It’s MOA or nothing — MILF Moro rebs OK with new peace panel chief, but…


By Jeoffrey Maitem, Julie Alipala, Richel Umel
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 02:39:00 12/03/2008

PIKIT, NORTH COTABATO, Philippines—“It’s MOA-AD or nothing,” the chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Tuesday in reaction to the government’s reconstitution of its peace panel.

Mohagher Iqbal said the MILF welcomed the appointment by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis as chair of the government panel, “but still it’s not enough.”

“It’s a good step toward the peace process,” he said by phone, but adding that what was needed to kick-start the negotiations was for the government to honor the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

The government reneged on a commitment to sign the MOA-AD on Aug. 5 as a prelude to opening formal peace negotiations with the MILF, after numerous stakeholders in Mindanao and elsewhere raised a hue and cry about not being consulted on the deal that would have granted the Moro people a virtually independent state.

The Supreme Court later struck down the MOA-AD as unconstitutional.

Since then, Malacañang has said any peace negotiations would be based on agreements that would not violate the Constitution.

Iqbal, however, said the MILF was holding the government to the MOA-AD, and if the government insisted on bringing up new talking points, the MILF would not return to the table.

“How can we resume the talks? Do we have something to talk about? We will only return to the negotiating table if we will both sign the memorandum on ancestral domain,” he said.

Since the talks hit a snag, fighting between the military and MILF forces have broken out in several areas.

Seguis, a veteran diplomat who gained prominence after negotiating the release of two Filipinos held hostage by insurgents in Iraq, said in a statement: “This is a tremendous challenge and opportunity which I humbly accept knowing fully well the difficult road that lies ahead.”

He said his appointment was “the first step in preparation for the resumption of talks.”

The government will complete reconstituting its negotiating panel by Dec. 15 in an effort to revive negotiations with the MILF hopefully before Christmas, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters.

“We may be resuming the talks toward the second or third week of December,” said Ermita.

Seguis, a former ambassador to several Muslim countries, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, replaced retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

President Arroyo has faced growing international calls to resume peace talks with the MILF to end the fighting that broke out in August, killing scores of people on both sides and displacing more than 500,000 residents of southern Mindanao.

Several countries, including the United States and Great Britain, have urged the President to find ways to resume talks with the rebels to ease the plight of the displaced villagers. With reports from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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