Ampatuan wants LGUs in ARMM represented in GRP-MILF talks

August 19, 2009 10:00 am 

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Aug. 19 — Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan wants local government units (LGUs) in the region to be represented in the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Ampatuan told the government peace panel negotiators that, as a "matter of protocol and courtesy," LGUs in the autonomous region, which are under the administrative control of “duly elected officials,” should be given enough representation in the peace negotiations.

“We can assure President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the GRP peace panel that we in the autonomous region support the peace process very religiously, and that it's only on the need for extensive consultation with local sectors on the GRP-MILF talks that we are noisy about,” said Ampatuan, who also chairs the region's peace and order council.

Several sectors in the ARMM had informed the GRP chief peace negotiator, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, that they would “reject” any final peace compact between the GRP and MILF that is forged “without prior consultations and cross section approval.”

Seguis assured ARMM residents they would be consulted on all issues and concerns the GRP and MILF panels are to discuss along with their efforts at forging a final peace agreement.

“There will be no surprises. We shall be transparent as much as possible,” Seguis said.

People in the autonomous region — a monolithic bloc of politicians from the ARMM governor down to the area’s five provincial governors, more than a hundred mayors and 2,403 barangay chairmen, who are mostly related both by blood and affinity — are ranting on their being bereft of any representation in the GRP-MILF talks.

A retired Air Force officer, Antonio Mariano, said people are also worried about the implications of the acknowledgment by Seguis and the MILF’s chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, of the botched memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) as an “initialed, but still unsigned document,” in the joint statement they co-signed after a two-day low-level meeting in Kuala Lumpur last July.

Seguis assured participants that the MOA-AD, which the Supreme Court already declared as “unconstitutional” was acknowledged as a still unsigned document not for the purpose of sealing it as a compact, but as a product of a long-time bilateral effort by the GRP and MILF peace panel.

ARMM’s solicitor-general, Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, said “resuscitating” the unconstitutional MOA-AD would surely spark “upheaval” among people in Mindanao.

“It’s the respect for the laws of the land, respect for the High Tribunal that we’re trying to uphold here. Any food made up of rotten ingredients is toxic and, therefore, cannot be eaten,” Guiani-Sayadi said.

A public school teacher of 40 years, Hadji Udtog Kawit, said the government and MILF peace panels “should first focus on the plight of people displaced by recent hostilities in the South.”

“Human security is important in peace-building. There can be no peace without social-welfare, without education for our children, without community involvement in any peace initiative,” Kawit said.

Seguis said the government panel is keen on ensuring that any peace deal with the MILF is acceptable to all sectors in the autonomous region and surrounding areas.

“We don’t want another TRO (technical restraining order),” Seguis said, apparently referring to the Supreme Court’s August 4, 2008 order preventing the previous GRP panel from signing the MOA-AD, on the behest of local officials in areas outside of ARMM, among them North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Pinol.

The Supreme Court subsequently scrapped for being unconstitutional the MOA-AD, the supposed basis for the setting up of an MILF-led Moro homeland that would group together the ARMM and predominantly Muslim communities outside of the autonomous region.

In a press statement on Wednesday, ARMM Governor Ampatuan called on the government peace panel “not to rush” in its talks with the MILF.

It quoted Ampatuan as telling the government peace panel that “if you really care for Mindanao, you should consult the mayors, the local government units and even up to the barangay level — all sectors in the society. This is the only way to attain legitimate peace in ARMM and we are very willing to take part (in) it.”

Seguis assured that the government’s team is exhausting all means to decisively craft the final agreement. “I will never allow another TRO (Temporary Restraining Order). If this would happen, the people will never believe the government again.” (PNA)

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