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.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

MILF: Peace talks now in 'purgatory'

Aug 31 (Reuters) - The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group threatened on Sunday to pull out of peace talks with Manila because the government has cancelled a territorial deal after it was challenged in the Supreme Court.

Mohaqher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the rebels would only go back to the negotiating table if the government revived and signed the agreement expanding an autonomous Muslim region in the south of the Catholic-majority nation.

"The peace process is now in purgatory," Iqbal told Reuters before he boarded a flight to the southern Philippines.

"It was buried by government's decision not to sign the ancestral domain agreement.

"We're not only disappointed and frustrated over government's decision to turn its back on the ancestral domain deal, we've completely lost trust and confidence in them. The fate of the peace negotiation rests solely in the hands of the government."

The MILF has been in on-off talks with Manila since 1997 to end nearly 40 years of conflict that has killed 120,000 people and stunted growth in the south, an impoverished region believed to be sitting on huge deposits of metals and hydrocarbons.

Malaysia has been brokering talks since 2001 and agreed last week to keep about 12 unarmed troops in the southern Philippines for another three months to monitor a ceasefire agreement.

Renegade members of the MILF went on the rampage two weeks ago after the territorial deal was halted by the Supreme Court and the military has said nearly 200 people have been killed in fighting in parts of the southern Mindanao region.

On Friday, Manila's chief legal counsel formally told the 15-member Supreme Court the government would no longer honour the ancestral domain agreement with the MILF, which was supposed to be signed in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 5.

Jesus Dureza, the president's spokesman, said government has decided to review the entire peace process and consult all sections of society in the south before sitting down with Muslim rebels to find a more acceptable deal based on the country's constitution.

"We're not changing the rules of the game," Dureza said in a separate interview with Reuters. "It was the MILF that brought these changes when its forces started attacking villages, killed innocent people and burned houses and farms."

Survival Mode

Dureza said the government remained committed on the peace process, "refocusing from one that is centred on dialogues with rebels to one of authentic dialogues with the communities with disarmament as the context of our engagements with armed groups".

Iqbal said the MILF was still waiting for Manila to formally inform them of its decision to scrap the territory deal.

"We might as well wait for the next president after the 2010 elections," Iqbal said, adding the MILF was no longer confident it could strike a final peace agreement under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"She is just trying to save her own neck. That's why she was not willing to defend the peace agreement and was also willing to sacrifice everything just to stay in power."

Fighting in Mindanao has abated since Friday when troops seized a rebel base, an army spokesman. The miliary has vowed to continue operations during Islam's holy month of Ramadan starting this week.

The military has said about 60 civilians have been killed in attacks by MILF renegades on towns in the south and in wayward mortar shelling. In addition, 17 soldiers and an estimated 110 rebels have died. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson; abscbnNews.com)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Civilian deaths in Mindanao rising—CHR

Leila de Lima, the top human rights official in the country, raised the alarm over the rising human cost of an army offensive against Muslim rebels in the south, saying civilian deaths had gone unreported.

Monitors on the ground have confirmed 20 civilians were killed when troops overran rebel positions on Sunday in Lanao del Norte province, Commission on Human Rights chair de Lima said.

"The fighting resulted in the killings of almost 20 civilians that had not been covered by the media," De Lima said.

The AFP reported that 16 rebels were killed in last week’s firefight.

She told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines today that rights monitors were now gathering the names of the civilians killed.

De Lima said they would countercheck the number of victims reported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the hostilities that erupted recently between the military and forces of Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Lanao del Norte and other affected areas.

De Lima said that this “groundbreaking” step came after the CHR Lanao del Norte investigating team found out that around 20 civilians were killed in the skirmishes between the AFP and the MILF troops led by Abdulraman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo in the town of Poona Piagapo last week.

Army forces swooped to Lanao del Norte after Bravo and his men attacked the area following the breakdown of the Moro homeland accord between the government and the MILF.

‘Ticklish’ distinction

Counterchecking AFP’s figures on victims in combat is a first for the human rights body. De Lima explained that this motion falls under the monitoring mandate of the CHR.

She admitted however, that standards on distinguishing civilians from combatants are yet to be refined and finalized.
She added that the identification of insurgents and their sympathizers is a ‘ticklish’ issue.

“It is a dilemma,” she admitted.

To efficiently address the rising conflict in Mindanao however, she said that they would identity combatants from civilians based on their participation in the armed conflict.

“If they directly attack, if they have arms, then they are considered combatants,” she

We called AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano to get his reaction on CHR’s action, but he declined to comment and referred us instead to AFP Spokesperson Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres. However, we could not reach Torres as of posting time.

Trouble after MOA

Hostilities erupted after the government said that it would not sign the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement as various parties asked the Supreme Court to stop the government peace panel from signing the agreement due to its “unconstitutional” provisions.

The assailed provisions in the MOA mandate the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which would cover the original territory of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and include at least 8 barangays in Zamboanga City—Zone III, Zone IV, Busay, Landang Gua, Landang Laum, Manalipa, Pasilmanta and Tigtabon—and around 700 more other barangays from North Cotabato, Basilan and Palawan.

Call for protection of civilians

Meanwhile, various law groups are calling for equal protection of civilians, be they Muslims or Christians.

”Now that fighting has shifted to Moro areas, we hear of insufficient time given to civilians to vacate their villages before AFP bombardment begins. We hear of food blockades against internally displaced people. We hear of NGOs being prevented from delivering urgently needed relief items and media personalities being prevented from covering the humanitarian crisis,” a statement issued by the Alliance of Muslim Advocates of Law and other law groups said.

They cited Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, particularly on the protection of civilian populations. “Civilians enjoy protection from dangers arising from military operations (Art. 13-1). Neither should they be subjected to attack (Art. 13-2), nor should acts of hostility be directed at places of worship (Art. 16). Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited (Art. 14),” the statement said.

Disorganized disaster management

So far, the government has reported over 40 civilians and soldiers killed, but that figure does not include the 20 latest casualties in Lanao del Norte province cited by De Lima.

It was not immediately clear whether those deaths in Lanao del Norte were a result of deliberate MILF attacks or collateral damage from heavy artillery bombardment carried out by troops, De Lima said.

As of Tuesday, more than 280,000 people had been displaced and are being sheltered in packed and squalid camps in Mindanao, disaster relief officials said.

She said MILF rebels should be condemned for mass pillage, but that the government response in caring for the displaced must also be scrutinized.

In many camps, there were no social workers, sanitation remains woeful, and food and water are in short supply, she said.

Disaster management planning also "appears disorganized," she said

Differing figures on extrajudicial killings

Before the figures on the recent Mindanao violence, the CHR’s numbers have already clashed with that of the AFP and the Philippine National Police with regard to the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The PNP human rights investigating team Task Force Usig reported that since 2001, there had been 122 cases of extralegal violence, with victims from such killings recorded as “slain militants.”

The AFP Human Rights Office recorded less than 20 cases of extrajudicial killings.

On the other hand, De Lima said that CHR has documented 436 cases of extrajudicial violence.

But the data from CHR and national security forces do not also match that of Karapatan, a human rights organization. According to Karapatan, there had been more than 800 cases of extrajudicial killings in the last six years. (By PURPLE S. ROMERO
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak with reports from Agence France-Presse)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

‘Ilaga’ vigilantes resurface, warn MILF

SOMEWHERE IN NORTH COTABATO, Philippines -- The “Ilaga” (Visayan for “rat”), a mainly Christian vigilante group that gained notoriety in Mindanao in the 1970s, has resurfaced in this province, warning the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to stop attacking civilians or face dire consequences.

“If the fighting will continue, for every civilian killed, we will execute 10 Moro rebels,” Mike Santiago, spokesperson of the group, which now calls itself the Reform Ilaga Movement, told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

The Ilaga, who were tapped to battle the Moro National Liberation Front, were accused of atrocities against Muslim communities, the bloodiest of which was in June 1971, when 65 men, women and children were massacred in a mosque in Barangay (village) Manili in Carmen, North Cotabato.

It soon found itself pitted against groups that Muslims had formed, such as the Blackshirts and Barracudas.

In the present conflict, Santiago, who is in his mid-60s, claimed the Ilaga would defend the rights not only of Christians and “lumad” (indigenous people), but also of Muslims displaced by MILF attacks in Central Mindanao.

“The civilians are suffering now. That’s why we are asking the leadership of the MILF to stop its harassment and attacks in Mindanao because it will only complicate the life of the people,” he said.

Santiago claimed that his group had at least 10,000 armed members and 10,000 more supporters. At the press conference, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) counted some 300 armed men present.

“Mindanao is not only for the Muslims but for Christians and lumad as well because we are the ones that form the Tri-people group, the owner[s] of Mindanao,” the Ilaga leader said.

Citing the ongoing hostilities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, Santiago accused the MILF of bringing the fighting even to Muslim communities.

“We need to unite…Muslims, Christians and lumad. And my message to the Muslim civilians [is], don’t admire what the MILF group is doing because it will only destroy the development in the region,” he said. “We must shun the leadership of the MILF. They are the ones that destroy our life. Look at what is happening around you. Many civilians have been affected.”

Santiago supported plans to arm civilians to defend themselves against the MILF.

"We are for arming civilians in areas targeted by MILF for them to defend their families and properties," he said.

Earlier, Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon Jr. said they would distribute at least 1,000 shotguns to police auxiliaries in Mindanao and, if the project succeeds, would order 12,000 more of the firearms.

Santiago said unlike other groups, the Reform Ilaga Movement recognizes the Philippine Constitution.

"To our followers, don't be afraid. I am asking those who will join in the future to strictly follow our Constitution," Santiago said.

Some of the Ilaga fighters wore amulets.

"Those amulets of my men came from their elders during the time of Commander Toothpick,” Santiago explained, referring to an Ilaga leader in the early 1970s.

“Our instruction to them is not to go to battle if they have done something wrong against other people; to follow God's commandments to avoid accidents that may lead to their deaths," he said.

Santiago said his group had no plan of running after MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato or Abdulla Macapaar alias Bravo, who have been blamed for triggering the recent violence in Mindanao.

"We will let the authorities hunt them. With the bounty for their arrest, their followers will hand them to the authorities," Santiago said. The government has placed a bounty of P5 million each on Kato and Bravo.

"We gave a one week warning against Kato and Bravo before to stop launching attacks. We are happy that they listened to us. But if they launch attacks again, we will fight," Santiago said.

Most of the Reform Ilaga Movement members are farmers from various places in Central Mindanao, Santiago claimed.

"After the fighting broke out, they approached us and asked if we can help," Santiago said.

"Our warfare style is not offensive but defensive. I think the situation will not get worse. But if the MILF will launch other attacks, we are ready to fight," he added.

Earlier, MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said they were concerned about the resurgence of vigilante groups that, he stressed, would not contribute to the attainment of genuine peace in Mindanao.(Jeoffrey Maitem; INQ.net)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

AFP takes 17 MILF camps

The military has overrun a total of 17 MILF camps according to latest reports received from Camp Crame. Please watch this video..

(Courtesy of ABS-CBN TV Patrol)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

MILF camp falls; 30 killed

Biggest air strike launched in a decade

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao, Philippines — Backed by the biggest aerial bombardment in nearly a decade, government forces Friday drove out Moro rebels from one of their camps in Maguindanao province, and fighting raged on elsewhere in rice fields and marshlands, officials said.

About 30 rebels and one soldier have been killed since Wednesday and more than 70,000 villagers have fled their homes, the officials said.

And Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Commander Ombra Kato is on the run.

Some 30 aircraft, including OV-Bronco bomber planes, MG-520 rocket-firing attack helicopters, a pair of Italian-made S-211 jets from Basa Air Base in Pampanga province, north of Manila, and rescue choppers, have been thrown into the battle, Philippine Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog told the Inquirer.

“We have bigger operations now in terms of assets and area covered than in Abubakar in 2000,” Cadungog said, referring to the all-out military offensive eight years ago that led to the capture of Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao, the biggest base of the MILF.

No space to breathe

“We deemed it smarter this time not to give them space to breathe,” the Air Force chief said. “We were a bit soft at first assuming that it will not escalate. We are ready for any escalation of action.”

An Air Force source said Friday’s air strikes delivered a total of 25 bombs and 12 rockets on six targets around Shariff Aguak. They included a dozen 500-lb bombs, nine 260-pounders and four 110-pounders.

“The results are good based on reports of our ground troops,” Cadungog said. “They are happy that we’ve had direct hits.”

Kato on the run

In Friday’s clashes, soldiers captured a satellite camp of Kato in Datu Piang town.

Kato is one of two most wanted MILF commanders whose surrender has been demanded by the government, blaming them for the killing of dozens of civilians in attacks in the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Sarangani.

The MILF has refused to hand over Kato and Commander Bravo — each wanted for P5 million—and clashes have continued despite appeals from politicians, and Christian, Muslim and civil society groups for an end to the fighting.

Col. Marlou Salazar, commander of the Philippine Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said air strikes had resumed against Kato’s forces and ground troops pressed their advance.

Journalists rescued

Two broadcast journalists and three civilians, including a pregnant woman, who had been trapped since Thursday evening, have been rescued and brought to Cotabato City, the military said.

Radio Mindanao Network station manager Bong Talamba and GMA Network stringer Ferdinand Cabrera were covering a firefight in Datu Piang but MILF snipers fired on them as they were about to leave the area, according to Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division.

Ando confirmed the situation had worsened and that MILF rebels had been conducting ambuscades.

“They were trying to take control of the highway. The highway was closed to motorists Friday morning but was reopened after having been cleared of rebels,” Ando said.

Dozens wounded

Salazar said the rebel casualties came from air strikes and clashes on the ground. Dozens of other rebels have been wounded since the hostilities broke out on Wednesday in the towns of Guindulungan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Piang, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao and Kabuntalan in nearby Shariff Kabunsuan province.

On Friday alone, 10 rebels were killed, he said.

Salazar said the number of rebel casualties was based on intercepted radio conversations among the guerrillas.

“The group of Commander Kato has abandoned their satellite camp in Datu Piang and our soldiers have taken over,” he said.

More fighting feared

Eleven soldiers were injured when rebels waylaid a military convoy in Guindulungan town on Thursday evening, said Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, deputy spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Cabangbang said the military had met strong resistance and “expected more clashes.”

“Our ground troops are penetrating their main objectives and we will be deploying additional soldiers from Davao City,” he said.

He identified the wounded soldiers as Sgt. Renato Jaime Canuto; Corporals Alfredo Isidro and Edgar Gulerno; Privates First Class Elire Guaro, Jogie Dumon, Ricky Encluna, Bonn Dumaguing, Albert Velasco, Arlan Moanes, Mark Anthony Cabañog, and Pvt. Boni John Tilad.

Salazar said it appeared that Kato’s group was being reinforced by other MILF units.

“We have shelled the rebels’ position since Thursday night until Friday morning. The enemies are getting stronger,” Salazar said.

Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, acting chief of the command center of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the 601st Brigade under Salazar “has been engaging the enemy heavily” in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Piang, and Crossing Salbo in Maguindanao.

Rice fields and marshlands

Segovia described the battlefield as rice fields and marshlands.

He said artillery and planes had been hitting the MILF’s temporary shelters or satellite camps, which were fortified with foxholes and trenches, and sending the guerrillas “running around in places right now.”

“Some are not so sure where they are going,” Segovia said.

Segovia said that in North Cotabato, the 602nd Brigade under Army Col. Alex Estomo were engaged in “sporadic firefight” with other guerrillas under Abdullah Macapaantar, alias Commander Bravo.

Military targets
Segovia warned other MILF commands not to provide sanctuary to Bravo, Kato and their men.

“Their positions will be military targets,” he said, adding: “Our orders are to crush these groups. This is what the AFP will continue to do. We can’t allow ourselves to be hostaged by their actions.”

Segovia said that since most MILF satellite camps were near populated communities, thousands of residents had evacuated.

Elsewhere, four civilians were rushed to the Cotabato Regional Hospital after they were reportedly hit during the military bombardment.

It was not clear why the civilians were still in their village when most of the people had already evacuated.

Food aid

Based on figures released by the health department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), more than 70,000 people had fled the besieged areas.

Segovia gave reporters in Manila seemingly different figures. He said that according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), there were a total of 84,669 evacuees from Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao staying in 92 different evacuation centers.

Another report from the NDCC, however, placed the affected/displaced people at nearly 200,000.

The NDCC said that the atrocities in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte had resulted in 40,138 families or 199,692 people affected.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said it had agreed with the government to provide an additional 250 metric tons of rice to help feed the thousands of evacuees.

Fireworks banned

In Koronadal City in South Cotabato, Mayor Fernando Miguel has banned fireworks and public gatherings as the Maguindanao situation appeared to be worsening.

“We want to ensure the safety and security of our constituents amid MILF warning of more rebel attacks and destabilization activities in Mindanao,” Miguel said.

In Sarangani province, Gov. Miguel Dominguez ordered the reactivation of the civilian defense force in the villages as a protection against further MILF attacks.

Dominguez said he would rather that the situation be resolved peacefully.

“I’m just hoping that the government and MILF could find a way to stop the armed fighting and resume the peace process,” Dominguez said.

Third party needed

Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies based in Cotabato City, said the participation of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) was badly needed.

“Recent events showed once again the urgency of third party monitors to sustain the ceasefire in order to keep the peace process on track,” Lingga said.

In North Cotabato, education officials said classes had to be conducted in evacuation centers, especially in the town of Pikit, so that children would not miss their lessons.

In Cagayan de Oro City, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said he had asked Speaker Prospero Nograles to order lawmakers to donate at least P100,000 for the needs of displaced residents of Maguindanao.

(With reports from Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase, Nash Maulana, Aquiles Zonio and Grace Albasin, Inquirer Mindanao, and Agence France-Presse)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gov't. takes new approach in quest for peace in Mindanao

While ignoring calls for an “all-out war" against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Thursday said she is changing the “basic premise" of the government’s peace efforts by focusing on dialogues with the communities in southern Philippines.

Speaking before participants of the Second International Motor Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, Ms. Arroyo said that the government will reject the armed model as a means of achieving political and societal change and concentrate on genuine and sincere dialogues with communities.

“From negotiations, our focus shall shift to dialogue with the communities or government conducting authentic conversations or dialogues with the people. The focus of our talks shall shift from armed groups to the community. The parameters governing our negotiations shall be a balance between constitutionality and public sentiment," she said.

The President also introduced a new method of dealing with secessionist groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Our engagements with all armed groups shall be about disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation or DDR," Arroyo said.

She added that the objective of the government’s peace process is to end all forms of armed rebellion in the country and place importance on its commitment to democracy.

“DDR is about the people and government telling armed groups to give up armed struggle. Change shall be defined primarily by the people and the government," she said.

Sought for comment, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu dismissed the government’s plan as “unclear" and “unrealistic."

A report by GMA News’ JP Soriano over QTV’s Balitanghali quoted Kabalu as saying the MILF cannot do anything about the government’s decision except to wait for further developments and see if the new method will facilitate the attainment of peace.(Sophia Dedace, GMANews.TV)

Mindanao fighting could lead to all-out war, MILF chief warns

The chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front warned Wednesday that hostilities in parts of Mindanao could escalate into a full-blown war if the military and Moro rebels fail to stand down and stop the fighting.

In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN Chief Correspondent Korina Sanchez, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said he has ordered MILF ground commanders Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo and Commander Ameril Umbra Kato to stop the attacks in several provinces in Mindanao.

"This can be a beginning of the war if not properly handled but it can also, as I have said, there is still a chance in going back to peace as long as both parties -- for us and for the side of the government -- will implement utmost restraint in order to hold back the situation," he told Sanchez.

"We are trying our best to restrain our commanders in order to save the situation," he added.

Ebrahim said the government's decision to put up a P10 million bounty for the capture of the two MILF leaders could aggravate the situation. He said the MILF leadership has already talked to both commanders to withdraw and both complied.

"In fact, Commander Bravo already has made his commitment. Unless he is attacked, he will no longer make another attack. Likewise with Commander Kato," he said.

He said the recent fighting in parts of North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte and Sarangani provinces was the result of frustration of MILF ground commanders with the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) earlier this month.

The MOA-AD would have expanded the autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao, subject to a law and voters' approval in a plebiscite. It would also have granted Muslims wider economic and political powers, including 75:25 sharing of wealth from exploitation of natural resources.

Ebrahim said the aborted signing of the MOA-AD and inflammatory statements of politicians in the media became a source of outrage for MILF ground commanders.

"There were so many delays in the negotiations. There has been actuations by the GRP that they were trying to renege on what had been agreed on already," he said.

He said he had warned government negotiators that the delay in the peace talks was causing restlessness among MILF ground commanders. He said the ground commanders "practically lost hope in the peace process" after the Supreme Court stopped the MOA-AD's signing on August 5.

"This is an unexpected situation. We have been very faithful in the peace process and we hold the supremacy of the peace process. We are very saddened by this situation and we hope, we are still optimistic that everybody will cooperate and save the situation and the peace process," he said.

Politicized peace process

The MILF chairman said the MILF peace panel talked to government negotiators with the understanding that it was the government's responsibility to inform local officials and their constitutents about the result of the peace talks.

He said the MILF conducted its own consultations with at least two million Bangsamoro people before hammering out the agreement. He added, however, that the MILF cannot afford to negotiate with different branches of government so that the agreement would become binding.

"We are negotiating with the government of the Republic of the Philippines and they have to be represented. That is why we have been insisting that the peace process should become a national policy. We dont feel that it is our obligation to talk to the local officials," he said.

He said one problem faced by Moro negotiators was that the peace negotiations was becoming heavily politicized both by the present administration and politicians with presidential ambitions. He said some politicians were criticizing the MOA-AD since it could lead to a change in government, which could result to an extension of the President's term.

"The critics are just looking at loopholes in order to attack the MOA relating to the so-called thinking that the present administration is trying to use the MOA and MILF to continue in power," he said.

The MILF chairman said MILF peace panel knew that the agreement would need an amendment of the existing Constitution for it to become binding. He said, however, that using constitutional processes to "water down" the agreement that had been worked on for the past 10 years was frustrating for the MILF.

"It may be beyond the Constitution but the Constitution can be amended and revised to accommodate the agreement. What is important is during the amendment, it wil not derogate or water down the agreement because we have worked this out for more than 10 years now," he said.

He said the MILF dilemma is how to convince its people of the validity of the peace process when various politicians are calling for the scrapping of the MOA.

"Our people cannot speak. Some people have opted to speak through their guns. They say this is the only way that they will be heard. This is the real situation," he said.

The Arroyo administration on Wednesday said it will no longer sign the MOA-AD due to critical views of some of the high court justices and the attacks in several parts of Mindanao by the MILF.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has informed the Supreme Court that the government will no longer sign the MOA-AD but will instead seek to renegotiate the agreement with the MILF.

Presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon, meanwhile, asked the Malaysian government to help the Philippines explain to the MILF why the homeland deal should be renegotiated.

(abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak reported as early as Friday that the Arroyo government will no longer sign the MOA-AD.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Death toll in MILF attacks in Lanao, Sarangani hits 28

Brig. Gen. Hilario Atendido, commander of Task Force Tabak, said most of the casualties were from the towns of Lanao del Norte attacked by the rebels - 23 civilians and three government soldiers.

In addition, two government troops were also wounded.

Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez earlier said two civilians were killed when MILF forces attacked the town of Maasim before dawn Monday.

"They (civilians) were killed when they (rebels) were withdrawing. They used them as human shields. The rebels killed them on their way out. They were killed as if like chicken. That is the report given to us by the civilians," Atendido said.

Atendido said the military in the province will remain vigilant for another atrocities the rebels may launch. "We are still on alert for any possible return of the MILF...They withdrew (from Kolambugan) as the troops were entering the town."

At the National Police headquarters at Camp Crame, the initial list showed 13 fatalities in Lanao del Norte and two in Sarangani province. Three people were also reportedly wounded.

Marine Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said government troops would make sure that civilians would not be caught in the crossfire as pursuit operations are conducted.

"We will continue to perform our mandate as protector of the Filipino people against lawless elements. Your AFP shall always be at the forefront of combating all forms of violence in order to uphold peace and security in the area and bring to justice the people responsible for these despicable acts," Allaga said.

The casualty figures started to rise Monday, a day after suspected MILF troops ambushed a military convoy near the boundary of Mulondo and Buadiposo-Buntong towns in Lanao del Sur which killed seven and wounded 11 others.

The MILF followed this up Monday morning with simultaneous attacks against the towns of the Kolambugan and Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte and the town of Maasim in Sarangani.

The attacks were apparently in retaliation for the stalled signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between government and the MILF negotiators.

In Manila, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said that the MILF also bombed and toppled three transmission towers of the National Transmission Corp or Transco which may cause the tripping of power supply in Mindanao.

At the same time, it said that at least 9,350 were displaced by the fighting.

The NDCC, in its 3 p.m. report, also said that the MILF ransacked the pharmacy and town hall of Maasim in Sarangani province, and killed at least two civilians.

NDCC said that in Lapayan village in Kauswagan in Lanao del Sur, the MILF troops burned an undetermined number of houses and that portions of the highway from Iligan to Ozamiz City and Kapatagan remained impassable.

Most of those who have evacuated were taken to evacuation centers in Ozamiz City.(GMANews.TV)

Friday, August 8, 2008

MILF agrees to 'reposition' its troops in N. Cotabato villages

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Thursday night said that it has agreed to "reposition" its troops from several villages in North Cotabato towns, a television report said.

This was revealed by MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar during an interview over GMA News' Saksi.

The MILF leaders said that the process would start early Friday morning and would be witnessed by ceasefire committee representatives from both government and the MILF plus members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

Jaafar said that they would be coordinating with the Philippine National Police regional director so that the agreement could be implemented.

Under the agreement, the MILF troops would be "repositioned" from three barangays in Aleosan, four villages in Midsayap and another barangay in Libungan.

In the interview, Jaafar said that MILF and government representatives met Thursday in Cotabato City to work out the details of the "repositioning" of their troops which had forced residents from several villages in three North Cotabato towns to evacuate.

That meeting, he added, also resolved to implement the August 2 resolution calling for the "repositioning" of combatants in the said areas.

Asked if the MILF men were out to "occupy" the three towns, Jaafar denied it.

"[We received]...instructions through our peace panel to contact their counterparts in the GRP and to conduct an impartial investigation [into the matter], so we will know once and for all why it happened," he said.

"Expectedly, after tomorrow, ma-e-enforce itong repositioning, sana makasige na yung investigation,"he added.

The agreement was forced hours after the government gave the MILF a 24-hour deadline to move out of several towns in North Cotabato that the MILF forces had "forcibly taken."

The ultimatum was issued during a press conference in Camp Crame early Thursday.

Interior Sec. Ronaldo Puno said the MILF's occupation of several areas in North Cotabato was unacceptable and that the government will be compelled to use "whatever action is necessary" if the rebel forces refuse to leave the area within the deadline.

The government ultimatum - which was finalized Wednesday night following a meeting of the National Security Council - came amid an already tense situation in Mindanao over disagreements on the government's ancestral domain agreement with the MILF, whose signing was halted by the Supreme Court.

"The 24-hour deadline will end at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday)," Puno said early Thursday.

Puno said that since July 1, several barangays in North Cotabato towns were forcibly occupied by some 800 elements of the MILF, including villages in the municipalities of Aleosan, Libungan and Midsayap.

Puno also said the occupying forces had been involved in the burning of houses, destruction of plantations, looting, and cattle rustling, and had forced civilians to leave area. MILF attacks have also been recently reported in the towns of Pigkawayan and Northern Kabuntalan, he said.

More than 1,500 families or over 6,500 individuals have been displaced in the towns of Midsayap and Aliosan alone as a result of atrocities committed by forces illegally occupying these areas.

In the press briefing, Puno said that after the 24-hour period, the government will exhaust all peaceful means to address the situation, but stressed "we feel entitled and authorized to undertake whatever action is necessary." (GMANews.TV)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

MILF given 24 hours to leave areas ‘forcibly’ taken in ARMM

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has “24 hours” to leave towns it has “forcibly” occupied in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or face police and military action, authorities warned.

"We are giving individuals 24 hours to vacate otherwise they will forcibly be separated from the area," said Puno in a press conference in at the national police headquarters in Camp Crame Thursday.

Puno added that the military and police would be “authorized to undertake action” if the deadline would not be met.

Puno said some 800 members of the MILF had reportedly “forcibly” occupied several ARMM towns, including Aliosan in North Cotabato.

“It behooves on the MILF to do something to act on the situation because this is a litmus test on its good faith,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said, adding, “We cannot wait longer than a reasonable 24-hour period.

Teodoro said Military Chief General Alexander Yano was in Cotabato province to brief commanders on the government’s action.

“We are announcing these operations to stabilize the situation and put back the rightful owners of those lands,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

Esperon said the government action was “not a declaration of war,” and would unlikely affect the peace process.

“This is not a declaration of war, this is a normal enforcement of the rule of law,” Esperon said. (By Thea Alberto, Joel Guinto; INQ.net)

Senators want Esperon sacked

For alleged ‘no defense’ comment

Senators on Wednesday called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to sack her peace adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., for allegedly telling North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol the military would not defend the province from attacks by Moro rebels.

News reports have quoted Piñol, who filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as saying Esperon warned that if a temporary restraining order (TRO) is issued, the military would not defend North Cotabato, where the rebels and government militia have been skirmishing for weeks, from attacks.

The high court issued a TRO on Monday that effectively scuttled the scheduled signing of the MOA on Tuesday.

Esperon has since denied Piñol’s claim but Senator Manuel Roxas II said at a press conference that the former Armed Forces chief of staff could be liable for administrative charges.

“Ito ay labag sa batas at labag sa kanyang sinumpaang tungkulin [This is against the law and against his sworn duty],” Roxas said.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, on the other hand, questioned Esperon’s credibility as a peace adviser.

“Esperon is not in the same level of credibility as former peace advisers such as Haydee Yorac, Howard Dee, Manual Yan, and Jesus Dureza. They were acceptable to the rebels themselves,” Biazon said.

He and Roxas said Esperon’s credibility had been suspect from the start because of the issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that were raised against the military when he was Armed Forces chief of staff.

“[Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances] cannot be ignored because of conclusions made by the different investigative agencies, saying that the military had certain levels of responsibility,” Biazon said.

Aside from Esperon, the entire peace panel should be replaced because “they have lost the rapport with the MILF.”

Senate Minority Leader Francis Pangilinan warned the government that signing the MOA could “bring division instead of harmony.”

He called the agreement “highly suspect as it raises so many legal and constitutional questions, which will not only divide the people but also test our democratic processes.”

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also warned the government that the conflict in Mindanao could escalate “if the Arroyo government will insist on concluding a peace agreement with the Muslim rebels that does not conform with the Constitution.”

Pimentel called on government to review the agreement on ancestral domain and renegotiate the terms and provisions that allegedly violate the Constitution.

(Abigail Kwok; INQ.net)

Atty. Montessa offers a simplified form of the MOA on Ancestral Domain

By the GRP-MILF MOA on ancestral domain, according to Atty. Camilo Miguel Montesa, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), the Philippine government agrees to:

- Recognize the Bangsamoro people as “distinct from the rest of the national communities;”
- Grant the Bangsamoro people their own “distinct territory;”
- Grant the Bangsamoro pople their own “government;” and,
- Concede international recognition to the Bangsamoro people.

Who are the Bangsamoro?

The Bangsamoro people refer to “those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization and their descendants whether mixed or full native blood.”

Spouses and descendants, including the Lumads, he said, are also classified as Bangsamoro “unless they choose otherwise.”

“They are the ‘First Nation’ with defined territory and with a system of government having entered into treaties of amity and commerce with foreign nations,” Montesa said.

Bangsamoro territory

Under the MOA, the Bangsamoro territory comprises the following areas:

- the present Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM);
- the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte, which voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite;
- additional geographic areas in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, and North Cotobato, “subject to plebiscite.”

Montesa said that under the MOA, the Bangsamoro homeland did “not form part of the public domain.” Thus, it is “not within the jurisdiction of the Philippine government.”

The Bangsamoro homeland, he added, “encompasses ancestral communal and customary lands, maritime, fluvial and alluvial domains as well as all natural resources therein that have inured or vested ancestral rights on the basis of native title.”

Bangsamoro government

The Bangsamoro territory will be governed by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Montesa said the “relationship between the Philippine government and the BJE shall be associative characterized by shared authority and responsibility with a structure of governance based on executive, legislative, judicial and administrative institutions with defined powers and functions.” It is also empowered to create and raise its own police and internal security force.

The BJE’s purpose is to “establish a system of governance suitable and acceptable to the Bangsamoro as a distinct dominant people.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Palace: Moro homeland accord not a 'done deal'

The Office of the President denied Wednesday that the Moro homeland agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is already a "done deal" as claimed by the separatist group.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which seeks to expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), will still need enabling laws for it to be implemented.

Ermita said the MOA-AD is part of a comprehensive peace agreement that both parties will still have to negotiate and conclude. "Not until then can anything be implemented," he said.

He cited as an example the Ramos administration's 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which Congress had to translate into enabling laws before the accord was actually implemented.

Ermita said the MOA-AD is only one of three major agenda items in the peace talks with the MILF that will form part of the final peace agreement. The two others already agreed upon are on security and on rehabilitation and development.

Sergio Apostol, chief presidential legal counsel, said the MOA-AD is not yet final since it was just "initialed" by the chief negotiators of both sides. This just indicates that the contents had already been discussed, he said.

"It's not yet a done deal. It was just initialed to be sure na yung napagusapan eh nandyan. Paguusapan pa yan sa formal talks, so it's not

yet final," Apostol said.

Poor strategy

Senator Manuel 'Mar' Roxas II, meanwhile, criticized the Arroyo government for its poor strategy in negotiating the MOA-AD with the MILF.

He said the government failed to consult the key stakeholders in Mindanao on the MOA-AD, which has prompted local politicians, indigenous groups, and many civil society groups to criticize the accord.

"Our people do not understand this agreement. There was clear lack of consultation and very few know about the contents of the agreement. This proves the government used the wrong strategy to negotiate, a strategy of hiding the truth and of forcing the agreement on those who will be affected," Roxas said.

"This is not the way to negotiate a peace agreement. Everyone must be involved and must be won over to support it. If not, it's only a peace agreement on paper, and conflict will continue," he added.

Done deal

The MILF, on the other hand, reiterated its position that the MOA-AD is already a "done deal" even if the Supreme Court (SC) stopped the scheduled signing of the agreement in Malaysia last Monday.

"It makes no difference to the MILF whether a signing takes place or not. The signing ceremony is a mere formality, the absence of which does not diminish, invalidate or cancel the MOA-AD," MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.

"The MOA-AD is the textual version of the consensus points arrived at by both Parties through a long process of negotiations beginning in 2004 as a consequence of the inclusion of Ancestral Domain as the third aspect in the MILF-GRP Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001," he added.

Iqbal also said "the Supreme Court TRO is a product of the on-going political intramurals within the GRP" and is thus "not binding on the MILF, which is a revolutionary liberation organization of the Bangsamoro people."

The MILF criticized the Arroyo government for its lack of political will in ensuring support for the peace process with the MILF.

"The GRP does not possess the capability of entering into a peace agreement. Therefore the firm commitment and political will to honor signed agreements with the Moro liberation movement by the GRP is under suspect of doubt by the international community," Iqbal said.

Iqbal, however, denied allegations made that the separatist group would wage war as a result of the SC's order stopping the signing of the MOA-AD.

"The MILF has gained a significant moral and political victory in this latest chapter of its historic struggle to resolve the conflict in Mindanao on the negotiating table. From such a victory, the MILF, as its policy dictates, will still pursue the peace process to bring an end to the conflict without, however, losing sight of alternative means to achieve freedom and justice for the Bangsamoro people," he said.

It’s a done deal, says MILF exec

But Esperon says gov’t can’t disregard judiciary

It’s a done deal.

That’s the position of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a day after the Supreme Court stopped the MILF and the Philippine government from signing a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MoA-AD) in a bid to end four decades of the separatist war in Mindanao.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, told reporters by phone from his base in Mindanao that the MoA became binding when it was initialed by the two sides on July 27 and Tuesday’s aborted ceremony in Malaysia was merely a formality.

“Our official position is that the agreement on ancestral domain has been signed, so it’s a done deal,” Jaafar said.

He dismissed as “purely an internal problem of the government” the Supreme Court’s issuance on Monday of a temporary restraining order (TRO) following objections by officials in North Cotabato and Zamboanga City over their inclusion in a proposed Moro homeland without consultations.

Not bound by order

“We are not bound by that order,” Jaafar said. “It’s an internal process in the government. What was committed by the government cannot be taken back.”

The MILF’s chief peace negotiator, Mohaqher Iqbal, said: “The act of initialing the agreed text of MoA-AD by the parties constitutes a signature of the Philippine government and MILF. Initialing was in fact done with a credible third-party witness, the Malaysian government as facilitator of the talks since 2001.”

He said that the court action was not a setback to the MILF. “We are on the upper hand especially in the battle for moral ascendancy.”

Iqbal said the MILF would “still pursue the peace process to bring an end to the conflict without, however, losing sight of alternative means to achieve freedom and justice.”

Esperon disagrees

Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. disagreed with the MILF position, telling reporters that affixing initials to the draft accord was meant to preserve the document and to ensure that it would not be altered or changed.

Esperon said this was the reason there was “an elaborate program to make (the MoA) official” with the help of Malaysia. He described as “unnecessary” MILF statements that the Philippines had “discredited” itself.

“It’s simply that we have to observe the democratic process of doing things involving three coequal branches of government,” he said. Esperon said Malacañang cannot disregard the judicial branch.

Nobody is giving up on peace

“Nobody is giving up on peace, we have not given up on peace, we will never give up on peace,” said Esperon, who put off his planned departure Tuesday for 24 hours to meet with the MILF panel in an apparent bid to ease tension.

But Iqbal put a damper on Esperon’s initiative, telling reporters: “We came here to sign the MoA and not to meet, not to argue ... It’s as simple as that.” He said that if the Philippines wanted to sit down and talk, it should be communicated to Malaysian facilitators.

The draft MoA expands the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao that would be governed by a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) with broad political and economic powers, which critics said amounted to an establishment of a separate state.

The proposed deal was meant to formally reopen negotiations to end a near 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and kept the country’s most resource-rich region dirt poor.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, who held talks with his Philippine counterpart Alberto Romulo, called for peace in Mindanao.

“What should simmer in our minds is for peace and tranquility to exist. There ought not to be violence in any instance,” Rais told reporters in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya.

‘Purely temporary impasse’

Expressing his disappointment over the halting of the landmark deal, Rais said he hoped that it was a “purely temporary impasse.”

“This is a setback which should be overcome soon,” he said.

Romulo, who was due to witness the signing but instead held talks with Rais, said the pact was “within the constitutional authority and within the legal authority.”

“We stand by that, that is why we are confident our Supreme Court will find this to be resolved,” the Philippine foreign secretary said.

Malaysia, which has hosted peace talks between the two sides, reversed its decision to withdraw troops in Mindanao, where they are monitoring the ceasefire between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Representatives of civil society groups who flew to Malaysia to witness the signing held a news conference to announce they would oppose in the Supreme Court attempts by local Mindanao executives to scuttle the peace accord.

“We allowed our myopia, our recklessness, our xenophobia to take the better of us,” they said in a statement.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza denied claims by local government units (LGUs) in Mindanao that they were not consulted. Protests against the accord have been held in Zamboanga City, Iligan City, and Kidapawan, North Cotabato.

“These LGUs are provoking the people’s anger by saying that the deal was done in haste. They were participants to many of these consultations. Why aren’t they telling the people that there were consultations done?” Dureza said.

‘We might as well separate’

Sen. Edgardo J. Angara Tuesday issued a statement saying that the MoA should undergo rigid screening at three levels at the very least—the Supreme Court, Congress and the plebiscite.

“It’s fortunate that the Supreme Court has already stepped in because they can very well determine the legal boundaries and legality of this agreement, whether we are now giving up our territory in exchange for a peace agreement,” Angara said.

The administration senator said the public will also have to scrutinize each and every word of the agreement.

“Giving our Muslim brothers the right to govern themselves and the right to utilize and exploit their wealth is perfectly legitimate. But I would not allow the emerging entity to be able to conduct diplomacy and foreign relations, to be able to issue their own currency and to allow them to carry arms and raise troops,” Angara stressed.

If these three conditions are safeguarded and preserved for the Republic of the Philippines, then he is willing to concede practically anything to them so they will enjoy the benefit of their freedom, according to Angara.

3 marks of independent state

“Those are the three earmarks of an independent state and it would be incongruous that within our territorial boundaries, another state will be created. There’s no country in the world who can still maintain its self-respect and dignity by allowing that, might as well agree to separate.”

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez in a press briefing dismissed talk of allowing secession.

“It’s not a state within a state that is being recognized here, rather it’s the Muslim nation. It’s the people who will decide, that’s why there is a plebiscite, and before that there must be an enabling law passed by Congress. So before there is an enabling law, there is nothing,” Gonzalez said.

(With reports from Jerome Aning, Jeffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, Reuters, Agence France-Presse)

Monday, August 4, 2008

SC starts deliberations on appeal vs MOA

The Supreme Court has started deliberating on, among others, a petition seeking to stop the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over ancestral domain, its spokesman said.

Also to be discussed in this Monday’s en banc session would be the bribery allegations against the Court of Appeals, said lawyer Midas Marquez, information chief of the high tribunal.

Shortly after the high court started its session, government, through Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, sent its comment to the petition filed by officials of North Cotabato province, asking the high court to dismiss their appeal for a disclosure of the contents of the MOA, Marquez said.

Marquez said the high court gave the government until 12 noon Monday to submit its document, which arrived shortly after the high court began its deliberations.

By invoking executive privilege, in its 26-page comment, the government said while negotiations with the MILF did not involve any foreign power, there were military and national concerns raised.

“This being so, the entire process, the negotiations involving the said MOA and the drafts, documents thereof resulting from said negotiations is covered by the doctrine of executive privilege, which prevents the disclosure of information that could subvert military or diplomatic objectives,” the solicitor general said.

It is not clear whether the high court will issue a decision after the en banc session.(By Tetch Torres; INQ.net)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Muslims, Christians to stage protests vs gov't-MILF deal

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines--Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines have assailed the "landmark deal" between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that seeks to expand Moro autonomy in Mindanao.

None other than Sultan Esmail Kiram, the heir of Sultanate of Sulu, expressed disgust over what he called government's insensitive action of offering the areas which have been part of the ancestral domain of Sultanate of Sulu, to the MILF without prior consultation.

"I feel really very bad. What we know prior to the agreement, the MILF was claiming ancestral land somewhere in Central Mindanao. The government committed a very drastic move by offering areas, including our ancestral domain which, unfortunately, the MILF approved," Kiram said in an interview.

"Ano ba talaga ang aim ng Philippine government, papag-awayin ang mga Muslim at Kristyano dito sa Mindanao? [What is the true aim of the Philippine government? Get the Muslims and Christians to fight each other?] Do they want us here to fight each other over ancestral domain?" Kiram said.

Kiram said he had nothing against the MILF. "We support them, but for Allah's sake, no one has full authority to seek historical rights or encroaching over it," Kiram said about the impending agreement on ancestral domain.

In a press conference on Saturday night, Sheikh Abdul Wakil Tanjil, deputy mufti for Western Mindanao and executive director of Salamat Islamic Institute, also questioned the memorandum of agreement (MOA).

Tanjil said even the Sultanate of Sulu, which "has all the rights for Ancestral Domain claim, respected certain territories."

"People have the right to be consulted before agreeing and signing any deal," he said.

Datu Albi Julkarnain, chair of the Council of Royal Datus, said the MOA on ancestral domain would "encroach in areas supposedly under the Sultanate."

Kiram and the other Muslim leaders said they would support the protest action in Zamboanga City on Monday, a day before the signing of the MOA in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat said he was expecting thousands of residents, not just from this city but as well as from neighboring towns and provinces, to join the protest action to "dramatize our opposition to the inclusion in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (JBE)."

Spearheaded by Lobregat, the protest rally will coincide with the city's formal filing of a case before the Supreme Court.

The case seeks for a stop to the signing of the proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain.

The rally will be the first since the mass protest in 2001 when residents, then led by Celso's mother, the late Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat, also marched on the streets expressing their opposition to the proposal to include Zamboanga City in the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), the transition government for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"We, Christians and Muslims alike, have spoken and resoundingly voted against this," Lobregat said.

Idjirani likened the MOA to modern colonization.

"Before Mindanao or the Philippines was colonized by foreigners. Now Muslim counterparts, not foreigners, are colonizing our own people," he said.

Ustadz Shariff Mohsin Julabbi, chairman of the MILF in Western Mindanao, objected to the idea of giving parts of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi to the MILF.

"I am an official of Moro Islamic Liberation Front. I am a spiritual leader. Now I can say that those agreeing to the territories given by the government are not MILF like me, they are Maguindanaoan Iranon Liberation Front," Julabbi said.

Julabbi was referring to the MILF leaders who belong to the Maguindanao and Iranon Muslim tribes.

Citing the Quran, Julabbi said no one had the sole right to own a place except to take care of the resources.

In Zamboanga City, at least eight villages are included in the proposed BJE. There are Barangays (Villages) Zone 3, Zone 4, Landang Gua, Busay, Landang Laum, Manalipa, Pasilmanta and Tigtabon.

Covered by the BJE are Lobregat's ancestral home, the Fort Pilar shrine, the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, the City Hall and the entire city center.

Teresita Sebastian, vice chair of the Mindanao Business Conference and regional governor of the Zamboanga Peninsula Philippine Chamber of Commerce, said the BJE would be "divisive and only sow confusion among the people."

"When we were young, we did not highlight the differences in us. We looked at the commonalities and appreciated it. With this ongoing development, we are now seeing differently. The government should have done something to make people meet and see on common ground, not further divide them," Sebastian said.

Sebastian said the business community did not deal with people based on differences. "We engage actively in business not because they are Muslims, Christians or Lumads [indigenous peoples]. In fact, our co-existence is not just mere toleration, but appreciation."

But Eid Kabalu, MILF civil military affairs chief, assured that they would uphold the rights of people, particularly Christians, upon signing a deal with government.

"We are not barbaric. We guarantee that we will respect their rights. While we are in Islamic State, we will still follow a democratic form of government," Kabalu said.

"We are asking the people of Mindanao to widen their thinking and not to entertain selfish desires. The past administrations tried but failed to address the Bangsamoro problem. Now, the agreement we will sign in Malaysia on August 5 will not benefit the people of Mindanao but the entire nation," he added.

Despite Kabalu's appeal for an open mind, protests will be held in various parts of Mindanao, including Iligan City on Monday.

Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz said the protest action would be their way of expressing their opposition to the inclusion of eight upland villages in the proposed BJE.

The Iligan City villages that were included in the proposed BJE are Rogongon, Panoroganan, Mainit, Dulag, Lanipao, Kalilangan, Hindang and Diigkilaan.

Cruz said these villages have been engaged in agricultural food production.

"Why should we be included again in another referendum when Iligan City twice rejected the move to include the city in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?" Cruz asked.

"We are not against the peace process nor are we against the expansion of the ARMM. However, we cannot allow divisions to destroy the harmonious relationship among Muslims, Christians and lumad," Cruz added.

In North Cotabato, Vice Governor Manny Piñol said they would stage protests on Tuesday, the day of the MOA signing.

(Reports from Julie S. Alipala, Richel V. Umel, Aquiles Zonio and Jeoffrey Maitem; INQ.net)

Zambo officials to lead protests vs Gov't-MILF agreement

Zamboanga City officials will lead a street demonstration on Monday to dramatize their protest against the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Aug. 5, city mayor Celso Lobregat said on Saturday.

In an interview with a radio station, Lobregat said the city’s lawmakers will also file a petition before the Supreme Court on Monday in a bid to stop the signing of the MoA, which he said could place the Philippine republic at a great disadvantage.

“Binabalak din ng mga businessmen sa Zamboanga na magsara sa banding 11 ng umaga para sila’y makasali sa protesta (business establishments in the city are also planning to close shop temporarily at 11 a.m. on Monday so that they can join the mass actions)," he said.

Lobregat called on city residents to join and wear red shirts or red arm bands in solidarity with the protesters, who will begin their march at the City Hall.

Stressing that t “red" is a color of courage, Lobregat said the people of Zamboanga will try to make a lot of noise to catch the attention of the national government before they commit themselves to something they may soon regret.

In a parallel move, he said their lawyers will ask the Supreme Court to act urgently by issuing a TRO (temporary restraining order) against the signing of the MoA, which is scheduled in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 5.

Lobregat said the petition to be filed with the Supreme Court will be spearheaded by the city’s two members of Congress, Reps. Maria Isabelle Climaco and Erico B. Fabian.

Lobregat said they are all for peace in Mindanao but they are against the inclusion into the proposed Bangsamoro (Muslim homeland) Juridical Entity of places in the city whose population are predominantly non-Muslim.

Under the MoA, the two sides are to agree to a Muslim ancestral domain that would include about 700 more barangays (villages) in the so-called juridical entity, in addition to the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM, which is composed of the city of Marawi and the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao (including Shariff Kabunsuan), Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Lobregat said even administration ally Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, who earlier planned to file a bill postponing the ARMM elections in furtherance of the peace process, backed out when he learned that parts of his province, Bukidnon, would be taken out and added into the proposed juridical entity.

The MILF has asked that the Aug. 11 ARMM polls be postponed so as not to delay the enforcement of a peace agreement that the two sides may sign.

Politicians from Central Mindanao led by North Cotabato Vice Gov. Manny Piňol earlier vowed to do "everything" to stop the signing of the MoA, which they claimed would put their people and province in "jeopardy."

Piňol said that under the draft agreement, the expanded ARMM will include two progressive towns in North Cotabato’s first district - Kabacan and Pikit - and about 98 villages in at least 10 towns in the province.

"That bothers me a lot. How could that be? How were they able to identify those towns and villages? Many of these areas are not even attached to ARMM and are not majority Muslims," he lamented.

Piñol will ask the Supreme Court to order the national government, through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), to make public the contents of the MoA and "a prayer that the GRP panel will not sign such accord until such time there is an ‘exhaustive’ consultation with the people affected." - GMANews.TV

Friday, August 1, 2008

MILF urges critics of homeland accord to back peace process

The chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Mohager Iqbal on Thursday said that there is no need for North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan and all the members of the province's legislative body to ask the Supreme Court (SC) to disclose the controversial ancestral domain agreement.

Iqbal said the Philippine government and MILF peace panels are set to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain on August 5 following the breakthrough in the peace process last week.

"I’m not a lawyer but the higher court would only act on something that pertains to legal matter. Anyway, the signing would be very short and it will be immediately released to the public and to the media," Iqbal said. He said the signing of the accord is a political, not a legal issue.

Iqbal said that Sacdalan and Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol's action is a clear manifestation of their objection to the peace process.

"I think it’s not good. We are trying to find solutions in the problem here in Mindanao but here comes the two public officials who are in contrast... Ultimately, it will not be in favor to them because it would appear they are anti-peace process," said Iqbal.

Sacdalan, Piñol and all the board members of the province of North Cotabato went to Manila Wednesday and filed their petition before the SC.

Early last week, local officials from the province already signified their strong statement not to be included in the proposed expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) through a resolution.

Postponement of ARMM polls sought

Iqbal, meantime, cited two important reasons why the leadership of the MILF asked the government to postpone the election in the ARMM.

First, if the electoral process will push through in the ARMM this August 11, 2008, officials who would be elected would end their term in 2011 which is way beyond President Arroyo's term. He said this will create an impression that the government is not really determined to finish the peace process during the term of the president.

The second is that if the Philippine government and MILF peace panels finally sign an agreement, there is still a transition period to be followed. Iqbal said that the transition period will start immediately after the end of the terms of office of all elected local executives, including the officials of the ARMM.

"Meaning kahit magkaroon kami ng pirmahan, it will take effect after 2011. These are the direct implications of ARMM election. That’s why we requested the government for the postponement of ARMM election," he said.

MOA signing to push through

Iqbal, however, clarified that the ARMM elections and MOA signing are both important events, but the two activities are not interconnected.

If the ARMM polls will not be postponed, the signing on ancestral domain will definitely go through on August 5, clarified Iqbal.

"Ipagpalagay natin hindi na kaya na i-postpone ang election, tuloy pa rin ang signing sa Kuala Lumpur on August," Iqbal added.

Iqbal said that if the signing of the ancestral domain framework is successful, the Philippine government-MILF peace panels would immediately proceed to the discussion on the final peace agenda--the political solution.

"We will proceed to discuss the most important of the peace process, the final agenda which is the political solution to the problem in Mindanao," he said.

"We are looking at a time frame before the term of Arroyo ends in 2010. We are looking at more than one year. Hopefully we will be able to hold our discussion and come up with our comprehensive compact," Iqbal said.

The MILF has urged all Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples in Mindanao to support the peace process. Iqbal said supporting the peace process is the only logical way to resolve problem in Mindanao, and not through armed conflict.

"Kasi dito sa pag-uusap, lahat tayo panalo; sa giyera, talo. Ang mga Muslims and Christians, dapat magkaroon tayo ng unity of effort and unity of intention, dapat suportahan natin ito," he said. (By LERIO BOMPAT; ABS-CBN Cotabato )

MILF guerrillas asked to promote community understanding instead of violence

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Muslim officials have renewed an appeal to field leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to help promote community understanding while their negotiators try to build peace with the government.

The appeals were issued as the Muslim world observed the Israh wal Miraj, or the Journey and Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad, and MILF rebels were being accused of harassing villages in North Cotabato.

The MILF has denied ordering its men to attack villages in North Cotabato and said the violence started when militiamen encroached on their areas.

Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Mulsim Mindanao the people were hopeful that peace was within reach especially with the recent breakthroughs in the peace process.

Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong said other Muslim leaders were as optimistic and that the current and future achievements in the peace process should be preserved by both the government and the MILF.

Apparently referring to the incidents of violence in North Cotabato, Ampatuan said peace should prevail between Muslims and their Christian neighbors, down to the remotest villages.

He said the incidents of violence were hurting efforts in pursuit of lasting peace.

Ustadz Mohammad Farid Adas, ARMM assistant Education secretary, quoted a Koranic verse which says: "the parable of the Muslim leadership is that of a palm date tree which nourishes instead of outgrowing other plants underneath it."

Adas said this meant that a "Muslim leadership is supposed to be friendly and helpful of its constituency, regardless of race, color or religion."

He said Christians were not to be considered enemies but treated as friends and community partners in a Muslim leadership.

Adas said MILF ground commanders should be "toeing the line of peace negotiators."

As this developed, the North Cotabato provincial peace and order council urged the government to send permanent peacekeepers to the troubled villages of Aleosan and Midsayap, where recent fighting between government forces and Moro rebels have displaced villagers.

"All that the people in these barangays want is to be able to work on their farms safely and be spared from attacks by these MILF elements," North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan, also provincial peace and order chair, said.

"While they prefer that military detachments be set up in the area, the existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF should be considered," Sacdalan said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon has already approved the request, Sacdalan said.

Sacdalan said Esperon had told him that the Joint Monitoring and Assistance Team (JMAT), composed of government and MILF representatives, will be deployed to the towns of Aleosan and Midsayap.

"I phoned him (Esperon) and he approved our request for permanent peacekeepers. We want the leader of the team to gain the MILF's respect. They should also have back-up troops from the military and police," Sacdalan said.

(Reports from Nash B. Maulana, Edwin O. Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase, Jeoffrey Maitem, INQ.net)