MANILA, Philippine ? Saying it cannot wait forever, the powerful Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has called for full implementation of a 1996 peace pact between the Philippines and Moro rebels, and declared it ?cannot continue to participate? in a process that would give Muslims false hopes.
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu aired the call at a closed-door, tripartite meeting among representatives of the Arroyo administration, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the OIC, which ended Friday.
The meeting, held at the Heritage Hotel, was aimed at resolving differences in the implementation of the 13-year-old accord.
In his message read by OIC special envoy Sayyed El-Masry, Ihsanoglu said it was about time a genuine peace was achieved in the southern Philippines, 33 years after the signing of the Tripoli Accord calling for the grant of autonomy to Filipino Muslims.
?That is a very long time by any standards, and a very long wait for the Bangsamoro people,? Ihsanoglu said. ?So, we cannot allow this process to go on forever.?
?We cannot continue to participate in a process that will give the people false hopes. We have put a time frame for this process and a benchmark to measure its success or failure,? the OIC head added.
A copy of his speech was released to the Inquirer by the media office of Philippine presidential peace adviser Avelino Razon.
Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), told the delegates the cycle of war in the Philippines? southern islands must be stopped now.
Legal panel formed
A joint communiqué released after the meeting said the Arroyo administration and the MNLF had agreed to form a legal panel to propose improvements in the law creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Despite the signing of the 1996 peace agreement between the government of President Fidel Ramos and the MNLF, the Moro people have continued to live in poverty.
The MNLF says the accord has not been fully implemented so as to allow them to enjoy substantial autonomy and have a say on the use of the rich mineral and natural resources of Mindanao and outlying islands.
Bridge of harmony
In the joint communiqué, the government and the MNLF reaffirmed their commitments to ?preserve the primacy? of the 1996 agreement.
Razon, in his closing remarks, said there was need to ?strive harder to fortify the bridges of peace and harmony and bring down the fences of discord and misunderstanding that have brought untold suffering and misery to many of our brothers in Mindanao and other conflict-ridden areas in the country.?
Undersecretary Nabil Tan, deputy presidential adviser on the peace process, said both sides had agreed to look at the provisions of Republic Act No. 9054 creating the ARMM and ?maybe bring some improvement in terms of ? the possible inclusion of those points raised in the 1996 agreement, which [were] not captured accurately.?
He said this was intended ?to hurdle the obstacle? for the full implementation of the 1996 accord and ?harmonize? it with the law setting up the ARMM.
Both sides agreed to nominate their representatives for the legal panel to be formed by March 20 and work on the proposed improvements in a month?s time.
The final report of the panel will then be submitted to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for referral to Congress. The OIC will also be furnished a copy.
?We agreed to create a legal panel to harmonize proposals on how to improve the implementation of a peace pact that created the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao,? Tan said.
Malacanang welcomed the agreement between the two to propose amendments to the Armm law.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said this could help facilitate the peace process with the other rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Misuari expressed hope that full implementation of the peace agreement would finally ?break the cycle of war, cycle of repression, cycle of extermination, and cycle of suffering? in Mindanao.
The tripartite meeting reiterated the importance of capacity-building projects, and of funds and loans for the social and economic development of Mindanao.
It welcomed plans for the establishment of a peace and development fund mechanism for the region with the support of OIC-member countries.
2 million displaced
More than 120,000 people have died in the four-decades-long conflict that has also displaced more than two million people.
The 1996 agreement was brokered by the OIC and Indonesia.
But peace between Manila and the MILF has proved elusive. Intermittent clashes have occurred between them in the south, forcing villagers to flee their homes.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits, a fiercer group, have also disrupted the peace in some areas with their kidnapping and bombing operations.
Last year, the government agreed to expand the ancestral homeland for Muslims in the south after talks with the MILF, but negotiations were suspended when violence escalated in six southern provinces. The Supreme Court voided the deal. Reports from Jeannette I. Andrade, TJ Burgonio and Reuters