Ex-gov’t chief negotiator says P5 million given to MILF is for Bangsamoro institute

November 3, 2011 9:45 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Nov. 3 — Former government chief negotiator Silvestre C. Afable Jr. on Thursday defended President Benigno S. Aquino III for the P5 million the government gave to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) as agreed upon between the two sides as early as 2006.

“I am glad President Aquino gave the MILF P5 million for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute,” Silvestre said in a press statement to clear once and for all the controversy over the P5 million given to the MILF that has drawn flak from various sectors.

“I was the Government’s chief negotiator with the MILF when, in 2006, we reached agreement (across the negotiating table in KL) to set up the BMLI,” Afable said, thus confirming that the commitment was made during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He said the agreement was reached during the time when Secretary Jess Dureza was then the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

“He (Dureza) may have just forgotten that event,” Afable said, to refresh Dureza’s memory.

Afable said that “the BMLI is an offshoot of an earlier agreement (2001) to form the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). At that time, the MILF wanted to try its hand at implementing its own development projects.”

“As the BDA grew, it needed more personnel who could receive, disburse and account for funds; and supervise incipient development teams,” he said.

According to Afable, “the BMLI was the envisioned training school for these personnel. We requested the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) to work on the basic curriculum and devote trainors to the project, which was done with enthusiasm and zeal.”

“Institutions such as the BDA and the BMLI must not be treated negatively, because these, alongside the ceasefire, provide the necessary climate for negotiations and stem the urge among fighters to shoot each other, “ he said, adding that “one must be creative in offering alternatives to those who have been used to live by the gun.”

Afable was apparently referring to the almost four decades of the Mindanao armed conflict that has claimed the lives of over 150,000 and the wounding of tens of thousands of others during the period.

Peace talks are ongoing between the government and the MILF to find a lasting solution to the Mindanao conflict. An all out war raged between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the forerunner of the MILF, in the mid ‘70s until a peace agreement was signed on Sept. 2, 1996 during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos.

But the MILF opposed the peace pact and continued the rebellion that flared up anew to an all-out war in the summer of 2000 during the time of President Joseph Estrada.

When Estrada was eased out from power during the so-called EDSA People Power II revolution, the peace talk was revived by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001.

Afable recalled that when the government and the MILF restored the ceasefire in 2001, “we needed to follow up on two key items: first, to get in an International Monitoring Team to help make sure the truce holds; and create the basic institutions to re-channel the energies of MILF fighters-on-hold.”

He also said that “confidence-building measures lie in the meat of any peace process anywhere in the world. While we seek a political solution in the peace talks, we try to safeguard the ceasefire like precious life itself, and carve out a positive direction for fighters-on-hold — who will hopefully trade their guns for ploughshares when a final settlement is reached.”

Afable said “the MILF itself has tried its level best to abide by this negotiation-ceasefire-development model as a transitional mechanism to a final political settlement. Many Filipinos are cynical about this, but I appreciate the fact that President Aquino is not.”

Earlier Marvic Leonen, the incumbent chair of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF, explained that the P5 million given to the MILF was intended to jump start the BLMI as he dismissed news reports that the money was used to buy guns and ammunition.

“The P5 million is a commitment made by the previous administration. It is intended to fast-track the establishment of the institute,” Leonen said.

The BLMI is a training center for Bangsamoro leaders and managers who will be serving their communities in the future.

Leonen said that he handed the P5-million check to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal during the parties’ last round of formal exploratory talks on August 22-23 in Kuala Lumpur. This was announced during the August 23 press conference held by the government panel following the meeting in the Malaysian capital.

He said that the establishment of BLMI was discussed during negotiations at the 10th Formal Exploratory Talks in February, 2006. It was finalized and formally agreed upon during the 14th formal exploratory talks held on November 14-15, 2007, with funding commitment from the Philippine Government to jumpstart the institute's operations.

It was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that enabled it to receive assistance from donor institutions such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

JICA gave funds for the construction of the building that will house the institute. In 2000, Asia Foundation provided support for a series of workshops to draw up the vision and organizational structure of the BLMI.

Leonen added that President Aquino approved the appropriation for the BLMI during the consultation with the panel early this year. “During his one-on-one meeting with MILF chair Murad in Tokyo last August 5, the President again expressed his support to the BLMI. He then instructed the peace panel to hand the check to the Moro group.”

The panel chair said that the government will remain steadfast in finding a peaceful solution to the armed conflict.

“We will not let false reports undermine the peace process. I urge the public to stay heedful of what is happening and analytical of the information that they receive,” Leonen said.

The President Aquino said that those who were calling for an all-out war against the MILF following the ambush slaying of 19 Army Special Forces and the wounding of 14 others during a 10-hour firefight in Al-Barka, Basilan last Oct. 18 “may come from those who do not have a full awareness of all the factors at play.”

“However, my decisions cannot be borne out of ignorance. They have to be based on available facts,” Aquino said of his pronouncement.

“It is so easy, out of frustration, to close the door on negotiations at this time. If we go down this path, more innocent civilians will be put in harm’s way. The difficult peace process cannot be enhanced by shedding more blood and generating more ill will.”

The government is pursuing an "all-out justice" on this matter. (PNA) RMA/RBC/utb

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