MILF homeland deal dead


GMA govt still committed to pursuing peace

By Angelo S. Samonte, Reporter

It’s final. President Gloria Arroyo reiterated that her administration would no longer sign an agreement on ancestral domain with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whatever the Supreme Court decision on the homeland deal would be.

The President standing pat on her decision to trash the territorial pact came as the European Union backed her so-called paradigm shift in resolving the nearly four decades of separatist conflict in Mindanao in southern Philippines.

A former rebel leader, Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), on Friday also supported the government’s peace efforts in the South, an apparent turnaround in his past criticism that President Arroyo failed to implement the 1996 final peace agreement between Manila and the MNLF.

“We want peace. We don’t want war, and I am helping [the President] to bring peace to the South,” Misuari said during a meeting with Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and senior military and government officials on Thursday at the provincial capitol in Patikul town.

In her speech during the 107th anniversary celebration of the Office of the Solicitor General in Fort Bonifacio in Makati City on Thursday night, Mrs. Arroyo said she was firmly closing the door on the controversial agreement “in the light of the recent violent incidents committed by MILF lawless groups.”

Such groups attacked mostly Christian communities in four provinces in Mindanao in southern Philippines in August. Ensuing clashes between government troops and the rebels saw more than 200 soldiers, insurgents and civilians killed and nearly half-a-million residents displaced.

Committed to peace

Despite her decision not to sign the agreement, the President said: “We are committed to doing everything possible to bring lasting peace to Mindanao and end 40 years of fighting that has killed more than 120,000 people.”

“It is in the interest of all Filipinos, Muslim and Christian, to end the violence that has held that part [Mindanao] of our country back and required an investment of hundreds of millions of pesos to support our military presence there,” Mrs. Arroyo added.

To achieve lasting peace in southern Philippines, the President said, all peace talks would be refocused from dialogues with the rebels to direct talks with both Muslim and Christian communities in Mindanao.

She highlighted her new paradigm shift of disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation, or DDR, which, she said, would be the “overall framework governing our engagement with armed groups in peace talks.”

Under this strategy, Mrs. Arroyo said, rebel forces would be held accountable for all their actions.

“Our people, together with government, will be the primary force in defining the shape and direction of societal change, not the force of arms,” she added.

EU backing

In supporting the President’s new tack against the rebels, Eneko Landaburu, the European Union’s director general for external affairs, offered to study strengthening the government’s new policy through development assistance to Mindanao.

“[We] will help the Philippines find ways to recuperate the situation. The Philippine government already spent enormous amounts of effort and government resources for the peace pact [between Manila and MILF]. They should not go to waste,” Landabaru said.

Mrs. Arroyo dissolved the government peace panel on September 3, or a few weeks after the attacks led by rebel commanders Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar or Bravo. The two MILF leaders justified the attacks, which they said they launched to protest the aborted signing of the agreement on ancestral domain on August 5.

The deal would have added 721 villages to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, virtually the government for the Muslim homeland.

Philippine Ambassador to Belgium Cristina Ortega said dissolving the Philippine peace panel was necessary to enable the government to realign all peace initiatives with disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation.

“By consulting directly local communities and holding dialogues with them, the new approach would be more effective and viable,” she added in a statement.

Peace broker

Rafael Seguis, the Foreign Affairs undersecretary for special concerns, said Malaysia is still willing to continue with brokering the peace process in southern Philippines.

The signing of the homeland deal set in Kuala Lumpur nearly two months ago was stalled after the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against it on petitions from local officials in Mindanao.

The Supreme Court is expected to again hear oral arguments on the petitions in the next few weeks.

Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the presidential adviser on the peace process, earlier admitted that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had expressed disappointment over the collapse of the homeland deal.

Seguis, apparently confirming Badawi’s reaction, said during a chance interview with The Manila Times: “Malaysia did not like what happened, but they are still willing to help and give assistance to the Philippines, provided that the MILF will not resort to violence.”

Esperon on Friday expressed confidence that the government could achieve peace in Mindanao regardless of the resistance of the MILF.

“No matter how bad the damage [inflicted by the rebels] is, there is still hope to achieve peace,” he said during a media forum at Hotel Rembrandt in Quezon City.

Like the President, Esperon insisted that the MILF first turn in Kato and Bravo, plus another rebel commander, Solaiman Pangalian, to show its sincerity in seeing the peace process through.

The three commanders have been issued a total of 44 warrants of arrest and they and other rebel leaders are facing a total of 152 criminal cases.

Supposedly, 16 MILF commands have not joined followers of Kato, Bravo and Pangalian in battling government troops, a sign that the rebel leadership remains committed to an existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the separatist group.

In throwing his support behind Mrs. Arroyo’s peace initiatives, Misuari said he had been asked by the President to help quiet down the rebellion in Mindanao.

He spoke with Tan, Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of military forces in Sulu, and Undersecretary Nabil Tan, a presidential adviser, about his role as a peacemaker.

Misuari also met with his loyal forces in Sulu led by Habier Malik, who is wanted by Philippine authorities for previously leading a series of attacks on government troops in Sulu.

In September, he said that the MNLF had nothing to do with the peace talks between the government and the MILF. “We are not involved [in the peace process between them]. We are not a party to that [process]. We are not bound by any consequences of any peace agreement.”

Misuari is facing rebellion charges over a failed attempt of his followers to seize a major military base in Sulu. He fled to Sabah, his former refuge, but was arrested by Malaysian authorities and sent back to Manila. Misuari is currently out on bail.
— Llanesca T. Panti, Al Jacinto And Jefferson Antiporda (ManilaTimes)

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