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.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Fighting continues as Ramadan begins

Full-blown war looms, says MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Sunday warned of a full-blown war with the peace process “in purgatory” after the government told the Supreme Court on Friday that a Moro homeland deal had been scrapped.

MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal told Reuters news agency that the MILF was no longer confident it could strike a final peace agreement under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.

“We might as well wait for the next president after the 2010 elections,” Iqbal said. “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.”

The MILF Sunday said a government offensive against two of its commanders blamed for mounting brutal attacks in several provinces had struck MILF offices as well as those of a joint ceasefire team.

“Communal and ethnic war is not farfetched with the prevailing situation,” the MILF said on its website.

Skirmishes continued on the eve of the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan as troops pursued renegade groups led by Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar, who accounted for 500 to 1,000 fighters of the 12,000-strong MILF.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops engaged Kato’s men in gun battles Sunday in Datu Piang and Datu Saudi towns in Maguindanao province. He said soldiers had captured an MILF encampment fortified with bunkers and trenches at Kitango village in Datu Saudi.

“Our manhunt against Kato will not stop even with the start of fasting,” Ando told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net). “Kato’s group was trapped in Liguasan Marsh. They already run out of ammunition and food supplies.”

Ando said 125 MILF guerrillas had been killed in two weeks of fighting in the area.

Government agencies said around 70 civilians had died in the upsurge of violence in central Mindanao in the past three weeks. The military had confirmed at least 17 soldiers killed while the MILF officially confirmed seven dead.

AFP on alert

Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr., spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military had information that Kato and Macapaar planned to launch attacks against military and civilian targets during the fasting month. He said the AFP was on the alert for such assaults, but that the AFP would make adjustments in operations in deference to Ramadan.

In Metro Manila, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez Jr. called for a halt in the clashes.

“Sept. 1 is a propitious day to declare a ceasefire, stop the cycle of violence and resume the stalled peace process in Mindanao,” Iñiguez said in a statement.

Iqbal said the MILF would only go back to the negotiating table if the government revived and signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) expanding an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

“The peace process is now in purgatory,” Iqbal told Reuters before he boarded a flight to Mindanao. “It was buried by government’s decision not to sign the ancestral domain agreement.”

Disappointed, frustrated

“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,” Iqbal said.

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 economic growth in Mindanao.

Malaysia has been brokering talks since 2001 and agreed last week to keep about 12 unarmed troops in Mindanao for another three months to monitor a 2003 ceasefire agreement.

Renegade members of the MILF went on the rampage three weeks ago after the territorial deal was halted by the Supreme Court, following protests by local officials in Mindanao, congressmen and senators. Opposition and business groups have also denounced the deal.

On Friday, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera formally told the Supreme Court the government would no longer honor the MOA, which was supposed to be signed in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 5.

Peace process under review

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the government had decided to review the entire peace process and consult all sections of society in the south before sitting down with Moro 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.”

Dureza said the government remained committed on the peace process, “refocusing from one that is centered 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 the rebel group of its decision to scrap the territory deal. (With reports from Reuters, AFP; Nikko Dizon and TJ Burgonio in Manila; and Jeoffrey Maitem and Julie S. Alipala, INQ.net)

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