Friday, October 12, 2012

Foreign leaders to witness signing of Philippine peace pact

The guest list for the signing of the Bangsamoro deal in the Philippine Palace on October 15 indicates the government’s intention to give its preliminary peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) international recognition.

That should clear the way for a final peace agreement with the MILF to supersede the peace deal that the government signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996.

The 12,000-strong MILF broke away from the MNLF after the signing of the 1996 agreement, and had become the dominant group fighting for Muslim self-determination in Mindanao.

Having laid down the foundation for a final peace agreement with the government, the MILF is now poised to start building the Bangsamoro homeland and take for itself the international support that its rival, the MNLF, once enjoyed.

And giving it a helping hand is the administration of President Benigno Aquino. A mixture of local and foreign dignitaries will witness the signing of the framework agreement for the creation of the Bangsamoro.

Besides two heads of state, President Benigno Aquino III and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the powerful Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, formerly Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), will also witness the signing of the 13-page agreement approved in principle by the government and the MILF negotiating panels in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

The presence of OIC secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu at the signing will give a mantle of legitimacy to the peace accord from the Islamic world, where the MNLF, which has observer status in the OIC, is recognised.

With a membership spread over four continents, the OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organisation in the world after the United Nations.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ihsanoglu congratulated the Aquino administration and the MILF “for reaching a framework agreement to end the long-standing conflict in Mindanao.”

Ihsanoglu will attend the signing of the framework agreement, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Lacierda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles spoke with Ihsanoglu on the sidelines of the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York and brought him up to date on the progress of the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

Mohagher Iqbal, head of the MILF negotiating panel, and Marvic Leonen, the chief government negotiator, will sign the agreement.
MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, leaders of the MNLF and high-ranking Malaysian officials will also witness the signing.

Malaysia brokered the peace talks between the government and the MILF that began in 2001.

Officials of countries that have been monitoring the peace process will also attend the signing of the agreement.

“The International Contact Group (ICG), the International Monitoring Team have also been invited, some aide organisations, the CSOs (civil society organisations) also, who are also involved in the peace process, were also invited,” Lacierda said.

Members of the Cabinet, particularly the security and legal clusters, will also be invited to the signing of the agreement.

President Aquino called the preliminary agreement with the MILF a road map to the achievement of lasting peace in Mindanao.

Leonen, for his part, called it a “political document” that would serve as blueprint for the establishment of a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, to be called Bangsamoro.

Bangsamoro will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which President Aquino described as a “failed experiment.”
In the OIC statement, Ihsanoglu said he hoped the agreement would “pave the way for a just and lasting peace for the Bangsamoro people who have suffered too long and endured huge sacrifices.”

“The OIC received the news with both hope and cautious optimism, hoping that it will constitute a solid foundation for an overall agreement that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro people. The OIC hopes that this will usher in a new phase of consolidating peace and start the long awaited development process of the region,” Ihsanoglu said.

The Bangsamoro settlement process has been conceived not only to end the Moro insurgency but also do justice for people who have suffered injustice during the 40-year war.

Under the agreement, Christians, Muslims and lumad in Mindanao who were unjustly dispossessed of their land would be compensated, Leonen said.

The government and the Bangsamoro would provide reparations for those who lost their lands in an effort to “heal the wounds” and end the perceived mistrust between the Christian and Muslim communities on the island, Leonen said.

Land ownership is a sensitive issue in Mindanao where Christians from the north have resettled in areas that were once dominated by Muslims.

“It will not be the [current] private property owner who will [pay compensation] but the national government and the Bangsamoro government,” Leonen said.

“And it also cuts both ways. It’s not just [paying for] the Christian who grabbed another person’s property but also for the Moro who seized somebody else’s land,” he said.

Leonen said the MILF would still have to discuss how to set up the compensation mechanism and its parametres, adding that this would be important to deal with perceived historical grievances in Mindanao.

“The principle here is called transitional justice because we can’t have total healing without addressing these historical questions,” he said.

Leonen stressed that current owners of disputed lands “will not be moved,” adding that the peace deal would not lead to the confiscation of any property.

Leonen said claimants would have to show evidence, like their torrens title to the lost property, before they could receive compensation.
“It depends on what evidence can be presented … Vested property rights shall be respected. Any property right that was vested by torrens title or by any contract with the government is to be respected,” Leonen said.

“Also, reparation is not just about money. It could also come in the form of recognition that a historical wrong was committed,” he added.
Leonen also said he was confident that the Supreme Court would affirm the peace deal between government and the MILF.

He said the government peace panel consulted the country’s legal luminaries, including former Supreme Court justices, every step of the way to ensure that the agreement would meet constitutional standards.-Asia News Network (October 12, 2012 8:10PM)

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