GPH chair optimistic on outcome of resumption peace talks with MILF in KL

February 8, 2011 11:49 am 

MANILA, Feb. 7 – The chair of the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday expressed optimism that if the MILF remains sincere and pragmatic, one year is a reasonable period to come up to a fundamental agreement on a politically-negotiated settlement in the long-drawn Mindanao conflict.

This was the remarks made by Dean Marvic Leonen, chairman of the government peace panel, during a press conference at the University of the Philippines College of Law, two days before the reopening of the 20th exploratory talks with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur.

This will be the first formal talks that the government peace panel under the Aquino government will hold with the MILF.

Leonen said the agenda of the meeting was worked out by both the government and MILF peace panels during the informal talks held in Malaysia last January 13.

During that meeting, Leonen expressed the desire of President Benigno S. Aquino III “to find a comprehensive, just and lasting solution (to the Mindanao conflict) within the soonest possible time.”

“On this issue, this administration speaks with one voice: we retain the primacy of the peace process while earnest negotiations are ongoing,” he said.

He also reiterated the instruction from the President that “the process needs to be inclusive, participative and as far as negotiations would allow, transparent."

“We assume that these instructions remain until there are clear significant changes in the situation on the ground or in the position of the MILF regarding the peace process,” Leonen said.

According to Leonen, the government peace panel thinks “that if the MILF remains sincere and is open to being pragmatic but at the same time principled in their stance, one year is a reasonable period to come to a fundamental agreement on a politically-negotiated settlement.”

But Leonen said the government is cautious not to make deadlines of the formal peace talks in terms of periods or number of meetings, stressing that “the realities of political negotiations are unforeseen events should allow the negotiating parties some room to adjust and accommodate.”

Leonen also disclosed that the agenda of the talks includes the extension of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

The IMT, together with the two Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCHs), the local monitoring groups and the civilian protection components form the infrastructure for maintaining the ceasefire between the military and MILF forces.

AHJAG is the mechanism that interdicts criminal elements that stray into areas where MILF forces are dominant.

These bad elements are kidnappers and terrorist groups.

Leonen also revealed that the government is keen on reviving another mechanism called the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) proposed by the MILF in past negotiations.

The function of the BLMI is to train further young Moro leaders how to lead and govern.

The two-day exploratory talk on February 9-10 comes at a time amidst reports that one MILF field commander Ameril Umbra Kato has organized his own group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Leonen said the government peace panel was aware of the actions of Kato and “raised this as a concern with the MILF panel during our informal talks” held in Kuala Lumpur last January 13.

“We agreed that we will be given a full report of the relationship of Commander Ameril Umbra Kato and his armed following during this week’s meeting,” Leonen said.

“The government panel is of course seriously concerned with this development and the announcement made by MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim,” he said.

However, Leonen said, the government peace panel “would rather get clarification from their official representatives before we state our official position on this matter.

Leonen stressed that “if true, the existence of a separate armed group (referring to Umbra Kato’s group) that splinters from the MILF will endanger our ceasefire mechanisms” now in place between government forces and the MILF in southern Philippines.

The UP law dean also said that Kato’s splinter group “will make our civilian populations insecure and vulnerable.”

Leonen was apparently referring to the heavy fighting that broke out in Central Mindanao following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in August 2008 that killed scores of people and displaced 600,000 residents.

In light of Kato’s splinter group, Leonen said that “it will be irresponsible on the part of our police and military forces not to take a high state of readiness should this be the case,” adding that “other separate existence of another armed group espousing the same grievances, if true, may significantly put in question the ability of the current leadership of the MILF to deliver on any commitment that is negotiated with the government.”

However, Leonen said that the government is “buoyed by reports that the MILF has taken every public steps to consult with what they consider to be their greater constituency.”

“We are also monitoring reports of efforts being exerted to clarify the situation between the MILF and Command Kato,” he said.

He hoped to see more definite result sooner than later. At the same time, Leonen said that insurgent movements will always be represented by dynamic organization, saying that as they mature, “there will be conflicts that need to be debated within.”

He said these debates can either lead to a more mature leadership in touch with its constituencies or it can lead to more dogmatic outcomes.

“While this process unfolds, making baseless conclusions that do nothing but raise hysteria can be deadly for many of our people on the ground,” he said.

Leonen appealed to the media to help clarify these nuances, adding “contextualize the drama, please do not just report it.” (PNA)

DCT/vcs/RBC/utb

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