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.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

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.)

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