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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Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Muslim to get 2-star rank in the PNP

The country's first Muslim post-war two-star police general has been designated the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) point man in the peace process.

Sukarno Ikbala, head of the PNP Directorate for Human Resource and Doctrine Development, took his oath as director in Camp Crame Tuesday, the PNP said on its website (www.pnp.gov.ph).

"Ikbala’s promotion is a significant milestone for the Philippine National Police as he is the first post-war Muslim Officer to be promoted to the 2-star rank in the PNP," the PNP article said.

“I am very thankful for all the people who have made this unprecedented feat possible and to those who have extended their support especially in the PNP’s continued battle against criminality," Ikbala said.

Attending the ceremony were Reps. Mujid Hataman (Anak Mindanaw) and Abdolmunir Arbeson (Sulu), and Mayor Omar Aripin of Turtle Island in Tawi-tawi.

PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa commended Ikbala as well as the other Muslim officers of the PNP for their exemplary performance in keeping the peace in Mindanao.

“The Muslim officers of the PNP have exemplified a great deal of leadership and they played a vital role in our peace initiatives. In that regard, I am directing (Director) Ikbala to be the ‘point man’ in our peace process in Mindanao," Verzosa added.

Ikbala belongs to the PMA “Magilas" Class of 1976 and has formerly held key positions in the Mindanao region.

He was previously the police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and senior assistant to the PNP chief for Muslim concerns.

Also, he was former director of the Police Community Relations Group. - GMANews.TV

Thursday, February 26, 2009

No talks despite kidnapped victims’ appeals — Sec. Teodoro

The government will not negotiate with kidnappers holding three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) despite the hostages’ appeal for the government to start the talks, the Defense chief said Wednesday.

In an interview, Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. said Wednesday that negotiating with the kidnappers would negatively affect anti-crime efforts and could lead to the rise of kidnapping cases.

In a television interview aired Tuesday night, one of the abducted ICRC staff — Mary Jean Lacaba — called on the government to negotiate with the kidnappers for their release, saying their health has been deteriorating.

Ms. Lacaba, a Filipina, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni were kidnapped on Jan. 15 after conducting a humanitarian mission in Sulu province.

"I think the public must be reminded that there is no justification for kidnapping," Mr. Teodoro told reporters.

He said the government is concerned with the health of the hostages but the abductors, who reportedly belong to the Abu Sayyaf, must not use the deteriorating condition of the hostages to pressure the government to negotiate.

"If you have hostages [and] they are suffering, there is only one right and correct thing to do, release them immediately," he told reporters Wednesday.

He said the crisis management committee led by Sulu Governor Abdusakur M. Tan is still on top of the situation. The group is composed of representatives from the Armed Forces, Philippine National Police and the ICRC.

Earlier, the Abu Sayyaf led by Albader Parad and Radullan Sahiron asked for the pullout of military troops as well as the abolition of the crisis management committee.(Louella D. Desiderio, BusinessWorld)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Datus’ help sought in kidnap case

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- Police authorities here are seeking the help of traditional and religious leaders in Maguindanao in a bid to safely recover the father and daughter abducted by alleged Pentagon Gang gunmen on February 18.

Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, Cotabato police chief, said the help of datus and Muslim clerics might actually work.

Maguindanaons are known to hold deep respect for members of royal families and clerics.

"They are well respected and we hope they can help us convince the captors to release their captives," Dangane said.

Wilson Tan, 50, a local hotelier and owner of a fish trading company, and his 10-year-old daughter were snatched in front of their house in the village of Rosary Heights 4 here. Tan's wife was injured in the scuffle.

Dangane said that even as the help of local leaders was being sought, police and military operations against the kidnappers were continuing.

"We have conducted a house-to-house search and rescue operation in the nearby marshy areas of Kabuntalan, where they were last seen," he said.

Dangane said the kidnappers, led by one Musa Ali, have not attempted to contact the family again.

"The contact was only on the first day, when they asked our troops to halt the rescue operation," he said.

But Dangane said the authorities believe that the kidnappers and the victims were still in the areas they have been watching.

"We believe they are still in the marshy area of Kabuntalan (in Maguindanao)," Dangane said.

The operation against the Pentagon gang in Kabuntalan has caused fear among residents, who have just returned home after having been displaced by military operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last year.

"There will be war again, and we will again evacuate," said Elias Mabang, a farmer.

Mabang said he was hoping that the Tans would be released soon to spare residents from more trouble.(By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Local execs told to join rescue efforts

The provincial government of Basilan has directed all town executives to help in search and rescue operation for a kidnapped Sri Lankan humanitarian worker and five other hostages.

Municipal officials were ordered by Governor Jum Akbar during a meeting of the province’s crisis management committee to help locate and rescue Sri Lankan Umar Jaleel, who is involved in peace advocacy in the province; a nine-year-old boy kidnapped in Lamitan City; Leah Patriz, a microfinance collector; and Zamboanga City-based teachers Janette delos Reyes, Freires Quizon and Rafael Mayonado, who are believed to have been brought to the province by their abductors.

Commander Alexander Pama, chief of the Joint Task Force Trillium and of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said Jaleel and his captors were sighted in Kapatagan area late Saturday night.

Kapatagan is a village in Isabela City that links the towns of Maluso and Lantawan.

While declining to identify which group was holding Jaleel, Pama said it had a record of past kidnappings.

Senior Superintendent Salik Macapantar, Basilan police director, said the municipal officials and civilian volunteers have joined police rescue operation.

Pama said the kidnappers had not established any communication with Jaleel's organization, the Nonviolent Peaceforce, as of Sunday.

Norgianna Suleik of the Nonviolent Peaceforce said their office has been coordinating with authorities since the abduction on February 13.

Meanwhile, Anak Mindanao Representative Mujiv Hataman, a native of Basilan, said he had passed a resolution in Congress calling for an inquiry into the rise of kidnapping cases in Basilan, Zamboanga City and Sulu.(By Julie Alipala)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ICRC worker: Ordeal now “difficult”

A Swiss International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker kidnapped with two colleagues, an Italian and a Filipina, in Sulu said Tuesday their situation was becoming “very difficult.”

“We are in a very difficult situation,” 38-year-old Andreas Notter told radio station DZEC in a telephone interview from where they are being held, thought to be on Jolo.

“They [the kidnappers] are under military pressure,” he added. “We have to be on the alert as well.”

It was unclear whether Notter was speaking under duress. The ICRC had no immediate comment.

Notter, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Mary-Jean Lacaba of the Philippines were abducted while on a humanitarian mission on Jolo on January 15. The kidnappers have allowed medicines to be delivered to the 62-year-old Italian.

The Philippine military say they have cordoned off a four square kilometer area of jungle to prevent the gunmen, blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines, from taking the captives elsewhere.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen have made certain “political” demands that the authorities deem unacceptable.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network, is known for kidnappings and bomb attacks.

Another unit of the group is also believed to be holding a Sri Lankan peace activist who was abducted on the southern island of Basilan last week.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mindanao peace talks to start next month

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines—The government expects to resume the stalled peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front next month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to presidential adviser on the peace process Avelino Razon.

Razon made the pronouncement following a dialogue facilitated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the provincial capitol with local officials on Friday.

However, Razon made it clear that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which the Supreme Court had struck down as unconstitutional, would serve only as reference material if negotiations resume.

"We have relayed the willingness of our panel to sit with the MILF counterparts to the foreign minister of Malaysia. We are waiting for the Malaysian government to relay our position as well the response of the rebel group," Razon told reporters.

"The government is sincere in pushing for the talks’ resumption. We are hopeful and optimistic we can talk with them (MILF) as soon as possible," he added.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that his group "can't resume the talks if the government will not settle the issue of MOA-AD."

The MILF has been fighting for a separate Muslim homeland.

The talks bogged down in August after the country's Supreme Court stopped the signing of the homeland accord.(Jeoffrey Maitem)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ICRC wants safety of 3 abducted staff confirmed

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is waiting for confirmation that its three abducted members in southern Philippines are unharmed amid the ongoing military operations there.

While relieved over initial reports the hostages were not harmed, the ICRC remains concerned for the safety of Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Mary Jean Lacaba.

"It was a great relief, therefore, to be informed last evening that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas were unharmed. We still expect a direct confirmation from our colleagues that they are fine," said Alain Aeschlimann, ICRC head of operations for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Aeschlimann also reiterated the group's appeal to the kidnappers and all those dealing with the hostage crisis to be careful in their moves.

"The ICRC is renewing its appeal to the kidnappers and to all those involved in dealing with this crisis to refrain from any action which could jeopardize the safety of Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas," he said in the group’s website.

The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf has admitted holding custody of Notter, Vagni and Lacaba in the hinterlands of Sulu province. The three were seized last January 15.

Earlier this week, an exchange of gunfire occurred in the area where the hostages are reportedly held.

"The ICRC is aware that there was an exchange of gunfire yesterday, 9 February, in an area close to where our three kidnapped colleagues are reportedly being held. The ICRC was very concerned when it heard about this development in view of the consequences it could have had for our staff," Aeschlimann said.

But he declined to comment further on the situation, saying it is a "very delicate" one that must be "handled with caution."

"For this reason, I am unable to provide further information about the incident. I am sure that both the media and the public will understand this. I will just mention that we have been well informed by the Philippine government about what happened yesterday and the chain of events," he said.

He added the ICRC is doing everything it can to obtain the unconditional and rapid release of its staff.(GMANews.TV)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5 Marines hurt as military closes in on ICRC abductors

Five Marines were wounded in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf terrorists currently holding three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers in southern Philippines.

The firefight is ongoing as of posting time, Armed Forces public information chief Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr. said in a statement.

Torres said the encounter started when Abu Sayyaf bandits fired at military troops in Barangay (village) Paligue in Indanan, Sulu.

The official said troops in the area were positioning to mount pressure on the abductors of the Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, who were seized last January 15.

"The Abu Sayyaf terrorists, sensing that they have been cornered, fired the first shot at the government troops in an attempt to extricate themselves from the military cordon," Torres said.

The official added that the military decided to pursue its operations to free the three ICRC workers because they were "left with no choice."

"Military operations have always been an option to take, and having exhausted all other possible means for peaceful release of the victims, we were left with no choice but to use military force to rescue the victims," he said.

No let-up

Lt. Steffani Cacho, a military spokesperson in Mindanao, said operations to rescue the ICRC workers would continue until the hostages are freed.

"The rescue operation is going in Sulu and this would continue without let-up," she said, adding that despite the operations, the safety of the hostages is still their main concern.

"Their (hostages) safety is our concern, but the operation will have to continue until we recover the hostages," she said.

Monday's encounter was the second in Sulu province in four days. Last Friday, troops clashed with Abu Sayaff bandits in Barangay Timpook in Patikul town.

Sulu police chief Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim said fighting broke out after patrolling troops spotted a band of Abu Sayyaf rebels under Kumander Juhurin Hussein.

Kasim said Hussein and his troops burned a school in the village, which he said led to the deployment of security forces in the area to secure the civilians.

No casualties were reported in the encounter, police said.

The Abu Sayyaf, which means the "bearer of the sword," was tagged as a foreign terrorist organization by the US and also linked by the Filipino authorities to the spate of kidnappings and killing of innocent Muslims in Sulu and Basilan provinces.

Manifesto

Meanwhile, 16 of Sulu's 19 mayors had signed a manifesto with Governor Sakur Tan expressing their support to the officials handling the kidnapping crisis and at the same time offering assistance to resolve the problem.

"We collectively commit human and material resources within our means and control if need to be effect the early and safe release of the hostages," the manifesto read.

The officials also condemned "in strongest term" the actions of the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements in the province.

"We condemn in the strongest term any form of action by irresponsible and lawless elements that seek to wreak havoc not only in our respective areas of jurisdiction, but in the whole of Sulu," they said.(AL JACINTO with Sophia Dedace, GMANews.TV)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gov't. ready to resume talks with MILF

Mediator Malaysia to pick venue

The Philippine negotiating panel is ready to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Foreign Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis said on Monday.

Seguis, chair of the government panel, said he just met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim and Malaysian Foreign Affairs Secretary General Rastam Mohd Issa in Kuala Lumpur.

"I told the Malaysian officials that the Philippine negotiating panel is ready and prepared to return to the negotiating table with the MILF. Now, it's up to the Malaysian facilitator to be the one to inform the MILF," Seguis said in an ambush interview.

Seguis said that Malaysia had also expressed its readiness as mediator in the talks.

Malaysia has resumed brokering the talks after it announced last year a pullout of peacekeepers, citing a slow progress in the Mindanao peace process.

Asked if the kidnappings by Muslim extremists would affect the talks, Seguis said he did not think so, as the crimes were being perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf, not the MILF.

Earlier, the influential Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) urged the government to resume peace talks in Mindanao and come up with solutions that could be turned into an accord.

OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on the MILF to work with the Manila to save the peace process.

In a statement posted on the OIC website, Ihsanoglu said the uninterrupted military operations in Mindanao had displaced close to a million civilians.

Such a dire condition, he said, could "empower undisciplined elements who seek to abort the peace process and fuel extremist feelings."

He promised to mobilize OIC resources and allied organizations "to alleviate the suffering of displaced populations."

The government aborted the talks in August 2008, after the MILF leadership refused to surrender its rogue commanders responsible for the spate of offensives in southern Mindanao.

In the same period, the Supreme Court ruled that the "ancestral domain" scheme proposed in the draft memorandum of agreement was unconstitutional.

The OIC is an influential grouping of 56 Islamic states and has been brokering negotiations for peace between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and Muslim groups, including the MILF and its precursor, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

OIC's role in the GRP-MNLF peace negotiations led to the 1996 Tripoli Agreement, that in turn resulted in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Ihsanoglu urged that both sides continued "to work in the same positive spirit that led to the accomplishments made so far through negotiations and build upon these achievements" toward a just and durable peace.(By Cynthia Balana)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Downturn affects 34,000 Mindanao workers

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines -- Close to 34,000 workers stand to lose their jobs or work shortened hours this year as a result of the global economic downturn, according to a regional labor department official.

Alan Macaraya, director of the northern Mindanao regional office of the Department of Labor and Employment, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview that his office project that at least 1.7 percent of the 1.81-million workforce in the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Norte, Camiguin, including the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, will be affected by the global crunch.

"Our conservative projection is that almost 34,000 workers will be affected by the crisis. This means they will either be laid off or comply with compressed work week," he said.

According to labor department statistics, Macaraya said, almost 1,000 workers in Misamis Oriental and Iligan City have already been laid off by companies that have shutdown operations during the past weeks.

"Because of sharp decline in demand, many export-based companies in the region are slowing down. What they do is either downsize their operations or contract out parts of the operations," he said.

For some companies, this means they will have to operate between four and five days a week instead of six.

As early as November last year, major cement manufacturer Holcim Ltd. closed its shipping services Arastre, which had 350 workers.

Macaraya said five companies filed notices of retrenchment last month. These were Global Steel in Iligan City; Platinum Group of Companies in Manticao, Misamis Oriental; Refractors Corp. in Iligan City; IDS Philippines in Cagayan de Oro City; and Air Philippines.

The All Workers Alliance of Trade Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (Awatu-TUCP) has called on the labor department to ensure that the rights of the workers are protected in the wake of the retrenchments.

"We are supposed to be protected by the law. What the government can do is ensure that the companies will not violate what is provided for us by the labor code," Awatu-TUCP’s Milbert Macarambon said.

In Davao City, the southern Mindanao regional office of the DOLE said it will launch its global financial crisis center on Monday to help address the needs of displaced workers in the region.

Since December, more than 300 workers have already lost their jobs in Southern Mindanao, which is composed of the three Davao provinces and Compostela Valley.

Jalilo dela Torre, DOLE Region 11 director, said the center will serve as a one-stop shop for assistance on employment, livelihood, training, psychosocial, and legal aid.

It will be manned by "competent employees" of the agency, he said.(By Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez, Rizalene P. Acac)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Villagers rally to revive ‘Alsa Masa’

DIGOS CITY – Officials and residents of Barangay Goma here have started mobilizing in a bid to rally support for the revival of an anticommunist group that helped weaken the New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Mindanao in the 1980s.

During a meeting on Thursday, which was presided over by Barangay Captain Nicolas Bibal, the residents said they decided to fight back after experiencing various types of abuses in the hands of the rebels.

During the meeting – also attended by the village’s 28 purok presidents – the residents expressed fear due to the continued presence of rebels near the village.

They eventually agreed that fear would bring them nowhere and that fighting back was the reasonable thing to do.

“Many of them wanted to flee already especially since the military could not protect them. This was also the reason they later decided to rise against the rebels,” Raul Paran, a villager who has been allegedly receiving threats from the rebels, told reporters after the meeting.

Another resident of the village, who requested anonymity, said he had pledged funds to help reorganize either the Alsa Masa or the Nagkahiusang Katawhan Alang sa Kalinaw (Nakasaka) in Barangay Goma.

“I’m simply overjoyed by the development. The most important thing for me now is that this campaign to fight back the NPA has taken place. I hope this will be for real now,” the resident said.

Lt. Brian Lorejo, commander of the 39th Infantry Battalion’s Charlie company, said the initiative of the residents would certainly help in the government’s anticommunist drive.

“We will support their efforts at all times,” Lorejo said.

It was not clear yet whether or not the residents would take up arms themselves.

Officials said another meeting would be held on the matter.

One of the founders of Nakasaka and Alsa Masa said he was not worried if the residents eventually armed themselves.

Armed members of Alsa Masa and Nakasaka were among those blamed for the spate of summary executions in Davao City and in Davao del Sur starting in 1986.

The activities of Alsa Masa in Davao City transformed Agdao district into Nicaragdao. A village in the district was even named Barrio Patay as bodies started turning up almost on a daily basis.

Hagonoy, Davao del Sur Mayor Franco Calida, who was one of the prime movers of the two anticommunist groups in the 1980s, said at that time, the two groups had clear instructions not to violate human rights.(By Eldie Aguirre)

Monday, February 2, 2009

EO 777 is not a pre-emptive strike -- Palace

A recently issued Executive Order seeking to amend the law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was not intended to preempt whatever future peace agreement is concluded with Muslim separatist rebels, Malacañang said on Saturday.

Any amendment to the ARMM law can only be made after an agreement has been forged with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said Undersecretary Nabil Tan of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Executive Order 777 “is not in any manner intended to preempt the ongoing peace process’’ between the government and the MILF for the revival of the stalled peace talks, said Tan.

President Macapagal-Arroyo issued EO 777 on Jan. 19 creating a preparatory committee to amend Republic Act No. 9054, the law that expanded the ARMM into a five-province region.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita explained that the idea was to amend the law’s provisions on territory, among other things, and to use this in the terms of reference in the talks with the MILF.

Tan said EO 777 would serve as a mechanism for collating the results of an ongoing review of the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the main Muslim insurgency.

If an agreement is forged with the MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, it will also go through the same process of proposing amendments to RA 9054 to make way for the implementation of the agreement, Tan explained.

The government aims to restart peace negotiations with the MILF after they collapsed last August when a provisional agreement on an expanded autonomous Muslim region was aborted amid claims of its unconstitutionality.

Malaysia has agreed to again act as facilitator of the informal talks, said Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, who chairs the government panel of negotiators.

Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, the outgoing presidential adviser on the peace process, said he believes the talks should be in full swing next month and a final agreement signed by 2010.

“When we talk about authentic consultations with the people, we are not only talking to the MILF level, but we are talking to the entire stakeholders of Mindanao. We are also talking to the lumad, to the Christians and all the peoples who have a stake in peace,” said Esperon, who is to head the Presidential Management Staff.

The MILF on Saturday said the President’s order creating a preparatory committee to amend RA 9054 was a “misdirected effort.”

Khaled Musa, the MILF deputy information chief, warned that amending the organic act that created the region incorporating the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi, would only “prolong the agony and suffering in Mindanao.”

He said that even if Malacañang was serious about amending the ARMM charter, the MILF still would not accept it as the basis for returning to the negotiating table.

“[We] will not settle for it because it is not negotiated, it is imposed,” he said.

The peace talks hit a snag over the issue of territory when the MILF insisted that the negotiations should focus only on a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), the provisional agreement that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

The MOA-AD proposed an expanded Muslim region under the control of the MILF to be called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

Last week, Ermita said amending the ARMM charter was more feasible than insisting on the MOA-AD. (By Jeoffrey Maitem)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Govt ‘fooling around’ with peace talks

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front accused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Saturday of “fooling around” with the Mindanao peace talks by creating a preparatory committee to amend a 2001 law expanding the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

On January 19, Arroyo issued Executive Order 777 creating a National Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) to amend Republic Act 9054 which made Basilan the fifth province in the ARMM. Before passage of that law, the ARMM consisted only of Maguindanao, Lanao Del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi.

Arroyo said the idea was to amend the provisions on territory and use this as a term of reference for the resumption of talks the MILF.

But Khaled Musa, MILF deputy information chief, warned that amending the 2001 law would only prolong the agony and suffering in Mindanao as "it is a misdirected effort."

"Why does the Arroyo administration do another thing when negotiation is the only right thing to address the Moro problem and the armed conflict in Mindanao?" Musa asked in an e-mailed statement.

There was only one explanation, he added: “The latest antic from Malacañang is part of its fooling around scheme."

Musa said even if Malacañang was serious about amending the ARMM charter, the MILF could still not accept it as basis for returning to the negotiating table.

He said MILF “will not settle for it because it is not negotiated; it is imposed.”

The peace talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag when the Supreme Court last August stopped the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which the government had worked out with the MILF. The Supreme Court subsequently struck the agreement down as unconstitutional.

The MILF insists any resumption of the talks should center on the MOA-AD.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita was quoted in newspaper reports as saying last week that amending the ARMM charter was more feasible than insisting on the MOA-AD.

"I think it will be wiser to take a look at the provisions in RA 9054 pertaining to territory. This is one way of (accommodating the MILF demands) rather than calling it the Bangsamoro Juridical Authority (sic). The amendments can very well be the answer to the problem on territory in the negotiations," Ermita was quoted as saying. The original term used in the MOA-AD was Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

He said the PrepCom was given six months to formulate a package of proposed amendments to the ARMM law that would be "reflective of the Moro interest."

The committee was tasked to hold dialogues and consult with various stakeholders to get their views on the proposed amendments, he said.

Under Arroyo's order, the panel will be composed of a chair, and 14 members representing the ARMM regional government, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Regional Legislative Assembly, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, the indigenous communities, Christians, the academe, and civil society.(By Jeoffrey Maitem)