILF in 1996.

The ambassadors were led by Kristie Kenney of the United States, Makoto Katsura of Japan, Rod Smith of Australia and Sayed Al Masry of the Islamic Conference. World Bank country director Bert Hoffman also joined the group.

A way of saying thanks

A Filipino diplomat said that representatives of donor countries to development programs in Mindanao were invited as a way of “thanking them for their commitment and perseverance” to the peace process.

Among the accredited observers were Irene Santiago, chair and CEO of Mothers for Peace; Amina Rasul of Philippine Democracy for Islam and Democracy; and Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of Mindanao’s People’s Caucus. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Christine O. Avendaño

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