Gov’t, MILF exchange draft peace pacts; IMT returns before end of February
by Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews
Friday, 29 January 2010 20:20
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 January) – The Philippine government and Moro Islamic Libreation Front (MILF) peace panels will meet again on February 18 to 19 in Kuala Lumpur after exchanging “very divergent drafts” on the proposed Comprehensive Compact or the negotiated settlement on January 27.But while discussion on the drafts was postponed to three weeks later, the panels lauded the announcement of Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak, the Malaysian facilitator, that the International Monitoring Team (IMT) will be deployed back in Mindanao before end of February. The IMT left on November 30, 2008 and is returning after an absence of 14 months.

For the first time in the history of the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, government peace panel chair Rafael Seguis in a press statement dated January 28, cited government’s “openness to hear MILF proposals for constitutional change.”The two panels agreed to meet again on February 18 to 19 “to discuss the draft texts and identify the next steps towards achieving a comprehensive compact and a negotiated solution,” a press statement from  Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak dated January 28 said.

The facilitator said the parties also agreed “to preserve previous gains made in the peace process; to review each other’s draft texts with their respective principals; and to consult concerned stakeholders on options of moving forward.”

“Both parties look forward to the deployment of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) including a Civilian Protection Component (CPC) in the coming weeks,” he said.

But Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel said the government’s draft peace agreement “essentially offers the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

“This offer was done in April of 2000 (sic) and repeated in February of 2003, just before the attack on the MILF Buliok complex in North Cotabato,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal must have meant late May 2000 when the “all-out war” that then President Joseph Estrada waged in March in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, had moved to the Narciso Ramos Highway in Maguindanao and in Pikit, North Cotabato and government troops were attacking the MILF’s Camp Bushra in preparation for Camp Abubakar, the government peace panel, then under retired general Eduardo Batenga,  met with the MILF peace panel in Cotabato City and offered as a  political package,  a “meaningful autonomy” through then House Bill 7883, a bill the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had earlier rejected.

Asked about government’s alleged offer of the ARMM to the MILF, Seguis told MindaNews in a text message, “no substantive talks yet. Not in that context!”

The government peace panel submitted a 17-page document,  font 14, double space, while the MILF submitted a 37-page document, font 12, 1.5 space.

In his January 28 press statement, Seguis clarified “there is no agreement yet” with the MILF.

“Both sides are still in the early stages of discussing each other’s position papers,” he said.

Though not explaining what kind of political package it was offering the MILF, Seguis in his press statement said the government’s draft peace agreement is “compliant with the Constitution and pertinent laws” and is “also guided by the Supreme Court decision on the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).”

The government and MILF peace panels had initialed the MOA-AD in late July 2008 and were already back in Kuala Lumpur by August 4  for the August 5 formal signing when the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) late afternoon of  August 4, preventing the government peace panel chair from signing the agreement.

Seguis said the government’s 2010 draft peace agreement “mostly identities executive ‘doables’, proposed legislative actions to strengthen regional autonomy, and openness to hear MILF proposals for constitutional change.”

“The GRP draft is clear that discussions that will concern legislative and other policy actions will still be proposals which would be submitted to Congress,” he said.

“There is no mention of any ‘Bangsa Moro’ sub-state in our draft,” Seguis added.

Iqbal told MindaNews the MILF has proposed a “State – Sub-state relationship” that would require amending the 1987 Constitution’s Article 10, Section 15-21.

Sections 15 to 21 of Article 10 on Local Government,  focus on the autonomous regions. In the 1987 Constitution, these sections provided for the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras but only the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao has been created. The Cordillera region has remained an administrative region.

The arrangement, Iqbal said, would be “similar to Sarawak” in Malaysia. Malaysia has a federal form of government.

But lawyer and peace advocate Soliman Santos, author of “The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process,” told MindaNews , “we can amend the Constitution’s provisions on ARMM only  and place in the amendments something like the Sarawak sub-state arrangement.”

Santos said the Constitution “can be changed in any way as long as the process is proper” and that there is no need to shift to a federal system of government “wholesale, across-the-board (nation).”

He said what can be amended are “provisions for a special region as was done with ARMM (& CAR) but this time of higher degree of self-determination like the Sarawak sub-state arrangement if that is agreed upon.  This would already place it on the same constitutional level as the rest of the Constitution, and therefore obviates any issues of unconstitutionality.”
Iqbal declined to elaborate on what is new about the government’s ARMM offer.

The term of office of incumbent ARMM officials is until September 30, 2011 although Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales wants the ARMM to hold elections in time with the national and local polls on May 10.
He said an early election for ARMM is needed to firm up the peace and order that martial law had started to establish not only in Maguindanao but also in the entire ARMM.

Iqbal said the government’s draft “deviates from what was agreed during the Agenda Setting Session in the previous GRP-MILF Special Meeting last December 8 and 9, 2009.”

In that Special Meeting, the panels agreed on seven items which government peace panel adviser Camilo Montesa summed up as: identity and citizenship; governance structure; security arrangements; wealth-sharing, natural resources and property rights; restorative justice and reconciliation; implementation arrangements; and independent monitoring.

MILF senior peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura said that the MILF stresses more on “transitional justice and reconciliation.”

Wednesday’s meeting opened with the statements from the Malaysian facilitator, Seguis, Iqbal, and some members of the International Contact Group (ICG), after which the drafts were exchanged.

The MILF peace panel was represented by Iqbal, Mastura, Maulana Bobby Alonto, Atty. Abdul Dataya, and Datu Antonio Kinoc, a B’laan. Jun Mantawil and Mike Pasigan composed the MILF Peace Panel Secretariat.

The government peace panel was represented by Seguis and members, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and  Ronald Adamat;  laywers Antonio Laviña, and Mariano Sarmiento; Ryan Mark Sullivan, executive director of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process; and Zoilo Velasco.

The ICG members represented were Hitoshi Ozawa and Yoshihisa Ishikawa, Minister and First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in Manila respectively (Japan); Ambassador Boyd McCleary, British High Commissioner to Malaysia and Mr. Christopher Wright, Second Secretary, British Embassy in Manila (UK);  and Yasin Temizkan, Chargé d’ Affaires, Embassy of Turkey in Kuala Lumpur (Turkey).

The INGO (international non-governmental organization) members who were present were David Gorman, Mediation Adviser of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC); Dr. Steven Rood, country director for the Philippines of The Asia Foundation (TAF); Herizal Hazri, Program Director in Malaysia; Thomas Parks, Regional Director for Governance and Conflict based in Thailand; Ms Cynthia Petrigh, Advisor on Peace Process, Conciliation Resources (CR, London); and Dr. Din Syamsuddin, President of Muhammadiyah accompanied by an adviser, Surwandono.    (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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