MILF on pact: It's a done deal
MILF on pact: It's a done deal
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2008 - 12:00am

COTABATO CITY – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said yesterday the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the government is a “done deal” and ready for implementation despite last Monday’s Supreme Court order stopping its scheduled signing.

“We have initialed the text of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain last July 27, 2008.  The pact is a done deal. It is binding on the contracting parties who are obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of their agreement,” the MILF’s chief negotiator, Muhaquer Iqbal, said in a statement.

He said yesterday’s supposed signing of the MOA at the Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia was only a symbolic ceremony where he and his government counterpart Rudolfo Garcia were supposed to affix their “full signatures” on the document.

Iqbal was apparently referring to the “initialing” of the controversial document by the government and MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur last July 25.

“The act of initialing the MOA-AD’s agreed text between the parties constitutes a signature of the Philippine government and MILF,” he said, pointing out the procedure was “done with a credible third party witness, the Malaysian government, as facilitator of the talks since 2001.”

Iqbal said it was the Arroyo administration that was embarrassed before the international community by the SC’s issuance of a temporary restraining order because “many ambassadors” were already in Malaysia to witness the signing.

He said the SC order was an internal matter of the Philippine government  and not binding to the MILF.

“We do not even recognize the SC,” Iqbal said. “It should be implemented and up to the national government to comply with it.”

The dignitaries included US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney and Sayed El-Masry, adviser to the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference Ekmeleddin Ishanuglo.

‘Temporary setback’

In Kuala Lumpur, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the SC’s issuance of the TRO is only a “temporary setback.”

The pact was meant to pave the way for a final political settlement to end the 30-year fight by the MILF for an independent Islamic state.

Romulo, who had flown to the Malaysian capital for the planned signing, admitted the SC’s decision Monday was disappointing but said he was confident the deal did not contravene the Constitution.

“This temporary delay has disappointed all of us and at the Supreme Court we will present our case why we should continue with the signing of the memorandum agreement for ancestral domain, which is within the law,” he said.

“We are confident eventually we should be able to return and have this memorandum on ancestral domain signed,” he told a press conference.

Asked whether the SC deliberations would be lengthy, he said he expected the court to handle the case with “the importance and urgency that it deserves.”

The agreement, seen as paving the way for a formal peace deal, would give MILF power over an autonomous area with its own civil service, internal security force and legal, banking and education systems.

“What should simmer in our minds is for peace and tranquility to exist. There ought not to be violence in any instance,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said at the joint press conference.

Peace process adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said violence was a concern now because the rebels lacked control over their forces, but that major clashes were unlikely.

“We are calling for calm on all sides and not to be provoked,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, adding that trouble that had broken out so far was “isolated and controllable.”

Esperon said the agreement on “ancestral domain” was necessary for the two sides to go into formal peace talks, which they had hoped could be resolved within 15 months.

Negotiations for a peace deal will now be put on hold until the SC makes its decision, he said. The government will submit written arguments on Aug. 8 with oral arguments to follow on Aug. 15.

Esperon said it “had not entered our minds” that the SC would strike out the MOA.

‘Modern-day Judases’

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat said the MILF’s declaration that the MOA is already a “done deal” only showed the lack of transparency in the negotiations for the territorial pact.

“If the MILF is saying this is a done deal then it only goes to show how untransparent the government panel is to its constituents,” Lobregat said.

Meanwhile, the city’s legislative body wants to declare as persona non grata members of the government peace negotiating team for alleged deception.

“The real enemy of Mindanao is the GRP panel. These are the modern day Judases who almost sold parts of Mindanao,” Councilor Gerky Valesco said.

“I call upon the Zamboangeños to consider the GRP panelists persona non grata,” he said.

He said the panel’s position was a “blatant sellout, a treachery to the future generation of Mindanaons.”

United Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano said no peace deal can succeed unless the problems with poverty and illiteracy are addressed by the government.

“As long as the highest rate of poverty is in the ARMM, as long as the highest rate of people who cannot read and write are still in the ARMM, we will never have peace no matter how many peace agreements are sign,” Tamano, a Muslim, said.

More protests

In Kidapawan City, thousands – including ethnic Maguindanaoan Muslims – staged a rally outside the North Cotabato capitol to protest the lack of public consultation on the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF.

“Protest actions like these are the best way of highlighting grievances, more sensible and more humane than harassing villages of unarmed settlers, burning houses of civilians and taking hostage non-combatants just to project strength,” said North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, one of the organizers of the rally. The rallysits also lauded the SC’s issuance of a TRO on the MOA on ancestral domain.

“We have already spoken in previous plebiscites that we don’t want to be part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and, subsequently, the expanded ARMM so there is no more reason for our villages to be included in that ancestral domain,” said 45-year-old farmer Abdul Sanggutin.

The protesters also demanded a probe on why the government’s ceasefire committee, led by Army Gen. Reynaldo Sealana, failed to stop the continuing MILF harassments on farming communities.

Appeal for calm

Three administration lawmakers from Mindanao yesterday called for sobriety amid the controversy sparked by the aborted signing of the MOA-AD.

Reps. Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, Abdullah Dimaporo of Lanao del Norte and Mujiv Hataman of Anak Mindanao said the TRO should assure critics of the MOA that nothing is final yet.

“I appeal for calmness and tranquility, the provision of MOA is nothing to be afraid about because nothing is final yet. The MOA is just a guideline and basis to proceed with the peace talks or final peace negotiation,” Datumanong, deputy speaker, said.

The MOA, he said, still needs “congressional approval” and that it is “subject to a plebiscite.”

“Meaning it is just a piece of paper. I respect the decision of the SC, it’s their function,” he said.

Dimaporo stressed the MOA “is not the agreement itself” but a “declaration of both sides to sit down for the formal negotiation and identifying the agenda of the negotiation.”  

“The final agreement will have to be operationalized and still needs legislation,” he said.

For his part, Hataman lamented the SC freeze order, but acknowledged that it’s part of the democratic process. “We are governed by the rule of law, so we respect and abide by this decision,” he said.

“Let us practice patience and prudence, they are very small sacrifices for the sake of peace. I am still hoping that SC will hear and resolve this issue as soon as possible for the sake of peace in Mindanao,” the party-list lawmaker said.

In bad faith

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo accused the Arroyo government of negotiating with the MILF in “bad faith,” which delayed the signing of the MOA on ancestral domain.

The deputy minority leader, who is still in Malaysia for the stalled signing, said the MILF has the right to assert its ancestral domain and form a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity or BJE.

“Secrecy and treachery characterized the government’s handling of the issue and it backfired. It’s now becoming clear that the agreement on ancestral domain, specifically the formation of the BJE is being tied to efforts to amend the Charter,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pangasinan Rep. Arthur Celeste, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said his committee will conduct public hearings in Mindanao areas that will be affected by the creation of the BJE.

“Once a bill has been filed in Congress seeking investigation of the BJE, I will request the secretariat of the House of Representatives to bring the public hearings closer to the most affected people, to bring it to Mindanao,” he said.

“We will hear all sides, both from the pro-BJE and the anti-BJE, especially those who are vehemently protesting in the streets. We will give them a chance to speak their minds off on the issue,” Celeste said. - With James Mananghaya, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Edith Regalado, Roel Pareño

 

ANCESTRAL DOMAIN GOVERNMENT MINDANAO PEACE
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