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Palace: Disarmament, not ancestral domain, top priority

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:15:00 09/01/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Disarmament, not ancestral domain, should top the agenda if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wants peace talks with the government to resume, Malacañang said Monday.

While the actual disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation (DDR) of its combatants is “not a precondition” for resumed negotiations, this should be “discussed immediately,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

On Monday, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) started consulting communities in compliance with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s directive to shift the peace process from the combatants to the communities.

“The context under which we will resume our talks will be the context leading to the disarmament, disbandment, [de]mobilization, integration [of the rebels]. In other words, the peace process is on track and we will have more dialogues with communities [and other] stakeholders,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

“We are not abandoning the peace talks with the MILF, but the emphasis will greatly be [on] conducting dialogues with the communities, and if we go into negotiations with the MILF, the matter of DDR, demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation, will immediately be tabled,” Esperon said.

“It doesn’t mean that you will impose immediately disarmament against them. It’s not a precondition, disarmament, but it must be discussed immediately,” he added.

Explaining the shift of the negotiations to the communities, Esperon said: “Why should the armed component dictate the tempo of the peace process? I think there is a bigger Bangsamoro community, there is a bigger Filipino community.”

Ermita and Esperon rang the peace bell at the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Monday to kick-start the observation of National Peace Consciousness Month.

Peace talks with the MILF ground to a halt last month after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which would pave the way for the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

Soon after this, MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Bravo, attacked civilian communities in the provinces of North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, prompting the military to mount a counteroffensive to drive them back.

Government forces have since pressed the attack in an effort to capture the two rebel commanders, against whom criminal charges have been filed.

“In fact, even during this holy period of Ramadan we will not stop on our law enforcement [and] police actions to go after Commander Bravo and Commander Ombra Kato, as well as all others who have committed atrocities, including murder or looting, against our people,” Esperon said.

But the whole peace process now hangs in the balance after Malacañang announced it was no longer signing the MOA-AD even before the Supreme Court could decide on several petitions to declare the agreement unconstitutional.

The MILF has warned that it will only agree to resume peace talks if the MOA-AD is signed.

Asked about MILF chief peace negotiator Mohager Iqbal’s statement that the rebels might wait until the next administration before talking peace, citing the alleged insincerity of the Arroyo government, Esperon said: “I would take that as their initial position, I hope there could be changes in our current position.”

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Written by joelguinto

MonUTC2008-09-01T09:04:26+00:00UTC09bUTCMon, 01 Sep 2008 09:04:26 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am09

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