Gov’t, MILF settle ancestral domain issue

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is overjoyed with the breakthrough in the peace talks between the Philippine panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) following the accord on ancestral domain during talks in Kuala Lumpur.

In fact, the President is optimistic of the resumption of peace talks with the MILF.

“Praise God, yes, yes, well, malapit na ’yang peace talks resumption dahil nabuksan na nga ’yung halos nawala na nga ’yung pagkakaiba sa ancestral domain.”

She noted the two panels are sincere in their goal to forge peace in Mindanao for sustained development.

The President noted that Mindanao is the country’s “food basket” as she laments that many of its local folks encounter hunger and poverty owing to the continuing hostilities between government forces and armed threat groups as well as terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the break-away Muslim groups.

She is hopeful that the day will come for genuine and long-lasting peace in the region with the resumption of peace talks with the MILF shortly.

The finalization of the date for the formal signing of the draft on ancestral domain is set on July 24 to pave the way for the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine and MILF panels.

Earlier, the MILF hierarchy confirmed reaching accord with their government counterparts on ancestral domain.

The MILF said in their website the agreement that settled three remaining issues was reached after a “grueling” one-day session.

“Contrary to expectation, the proceedings, although passionate at times, were very smooth and were conducted in a diplomatic manner despite the absence of facilitator. Borrowing the words of one member of the MILF team, there was ‘a lot of goodwill, determination and spirit of understanding of each other’s difficulty,’” it said.

Ancestral domain, the last aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, has been in the agenda of peace talks for more than three years since December 2004.

The MILF said long impasses, a lingering word war, and even escalating fighting on the ground almost led to the collapse of the talks.

Government negotiators include Secretary Rodolfo Garcia, chief peace negotiator; lawyers Leah Armamento and Sedfrey Armamento, members; and director Mark Ryan Sullivan, head of its secretariat.

MILF negotiators include Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator; lawyers Datu Michael Mastura and Bobby Maulana Alonto, members; and Mike Pasigan, representing the MILF peace panel secretariat.

The MILF said the talks were so tough that neither party budged an inch in their respective positions until after 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The first to ask for a break was the government peace panel to consult with their principal on Item No. 7 on the issue of “non-derogation of prior agreements” when the government undertakes necessary changes to its legal framework

When this was resolved, it was the turn of the MILF peace panel to call for a break when the issue of “freedom” was under consideration

The proceedings became tense after Datuk Othman bin Abdulrazak, the chief Malaysian facilitator, left after the opening program and allowed the two panels to discuss without a facilitator.

After a thorough discussion, and with the timely intervention of Datuk Othman, the MILF agreed to be silent on the word “freedom” but not after pointing out to the government all the documents, including the General Framework of Intent signed on August 27, 1998 and the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, that contained the word.

The insistence by the MILF panel on the inclusion of the phrase “non derogation of prior agreements” more than makes up for the silence on “freedom” because this binds both parties to all previous agreements in which freedom is cited as a major principle.