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.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Arroyo orders new panel for MILF peace talks

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita formally announced Wednesday that President Arroyo had dissolved the government's peace panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after it was "misled" into nearly signing the Muslim homeland agreement in Malaysia last August 5.

In a press conference, Ermita said the government would be forming a new government peace panel with the MILF, but future talks would depend on whether the separatist group would commit to abide by the ceasefire agreement with the government and whether it would turn over two rogue field commanders and other members who have staged violent attacks in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and other provinces in the south.

Ermita said the decision to dissolve the peace panel was arrived at during a national security cluster Cabinet meeting in Nueva Ecija on Tuesday.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to go on an official mission to Kuala Lumpur to officially inform the Malaysian government about the government's decision to dissolve the government's peace panel negotiating with the MILF.

The dissolution of the peace panel, headed by Ret. Gen. Rodolfo Rodolfo Garcia, was "effective immediately," he said.

Ermita said Gonzales will explain the background of the decision and also assure the Malaysian government, which has been acting as mediator, that the ceasefire will be maintained, the International Monitoring Team will continue, and that the current military operations are directed at the lawless elements of the MILF.

"All mechanisms within the peace process are in place, the ceasefire agreement will be maintained," the executive secretary said.

New panel

Ermita said stakeholders in the peace process will be asked to recommend the new members of the peace panel with the MILF.

The new peace panel will pursue talks consistent with President Arroyo's new peace policy where disarming, disbandment, and reintegration of armed rebel forces will be "front loaded" in the negotiations.

The new approach to the peace talks will be followed not just by the peace panel with the MILF but also the other government peace panels talking peace with Communist rebels and other armed groups.

Ermita said the government wants "fresh ideas from fresh people" who can suggest "fresh approaches" that will lead to a "successful conclusion" of peace talks with the MILF.

Too much 'fanfare'

Ermita said the peace panel led by Garcia was "lured" into agreeing to hold a signing ceremony on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in Kuala Lumpur in August 5.

The signing was stopped after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order August 5 in response to complaints from politicians they were not consulted on the agreement.

Ermita said the panel erred in creating "too much funfare" on the planned signing of the MOA-AD.

"For some reason they were lured into making too formal a ceremony of having the memorandum of agreement signed in the presence of the foreign minister of Malaysia and our secretary of foreign affairs including other ambassadors, which made everybody think that that is already the agreement," Ermita said.

He said previous interim agreements on agenda items on security and economics had "no such fanfare." These include the ceasefire agreement and the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency.

"It is only on this ancestral domain, for some reason, they lost their perception that there is not much need for too much formality that somehow brought the attention of some people that what was to be signed was the actual agreement, when it's not," Ermita said.

Days after the high court issued the restraining order, some MILF commanders led attacks on civilian communities in North Cotabato. The attack was followed by bloody raids in Lanao del Norte, which left over 30 civilians dead and thousands of people homeless.

Ermita said the government will continue to pursue the rogue MILF rebels who carried out the attacks. He said Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the military and the police to accord "the highest respect' to the observance of Ramadan.

Other peace efforts on review

Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo has also ordered Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to review all existing peace initiatives of the government, including the stalled talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

"The result of the review will be basis of an enhanced and new roadmap on the peace process," he said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has ordered Esperon's office to realign all the peace initiatives to the government's new peace plan of "disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration" or DDR.

He said Mrs. Arroyo also wants future peace agreements based on "the rule of law, primacy of the Philippine constitution, and principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity."

Ermita said the decision to scrap the peace panel and to adopt a new peace strategy was made in response to the legal opinion of the Office of the Solicitor General and the issues raised by Supreme Court justices in the hearings on the MOA-AD.

Unity

Ermita also stressed the need for unity between the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) in the interest of peace.

He described the MNLF as the "mainstream secessionist" group with observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference while the MILF is "just a splinter group from the MNLF."

A unity of the two groups would make it easier to say that they represent the interests of the Muslims in Mindanao, he said.

He suggested that the peace brokers could help move the talks forward by putting pressure on the MILF into meeting the demands of the government that it turn over its rogue commanders to authorities.

Ermita said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon will continue to maintain contact with the MILF and pursue the peace negotiations.

He denied that government was not on a full-scale war against the MILF and that he believes the ceasefire will hold.

Asked what will happen to peace panel chief Garcia, Ermita said he will likely go back to the private sector but he may be consulted by the new peace panel.

Gov't prerogative

Earlier, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told ABS-CBN News Channel that the dissolution of the government's peace panel is normal in a peace process and a prerogative of both sides.

"This is normal in a negotiation. Each side can dissolve or replace its panel anytime it wishes. That is normal and that is a prerogative of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) as well as the prerogative of the MILF," Iqbal said.

He said the MILF leadership will discuss its future plans as soon as it receives a formal communication about the peace panel's dissolution from the Malaysian government.

Iqbal assured that MILF commanders monitoring the developments in the peace negotiations with the government will not react violently to the dissolution of the peace panel.

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