MILF Worried Over Renewed War As Malaysians Desert Mindanao

In a statement published on their website, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also accused anew the government for reversing the path of the 11-year old peace negation into “war.”

“President [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo is reversing her policy from all-out peace to all-out war,” Muhammad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF Secretariat, said while adding that “[Mrs.] Arroyo will leave the presidency with blood in her hands.”

“We do not like war, war is a menace to everyone, but those who want peace to prevail must prepare for war,” he said.

“Readiness and preparedness are normal tasks in a revolutionary struggle such as the MILF,” he pointed out.

As this developed, the government through, its chief peace negotiator Rodolfo C. Garcia called for calmness and patience amid the growing level of anxiety here in Mindanao.
“That is not correct, that the President is reversing [the peace talks into war],” Mr. Garcia said over a telephone interview.

He said he held a command conference with top generals here in Mindanao, who gave him the assurance that the Philippine military will stand by the peace process.

“The government is firmly committed to the peace process through a political negotiation. I am sure there is no abandoning of the peace talks for a ‘bloodbath’ in Mindanao,” he said.

The MILF, which is the biggest Moro separatist group in Mindanao with more than 12,000 members, has been engaged in a peace negotiation with the government for 11 years to end the three-decade struggle for Muslim self determination.

But the agenda on ancestral domain, which was earlier described as “contentious,” has stalled the talks for over three months now. The two parties failed to agree that the process should be within the ambit of the Philippine constitution.

Top negotiators of the Moro rebels accused the government for “reneging” on the key points of the draft of the ancestral domain earlier forged between the protagonists in Kuala Lumpur after three years of talks.

Both parties were scheduled to sign the agreement early this year but that was delayed after the government insisted to give it time to further study some points.

The signing of the ancestral domain agenda is seen as the last component prior to the final agreement on governance. Other items that were previously agreed upon are security, rehabilitation and development, which were sealed in Tripoli, Libya in 2001.

The current delay has caused tension and was further aggravated when the Malaysian government, who is brokering the talks, expressed dissatisfaction over the stalled negotiation.

It decided not to extend the tour of duty of its ceasefire monitoring forces known as the International Monitoring Team beyond the August 31 mandate. The withdrawal was immediately implemented, starting over this weekend.

At least two military transport planes pulled out up 28 out of the 41 Malaysian soldiers from the cities of Davao, General Santos, Cotabato and Zamboanga yesterday. These cities were left with no peace keeping troops.

“This is a tragic decision. She (Mrs. Arroyo) has done an irreversible damage to the pacific ways of resolving conflicts, which the two parties (MILF and government), the Malaysian government, Libya, Brunei, and Japan, and other members of the international community, have nurtured for years. She will be hounded by her conscience, if she has one, until she dies for abandoning the peace talks in favor of a bloodbath in Mindanao,” Ameen said.

Garcia reiterated that the government is working on the last three of the nine strands on the nettlesome ancestral domain issue. But he said he is “very sure” that the government and MILF will be able sign a peace deal “within the term” of Arroyo.

These are the “Aspiration of the Bangsamoro for Freedom”—determination to find political status of the Bangsamoro; the terms and wording—ownership, control, and jurisdiction– of “Sharing of Wealth and Resources;” and lastly, the “Building of Institution.”

He said these three points still need to be carefully looked at particularly in the context of the Philippine Constitution.

“But we would like to clarify that the government [peace panel] is not limited to the Constitution. We admit that there are points that are outside of the Constitution. We use the Constitution as our reference,” he emphasized.

He said by amending the Constitution, key points in the ancestral domain agreement can be resolved.

“In this way, any agreement we enter can be implemented legally that is subject for public scrutiny,” he added.

Civil societies here in Mindanao noted that the raising anxiety in Mindanao is because people are not well informed about the peace process.

“What are we getting is only bits and pieces of information in the negotiation,” said Grace J. Rebollos, vice-president of Peace Advocates Zamboanga, and the president of Western Mindanao State University.

“I am not sure of the all-out war policy of the government but what is clear is that the government does not have a clear policy in the problem in Mindanao and this is dangerous. All sectors should help to find a peaceful solution,” said Claretian priest Fr. Angel A. Calvo, the lead convenor of PeaceWeavers, an umbrella organization of peace advocates organizations in Mindanao.

Amina Rasul-Bernardo, director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy said that the President “has not provided leadership in the peace crisis for some time now.”

“Mrs. Arroyo is completely distracted by the political threats against her administration: corruption and scandals, rice crisis, energy crisis. Her debt to military is tremendous. In this situation, the military becomes the arbiter in Mindanao. That is the danger we face. If the peace process is in the hands of hawks, then a military solution is likely unless civilians and the cool heads in the military can come together and protect peace,’ she said.

Business leaders in Mindanao have raised concern over the withdrawal of Malaysian peace keeping troops.

“[With the] withdrawal the [peace process] will point to other direction of uncertainties and likelihood of armed conflict and violence where people will again suffer the consequence,” said Jainal M. Hamad, business chamber regional governor for the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

He added that the government should be creative enough in looking at other international model on peace process.

“A sort of the successful peace talks without strict adherence to constitution.”

Civil societies have earlier noted that with the delayed and possibility of collapse in the peace talks, developmental projects and peace initiative programs slated for the Mindanao in general will be affected. The rise incident of poverty and armed conflict will bury the economy of the southern Philippines.

Regional planners and business leaders have also noted that the Mindanao peace process is a critical component of the island’s development goals in the near and medium terms. With the possible collapse of the talks, business sector said the flow of capital to the island, including those from foreign groups, will be hampered again as what happened in the past wars.

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