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Esperon calls for sobriety

Jose Rodel Clapano - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. appealed yesterday to local officials in Mindanao to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements while the Supreme Court deliberates on the contested territorial pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Do not put fuel if there is fire,” Esperon, former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said.

He said civilians, particularly those in Central Mindanao, should not take matters into their hands as government security forces are prepared to protect them if attacked by MILF rebels.

“The police and the military will always do their mandate to enforce the law. The government response to the situation in Mindanao will be calibrated,” Esperon said.

He said the military has a brigade stationed in North Cotabato and the Philippine National Police has 900 personnel.

“We are announcing these operations to stabilize the situation and put back the rightful owners of those lands,” Esperon said.

He said any government response to violence will not affect the ongoing peace process.

Esperon also maintained that he did not expect North Cotabato Vice Gov. Manny Piñol to accuse him of threatening to stop military assistance to North Cotabato because of its officials’ opposition to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

“I am not apologizing to him, I am now asking for an apology from him,” Esperon said.

“How can I say that the AFP will not help local residents when I am no longer in the active service and I could not give that order?” he asked.

“I told him it is okay with me if he (Piñol) files petition for temporary restraining order because that’s his right. But I cautioned him about the possible repercussions to the peace process,” Esperon said.

“I also told him that if in 2000 there was a national policy to wage attacks against MILF camps there is none now as we are pursuing the peace process,” Esperon said. 

Malacañang, meanwhile, stressed it is not backing out of the MOA-AD with the MILF.

“It’s premature for us to talk about changing the participants. The action of the Supreme Court is a procedural action to give way to the petition presented by a petitioner in the person of Vice Gov. Piñol,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters at the Senate yesterday.

MOA copies for Congress

As debates continue to rage over the MOA-AD, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said copies of the controversial pact will now be submitted to both chambers of Congress.

“To avoid speculations, premature judgment, the peace adviser will be releasing this memorandum of agreement to the Senate and Congress for them to review so that there will be no more guesswork,” Puno said at a joint press conference with police and defense officials at Camp Crame.

“Too much has been said about what is in here and what is not here,” Puno said.

“I would just like to point out that one of premises of this agreement is that the entire agreement uses as one of the terms of reference Republic Act 6734 as amended by RA 9054, otherwise known as an act to strengthen and expand the ARMM,” he added.

“So we should remove the fear from anyone that there is an agreement that is going to be made contrary to the Constitution or existing laws. Because a lot has been said, like surrendering the Republic, creating an independent republic within the Philippines. This is not going to happen,” he said.

“This was not the intention (of the) agreement, it is not included in the agreement and it is specifically prohibited under RA 9054,” Puno said.

Piñol at the Senate

Piñol and Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz proceeded to the Senate yesterday to seek the help of senators in their fight for the scrapping of the MOA-AD.

Piñol debunked Press Secretary Jesus Dureza’s statements that consultations were made prior to the bungled signing of the MOA last Tuesday.

“Sec. Dureza was correct when he said that there were consultations conducted – yes, but those consultations did not mention about the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. It did not mention the ARMM. It did not mention a provision about the creation of an independent police force within the BJE. It did not mention the surrender of government control over natural resources and a lot of other things, correction facilities, judicial system, education, courts and everything,” Piñol said.

“Peace is something that is already present among Christians and Muslims in our city… So I say that the way to peace is respecting our voice. Friendly walls make good neighbors. This wall of not being part of the BJE is something which Iligan City feels strongly about, so if our voice will be listened to there will be peace,” Cruz said.

Cruz noted that eight of the 44 barangays being eyed to become part of the BJE constitute 82 percent of the total 81,337-hectare land area of the province.

Senators appeared receptive to Piñol’s initiative even as Senate President Manuel Villar appealed for sobriety.

Liberal Party senators led by Manuel Roxas II and Benigno Aquino III held a press conference to show support for Mindanao officials contesting the MOA.

Roxas also filed Senate Resolution 558 seeking an inquiry into the mandate, policies, and functions of Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Aquino, for his part, expressed concern over a provision in the MOA that stipulates an “associative” relationship between the national government and the BJE.

“In case of a conflicting issue, who will be followed? The national government should be superior to all government offices,” he said.

“We all want peace but not through injudicious and fraudulent means. An unconstitutional memorandum of agreement will only pave the way to war, not peace,” Villar said in a statement.

“We appeal to all to take the side of public welfare and keep our ordinary citizens out of harm’s way as we maintain our optimism in resolving this peace issue eventually,” he added.

‘Clean up the mess he created’

Senior House members said President Arroyo should let Esperon stay as peace adviser amid calls for his replacement, saying the retired military general himself should “clean up the mess he created” in Mindanao.

“That should be his fate, to straighten things out, and not be sent off to the beach to enjoy his retirement,” said Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra, whose three towns are included in the BJE.

“If we want to reprimand him for giving out lands as if these were combat rations, then let us punish him with hard labor, and that is to untangle the web of problems he had (created),” Mitra said.

“We appeal to both the MILF and the military to avoid any military action. Let us not act in haste, especially since it is the innocent civilians who will be most affected. We pray that both parties remain true to their commitment to pursue peace,” said Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Mujiv Hataman of party-list Anak Mindanao.

“I think he should stay on the saddle so whatever changes the Supreme Court might order, he will be the one who will implement it,” said Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen.

“One benefit of keeping him as peace negotiator is that his warrior credentials can’t be ignored by MILF leaders who are sincerely talking peace with government,” he said.

“If the SC will hand down a ruling that in effect will draw the parameters of what would be a constitutionally-acceptable agreement with the MILF, then he is in the best position to do the revisions,” Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro said.

Militants want him out

Militant groups, however, are demanding Esperon’s head.  

“He is not worthy of his position. The MOA that supposedly marked a breakthrough in the peace negotiations with the MILF has failed to undergo a thorough and sincere process of consultation among stakeholders,” Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza said.

“Somebody has to take responsibility and heads should roll,” said Maza.

“The Arroyo government’s track record in peace negotiations is filled with backstabbing and treachery, talking peace on one hand while pursuing all-out war on the other,” the left-leaning progressive party-list group said.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano urged President Arroyo to “lift the crazy and mad ultimatum on the MILF.

“Arroyo and her cabal of security officials must immediately stop bullying the struggling Moro people in their bid to push through with their planned escalation of military offensives followed by a declaration of emergency rule to desperately cling to power,” he said.

“Ms. Arroyo must immediately order her fascist generals to immediately order the lifting of this crazy and mad 24-hour ultimatum to avert bloodshed of innocent civilians,” he said. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla

ESPERON

MINDANAO

PEACE

PRESIDENT ARROYO

SUPREME COURT

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