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, September 4, 2008

Arroyo scraps peace panel

Says she won’t sign MOA at gunpoint

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ended 11 years of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), dissolving the government panel of negotiators and declaring that her administration cannot be forced to sign a deal on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland at gunpoint.

This was announced Wednesday by Press Secretary Jesus Dureza a day after Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro stressed that the MILF had become “irrelevant” after it refused to surrender commanders blamed for sacking towns in Mindanao and slaughtering scores of civilians.

Teodoro said that dialogues with armed groups, including the communist-led New People’s Army, would henceforth be based on demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation (DDR) as the President had previously outlined.

“There are no more talks,” Dureza told Reuters news agency. “We’re dissolving the peace panel. You don’t need it when you’re ending talks with an armed group. We’ll start consulting with the people on the ground and find out how we can resolve the Muslim problem.”

Ms Arroyo reiterated in a statement that her administration would not sign the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain “in light of recent violent incidents committed by lawless violent groups.”

“Our commitment is to peace, the constitutional process and rule of law. There will be no peace gained through violence, no peace agreement will be reached through intimidation or the barrel of the gun,” she said.

Off to Kuala Lumpur

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita later announced that Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales would be dispatched to Kuala Lumpur to explain Ms Arroyo’s position to Malaysian officials who brokered the deal.

Ermita insisted that the administration had not totally abandoned the peace process, that a new panel could be formed in the future and that the two sides could resume talks.

“The peace process is still on,” he said, pointing out the 2003 ceasefire mechanism and the international monitoring team remain in place.

Explaining at a forum Ms Arroyo’s latest pronouncement, Esperon said that because of the focus on grass-roots dialogue, the disbanded panel “may not find themselves suited in the new paradigm” created by the resurgence of MILF violence.

Esperon said he was not giving up on peace but that “there must be an effort from the MILF to cooperate with our authorities.”

Harakiri suggested

The disbanding of the peace panel was hailed in the Senate and said Esperon should be fired.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the President has no choice but to sack her peace adviser whom he said was a “paradox to peace process because all throughout his military life was devoted to searching and destroying the enemies.”

“Government incompetence killed the peace negotiations and so these people have to go and go quickly,” said Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan. “They should take the cue from the Japanese and resign or commit harakiri.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that Esperon has no experience in negotiations and that a peace panel requires people “who know their jobs and who would not be taken for a fool.”

Senate President Manuel Villar said someone should be held accountable for the turnout of the peace deal that caused the escalation of atrocities in Mindanao.

In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao said he hoped the dissolution of the peace panel did not mean abandonment of the peace process “because it can mean all-out war.”

Added Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, also of Maguindanao: “The government is marginalizing the MILF. The MILF no longer represents the Moro people.”

Awaiting official notice

MILF leaders said they would await an official communication from the Philippine government through the Malaysian secretariat.

“Unless they formally notify Malaysia, our position is that these statements coming out of newspapers and the broadcast media remain as informal statements,” said Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief.

“Peace panels are not permanent. They can be dissolved and reconstituted,” Kabalu said, holding out hopes that negotiations could resume.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, repeated an earlier position that the MOA initialed in July in Malaysia was “a done deal.”

“We hold on to it for they have initialed the document,” Iqbal said.

Double-edged sword

MILF leaders have acknowledged that its field commanders—Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar—had gone on a warpath, disgruntled at the government’s failure to sign the MOA on Aug. 5 in Malaysia.

The Supreme Court halted the deal after local officials in Mindanao protested the inclusion of areas under their jurisdiction in the expanded Moro homeland and warned that the MOA would lead to the dismemberment of the Philippine republic.

The government has mounted a massive operation to hunt Kato and Macapaar, offering a P10-million reward for their capture for igniting violence that has killed at least 62 civilians and displaced close to 500,000 people, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Center. The military said 17 soldiers had died in the fighting. The MILF confirmed seven deaths.

The government has been in on-off talks with the MILF since 1997 to end a conflict that has killed 120,000 people and displaced 2 million in the south. From 2001, Malaysia has been brokering the peace talks, held in secrecy, and last month agreed to keep its 12 unarmed troops on Mindanao for another three months to help monitor the truce agreement since July 2003.

The MILF, with a 12,000-strong armed force, was formed in 1976 by Hashim Salamat, who refused to honor a peace accord that Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front forged with the government in 1996. Salamat rejected Misuari’s bid for more autonomy for the Moro homeland and sought independence instead.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the President’s move was a “dangerous double-bladed sword” meant to appease critics of the MOA and close the door to serious peace negotiations.

He said that disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) as a framework for peace talks was “doomed to fail.”

“The Arroyo government wants its foes to surrender even without the government addressing the fundamental causes of armed conflict. This formula has been imposed on the National Democratic Front in the past and has in fact become a hindrance to the advancement of the peace talks,” Reyes explained.

Local leaders’ involvement

In General Santos City, Mayor Pedro Acharon welcomed the government move to dissolve the peace panel.

“Local leaders must not only be consulted, but they must also be actively involved in the process so we can come up with a just, credible and lasting solution to the Mindanao problem,” Acharon said.

Amirah Ali Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the scrapping of the government team indicated that it was never serious in forging peace with the MILF.

Lidasan accused Ms Arroyo of using the MOA “for her personal interest,” pointing out her earlier plan to submit the deal to a constituent assembly that critics said was aimed at prolonging her term beyond 2010. (With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Jerome Aning, Beverly T. Natividad, Alcuin Papa, Norman Bordadora, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., TJ Burgonio in Manila; and Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin O. Fernandez, Aquiles Z. Zonio, and Ed General, Inquirer Mindanao; and Reuters)

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