Peace Talks Bickering Ensnare Not Just Protagonists But Mediator, Too

“We all know that the ceasefire monitoring group provides a conducive environment on the ground while we negotiate. Their withdrawal will affect the peace process and it [will lead to] a collapse [of the talk],” Mohagher Iqbal told PeaceWorks in a telephone interview.

The Malaysian government earlier decided to gradually withdraw its peace keeping forces starting on May10 to pressure the government to immediately come up with a comprehensive draft on ancestral domain agreement, which has been long overdue for signing.

The Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has been overseeing the truce agreement of the two parties since 2004. The pullout decision is feared to cause a volatile situation on the ground and hostilities could anytime erupt, putting at risk the 11-year old peace talks.

Civil society have noted that with the possible collapse of the talks, developmental projects and peace initiative programs slated for Mindanao will be prejudiced. The rise in the incidence 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 past wars.

On the other hand, government chief negotiator Rodolfo C. Garcia said the government is just very critical in studying the last three strands of the ancestral domain agreement, which he said are very essential to the implementation of any forthcoming accord. implementation.

Garcia said the last three strands cover the matter of concept, jurisdiction and control of resources, and the building of institution.

Very recently, the government has on called to the Malaysian facilitator to understand and respect its “due diligence” in coming up with a comprehensive draft on ancestral domain agreement.

This was after a top Malaysian facilitator, brokering the peace negotiations, asked the government to stop insisting upon the Philippine Constitution in the technical points in crafting the ancestral domain agreement. Othman Abdul Razak, the chief Malaysian mediator, told a wire news agency that “constitutional issue was a constraint” in advancing the negotiations to a final peace deal.

In a text message sent to PeaceWorks, the government’s Office of Peace Adviser to the President expressed disappointment over the statement of the Malaysian facilitator in blaming the government for the delays on the talks.

“We are disappointed that the Malaysian facilitator–Mr. Othman– still does not comprehend why the GRP (government) has to adhere to our Philippines constitution as a framework negotiation with the MILF,” said Romeo Montenegro, head of the media and public affairs of the office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPPAP).

“Mr. Othman’s public display of exasperation and unduly blaming government for the delay is totally unexpected from one who is tasked to facilitate,” OPPAP said, adding that “We suggest instead to Mr. Othman to stay the course and the parties through”.

“We have continuously explained to him that the perceived delay is due to GRP’s exercise of due diligence to address constitutional issues in the draft ancestral domain agreement that the panel headed by Rodolfo C. Garcia is working without let up.”

But the Moro rebels have branded the government’s “due diligence” in studying further the technical points in the ancestral domain agreement as a “cheap alibi” in delaying peace negotiations.

“Why it takes the government more than two months already to study a very small document, if the intention is not to delay the talks? They are backtracking; they want to retrieve back what they have conceded already,” Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the MILF committee on information, said in a statement.

This statement was earlier relayed to PeaceWorks by Iqbal questioning why only now the government is giving its full attention on the agenda on the ancestral domain since they have been talking this issue for over three years.

“February this year, we have already agreed on the wordings and contents of the draft. This just purely a delaying tactics,” Iqbal said.

Both parties, which have been engaging peace negotiation for 11 years, were expected to sign the ancestral land agreement early this year before going to discuss the political aspect, and finally sign a peace deal.

However, the expected signing was delayed after the government allegedly “reneged on consensus points, which the parties “painstakingly crafted, agreed and signed” in April 2005,” the MILF claimed.

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