GMA changes tack, wants MILF to lay down arms

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Is the government suspending peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front?

President Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday announced a new approach in dealing with the MILF, saying that instead of negotiating with armed groups such as the MILF, the government will hold dialogs with communities. Talks with the MILF, she said, will focus on disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation or DDR.

“DDR is about the people and government telling armed groups to give up armed struggle. Change shall be defined primarily by the people and the government,” the President said in her speech at the 2nd Philippine International Motor Show at the World Trade Center. “From negotiations, our focus shall shift to dialogue with the communities or government conducting authentic conversations or dialogues with the people,” she said.

“All armed groups must account for all of their actions not only to the government but most especially to the people. The force of arms does not entitle any armed group to represent the people,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, clarified that the government is not declaring all-out war with the MILF. She explained that recent developments in Mindanao called for a change in direction.

The President had condemned the recent attacks in some villages that left scores of civilians dead as “sneaky and treacherous” and ordered the police and military to pursue and neutralize those responsible for recent attacks in North Cotabato , Sarangani and Lanao del Norte.

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said the President only wants to give a “fresh tack” in the negotiations by giving emphasis on consultations with the affected communities.

Claudio said negotiations will not be abandoned, it being an integral part of the peace process itself.

“It’s the focus that is shifting…shifting of focus is not abandonment, it’s reinforcement of dialogues,” he said.

The President in her speech said the focus of the peace talks will now be community-based and governed by the balance between constitutionality and public sentiment.

ARMM execs also for disarmament

The newly-elected officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are also for the disarmament of the MILF.

The ARMM officials made known their stand during a meeting with Mrs. Arroyo after their oath-taking ceremony in Malacañang yesterday.

“We want arms laid down because arms would be irrelevant when there is peace,” ARMM Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan told a press briefing, even as he admitted that disarmament would be difficult.

He said the President informed them of a shift in strategy in peace negotiations by focusing on dialogues with affected communities and call for disarmament of MILF rebels.

Also during the meeting, ARMM officials presented to the President a manifesto of support for the peace process and condemnation of the violence in Mindanao.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the senseless murder of innocent civilians, the wanton destruction of properties and the heartless disruption of the livelihood of many of our brothers in Mindanao,” the manifesto said.

“We call on the MILF leadership to take full responsibility for the criminal acts committed by some elements of the MILF and help bring these elements to justice,” it added.