Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Holding ARMM polls won’t jeopardize ancestral domain pact

MoA to be formally inked August--Esperon

Holding the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will not jeopardize the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MoA) on ancestral domain between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Friday.

Nevertheless, Esperon said postponing the regional polls, scheduled August 11, was “important” because it would provide "more space, chances of [success for the] peace negotiations."

Esperon briefed the diplomatic community on efforts to reach a peace agreement with the MILF and said the MoA, which will pave the way for the establishment of a Bangsamoro juridical entity and remove the most contentious issue that had stalled negotiations, is expected to be formally signed in August, after the draft is initialed in Kuala Lumpur either late Friday or early Saturday.

The juridical entity is envisioned to expand on the territory of the current ARMM.

Asked later if postponing the ARMM polls, as requested by the MILF, was crucial to signing the MoA and the success of the peace negotiations, Esperon said it was “important, that’s why the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] asked for it.”

But when pressed if pushing through with the elections would stall the peace process, Esperon replied: “No, as you can see, we’re already signing the draft this afternoon [Friday] or tomorrow morning, but it’s [postponing the ARMM polls] still important.”

"We have a major breakthrough in the discussions on ancestral domain and both panels are finalizing the text of the MoA for inking in early August. We are just a few strides away from the finish line," Esperon told the diplomats.

Soon after the formal signing of the MoA, the two parties will resume formal peace negotiations on the main talking points on how to solve the Bangsamoro problem.

Esperon said the signing of the MoA on ancestral domain will satisfy the requirements of the 2001 Tripoli Agreement between the two panels.

He said the only point of contention in the draft is when to schedule the plebiscite in the 721 villages eyed for inclusion in a proposed Bangsamoro juridical entity.

Esperon said the government wants the plebiscite held one and a half to two years after the signing of the final peace agreement while the MILF wants it after signing the MoA.

"It should be after final peace agreement,” Esperon said. “If [the plebiscite is held] after the MoA, we shall not have defined the powers of the resulting entity, the Bangsamoro juridical entity," he said.

On the ARMM elections, Esperon said if the polls are held on August 11, the term of office of officials elected then might overlap with the foreseen signing of the final peace pact.

Thus, he said, it would be better if there is only one electoral exercise for the Bangsamoro juridical entity, “involving ARMM officials now and any candidates coming from the new geographical entity.”

Esperon said he and his office would justify the postponement of the ARMM polls to Congress, whose members are reportedly divided on whether to pass a bill resetting the regional elections to 2010, together with the presidential elections.

Esperon also said the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that has been overseeing a three-year ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF, and whose mandate is supposed to end on August 31, has expressed “full support” for a proposal to increase the number of foreign economic monitors.

Currently, only Japan has an economic monitor with the team.

But Esperon said Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the European Union have expressed their intention to send economic monitors to the IMT.

The international team is chaired by Malaysia and includes Brunei, Libya, and Japan.
(Veronica Uy; INQ.net)

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