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MOA deal off, SolGen tells high tribunal

By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:22:00 08/20/2008

Filed Under: Mindanao peace process, Armed conflict

MANILA, Philippines?The deal?s off.

A day after guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rampaged in Mindanao, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera Tuesday told the Supreme Court that ?circumstances have changed? since the aborted deal with the rebel group two weeks ago.

Devanadera noted the outbreak of fighting in some areas of Mindanao and the MILF?s occupation of towns in Lanao del Norte province that had led to the deaths of 40 civilians.

In a six-page statement, she urged the court to dismiss the case filed by local officials in Mindanao questioning the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain with the MILF.

?The issuance by the honorable court of a temporary restraining order, coupled by present conditions in some areas in Mindanao dictate that the MOA, in its present form, must undergo a thorough review. In fact, the executive department will pursue further negotiations with the MILF to address the issues hurled against the MOA,? Devanadera said.

She said that the administration was ?clearly not insensitive? to the views aired by some justices during the oral arguments on the case on Friday.

Justice Antonio Carpio said that several provisions in the MOA clashed with the Constitution. Justice Adolf Azcuna described the accord as ?patently illegal.?

Devanadera said that further negotiations with the MILF would ?necessitate consultation with various stakeholders, including those who will be affected by the expansion of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.?

Petitioners told to comment

In an en banc session Tuesday, the court ordered the petitioners to file their comment on Devanadera?s manifestation not later than 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The court, which on Aug. 4 stopped the signing of the MOA in Malaysia, resumes hearing oral arguments for the case on Friday.

Local officials in Mindanao, later joined by senators and concerned groups, had petitioned the court to stop the agreement aimed at ending four decades of civil strife in Mindanao that had left more than 120,000 people dead and 2 million uprooted.

The officials said they were not consulted on the deal, hammered out in secrecy in talks under the auspices of Kuala Lumpur. They also feared that the expanded Moro homeland envisioned in the accord amounted to the dismemberment of the Philippine republic and the creation of an independent state.

Devanadera noted that the administration had been consistent in its position that the MOA was ?merely a codification of consensus points reached between both parties and the aspirations of the MILF to have a Bangsamoro homeland.?

She said this could only be achieved ?by complying with the existing legal processes such as the enactment of appropriate legislation, amendment of the Constitution itself as well as the holding of a plebiscite,? she added.

Following the scuttled signing on Aug. 5 of the MOA, the MILF said that the draft accord was a ?done deal.? Moro rebels went on the offensive. Guerrillas pillaged towns in North Cotabato, ambushed an Army convoy in Lanao del Sur, and raided five towns in Lanao del Sur and Sarangani provinces.

MILF spokespersons said that raids were launched by commanders disenchanted by the government?s failure to carry out the accord.

Special meeting

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called a special meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Council on Friday to discuss the situation in Mindanao and the peace process, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said Tuesday.

He said that the opposition and sectors that would be affected by the expanded Bangsamoro homeland would be invited to the meeting.

?I think the situation is serious enough for the President to call for a multisectoral, and a wide-ranging group of leaders who can advise on this particular problem that is currently afflicting Mindanao,? said Dureza, a former peace adviser.

Dureza took exception to the statement by MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar that the MILF could not control its men after the MOA was stopped.

?It shows it is a possibility that they are also using this as a pressure tactic on government,? he said. ?So if it?s a pressure tactic on government, we should never allow it.?

?We want to know if we are to sign a peace agreement, if this is for real or maybe just a game,? Dureza said.

MILF: No to renegotiation

Jaafar Tuesday rejected talk of renegotiating the MOA ?even if it means an indefinite postponement of the 11-year-old peace process.? He said that the agreement was an ?acceptable? product of hard work and not of overnight negotiations.

He said that the attacks in Mindanao by MILF commanders were an expression of impatience over the stalled accord.

?This angered some of our field leaders, they thought that the efforts to bring about peace in Mindanao had been lost,? Jaafar said.

But he said the MILF was not justifying the wrong doings of Commander Bravo and Commander Ombra Kato who led the attacks in Mindanao.

?We will discipline them, we will punish them after due course,? Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said in a separate interview.

Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters Tuesday that the peace process could only be sustained by developments on the ground, ?if we can say we can still enforce the laws.?

?But if these [attacks] continue, it might be hard to sell the idea of peace if they can?t control their people,? said Esperon in a brief interview at the airport on his return from an undisclosed mission in Malaysia.

?Despite all these things, we must never give up on peace. The peace process must continue,? Esperon said.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said that the conduct of the peace talks should be thoroughly reviewed, ?especially the aspect on whether the people they are negotiating with are in full control of the forces they represent.?

?The way it appears some factions do not follow the cue and just go on rampage on their own. So we may be talking peace but they may have another agenda,? Nograles said.

Senate President Manuel Villar said that it would be impossible to hold the peace talks in view of the MILF?s attacks.

?It is clear that the MILF has no hold on its men, so who will the government talk to for peace?? Villar asked. As far as he was concerned, Villar said the ceasefire was not in effect because the AFP has to fight back and show who was in control in Mindanao.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said the government should abandon the peace process and hunt down the MILF guerrillas. ?The only remaining act of government is to officially declare that the MILF is now categorized as terrorists, like the Abu Sayyaf,? Biazon said.

Biazon and five other senators issued a statement urging the Arroyo administration ?to immediately restore law and order, taking a proactive stand to degrade the military capability of the rebels and thereby prevent further loss of lives of the innocent as well as of our troops.?

The statement was also signed by Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Benigno Aquino III, Panfilo Lacson, Jamby Madrigal and Manuel Roxas II.

Sen. Allan Cayetano also said the government should now reexamine how to categorize the MILF. ?Are they rebels fighting for a political cause? Are they terrorists?? Cayetano said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the government should not resume negotiations until the status of the commanders behind the rash of violence in the MILF hierarchy was clear.

$25-M US aid stands

Also Tuesday, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney told reporters that Washington?s $25-million peace assistance to the Philippines was still available.

?It?s my strongest hope that no one sees violence as a way to peace. An important thing for all of us in the Philippines is to find the right framework for lasting peace in Mindanao,? Kenney said. With reports from Christine O. Avendao, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Norman Bordadora, Tarra Quismundo and Cynthia D. Balana and Inquirer Mindanao



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