Peace pact must have people’s OK, says gov’t | Inquirer News

Peace pact must have people’s OK, says gov’t

Formal talks to end a deadly separatist conflict in Mindanao resume in Malaysia on Monday with the Aquino administration serving notice it would not sign any peace agreement with Moro rebels unless it was first presented to the people.

On the eve of the resumption of the negotiations, administration officials also said they expected a massive infusion of development funds for Mindanao once a peace deal was signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The government will not sign any peace agreement [prior to it being] presented to the people,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said during a forum with business and media representatives in Cotabato City at the weekend.


Optimism about the outcome of the talks have been raised by the unprecedented meeting in Tokyo on Aug. 4 between President Aquino and MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, but some have struck a note of caution about expecting an early agreement.


“It might be a long way to go based on my assessment of government and public reactions to the MILF draft (proposal) and the Tokyo meeting,” Raissa Jajurie, a member of the MILF’s board of consultants, said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Administration officials have expressed hope a final deal with the MILF would be fashioned out under the Aquino presidency.

The officials were also hopeful an agreement would speed up efforts to develop areas in the southern region where development has been stalled for decades by the conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

25 years

“Billions of pesos, if not dollars, would be poured in in terms of development funds,” said Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, cochair of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH).

MILF officials have said they are dropping their demand for an independent homeland and are calling instead for the creation of a Moro “substate” within the republic.


A government source, who did not want to be named for lack of authority to speak on the issue, said that under the MILF’s proposed draft agreement, a plebiscite to determine the territorial expansion of the substate would be held after 25 years.

The envisaged substate will be headed by a chief minister, will have economic powers and run its own internal security force, but it will remain part of the Philippines.

‘Real talks’

Deles said the government “does not consider the MILF proposal as a working draft. Neither do we consider the government version a counterproposal to the one submitted by the MILF.”

“We look at the two (proposals) separately, but we may harmonize some portions,” Deles said.

Jajurie said the MILF wanted to find out what the government counteroffer would be “and how far or near it is to the MILF draft comprehensive compact.”

Compared with previous negotiations, this new round of negotiations would mark the start of “real talks” that could produce an “acceptable formula for peace, Jajurie said.

“This is the start of the real negotiations because with the submission of the government draft, issues are now joined and we can start looking for a mutually acceptable formula,” she added.

Independence option

The government panel, headed by law professor Marvic Leonen, has kept its cards close to its chest the past weeks.

An MILF senior panel member, Michael Mastura, has indicated the rebel group will retain the option of independence unless the government sees the wisdom of the substate proposal and agrees to compromise.

Jajurie said she expected the government panel to present its counterproposal but whether it would meet the MILF halfway was another matter.

“Will the government agree to ‘meet halfway’?” she said.

Crucial stage

A network of Christians, Muslims and Lumads advocating peace in Mindanao, called the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), viewed the resumption of talks as a “very crucial stage” in the negotiations.

“Today, we’ll have a glimpse of the peace formula that the government is willing to offer,” MPC secretary general Mary Ann Arnado said by phone. “This is the real negotiation. The MILF has presented the bottomline: susbtate. The ball is on the side of the government.”

The MPC and other peace advocacy groups are hoping for a formula that would resolve the “root causes of the armed conflict” beyond simply reforming the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Arnado said.

Problem of Kato

Arnado said progress in the negotiations could help the MILF bring to its fold Ameril Umbra Kato, a renegade commander who has formed his separatist group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“The best way to bring Kato on board is to show results in the negotiations,” Arnado said. “If you want to address [the problem of] Kato, we should be able to deliver concrete results. If something happens in the negotiations, he will lose the ammunition to attack the process.”

Deles said the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) after the Tripoli talks in 2001 was part of confidence-building measures.

But she said the BDA would not be able to handle big projects as its officials had admitted to her.

“I was in Davao in a meeting with the BDA for confidence-building on the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) and it appears that the BDA can not handle big projects,” Deles said.

Development funds

The MTF consists of development funds for Mindanao donated by foreign governments and international organizations, including the World Bank and United Nations bodies, mainly the United Nations Development Program.

Bernardo said that from what he had learned, BDA’s development undertakings would also be funded with savings the government had realized from reduced spending this year.

The decadeslong Moro insurgency has claimed 150,000 lives and displaced more than a million people.

President Aquino last night said the government had “threshed out the parameters” of the talks with the MILF and expressed confidence a headway would be made in the three-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to reporters, the President also said the MILF had “acknowledged that Umbra Kato is their problem and they are attending to it.”

In a statement, Leonen said the government would submit in Kuala Lumpur its proposal “to bring peace and development in Mindanao.”

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He said the government position “is guided solely by national interest and based on our consultations with the different stakeholders.” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and AFP

TAGS: Malaysia, Mindanao, Moro rebels, Peace Talks

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