Saturday, August 01, 2009

North Cotabato opposes new homeland deal between Manila and MILF rebels

Government soldiers stop Muslim civilians at an army checkpoint in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 1, 2009) – An influential southern Philippine politician on Saturday vowed to oppose any deal between Manila and Muslim rebels that would dismember the province of North Cotabato.

North Cotabato deputy governor Emmanuel Pinol said the Supreme Court ruled that the consensus points reached by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain violated the Constitution.

“Did the government peace panel take notice of the fear, the rift, the division and the violence that the proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain brought upon the people of the country, especially among us living in the Southern Philippines?, Pinol asked.

The peace talks between Manila and the MILF collapsed in August last year after the High Court’s decision. It also triggered deadly rebel attacks in the provinces of North Cotabato, Sarangani, Lanao and Maguindanao.

North Cotabato is one of several provinces which are included in the proposed expanded Muslim autonomous region that would also include some parts of Zamboanga Peninsula and Palawan.

President Gloria Arroyo halted all military offensives against the MILF to pave the way for the early revival of the stalled peace talks. The MILF also ordered its forces to stop attacks against government and military targets in the restive region.

Government peace negotiators and the MILF also agreed on Wednesday on four issues before the resumption of the talks. In a joint statement, government negotiators headed by Rafael Seguis and the MILF peace panel led by Mohagher Iqbal have agreed to sustain the cease-fire agreement.

The also acknowledged that the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain as unsigned and yet initialed document, and committed to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement.

Both sides would also work for a framework agreement on the establishment of a mechanism on the protection of non-combatants in armed conflict and another framework agreement on the establishment of International Contact Group which would be composed of states and non-state organizations to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process.

Pinol said the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain in its entirety is a document that virtually creates an “associative” government that is equivalent to a new State minus the word “sovereignty.”

He said the people of his province after a series of public consultations declared the following: “We desire for true and lasting peace, one that is a product of a consensus among all stakeholders in Mindanao – Muslims, Christians and the Tribes; one that addresses the roots of the problem – poverty, lack of education, deprivation, injustice and massive and unabated corruption in government; one that manifests and reflects the common desire of the people rather than a piece of paper called the “Peace Agreement.”

“We demand total disarmament and the enforcement of the law in dealing with armed groups; we oppose any expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or its equivalent political instrumentality that would include our province; we oppose the idea of creating a virtual independent “associative” state.

Pinol said he has consulted with his legal experts and would ask the Supreme Court to cite the government peace panel in contempt for ignoring its decision declaring the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain unconstitutional.

The politician was one of those who questioned the legality of the ancestral homeland deal before the Supreme Court.

The MILF previously said it would only resume the peace talks if Arroyo honors the Muslim ancestral domain deal that negotiators initially signed in July last year in Kuala Lumpur. The accord would have granted some four million Muslims their own homeland in more than 700 villages across Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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