Manila To Pursue Peace With Muslim RebelsJanuary 8, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 08, 2007) – Philippine Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro on Tuesday said the government is pursuing a peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Peace talks with the MILF failed last month after government and rebel peace negotiators disagreed over the issue of the Muslim ancestral domain.
“We are committed on the peace process and we hope the same is also with the MILF,” Teodoro told reporters in Sulu where he spoke to students at the 1st Youth Leadership Program organized by Gov. Sakur Tan.
Last week, Murad Ebrahim, the leader of the MILF, appealed for patience over the failure of peace talks. ”The road to freedom is always full of twist and turn and to overcome, we must work, persist, and sacrifice,” Ebrahim said.
The Philippine panel agreed late last year on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for more than 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.
The MILF is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. It accused the government of reneging to its commitment after peace talks in December failed in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.
Many rebel commanders are getting frustrated and restless over the failure of the seven-year old peace talks with the Arroyo government.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the government must honor its commitment and previous agreement so the talks could resume. Iqbal said the MILF wanted a peace deal with Manila, but his group is also consistent with their demand for a Muslim homeland.
The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.
The Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country. The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.
President Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord.
The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.
Teodoro said the problems of the MILF can only be solved by amending the Constitution. “Changing the Constitution is an affective tool to allow different communities to make their own decisions. There is nothing wrong that and the problem here is that we are afraid of change,” he said.
While in Sulu, Teodoro and Tan held a separate dialogue with more than 100 students and scholars and dozens of Muslim preachers.
Teodoro said the government is supporting peace and development program in Sulu. “We are here to help everybody and bring peace and development to Sulu,” he said.
They also visited patients at the Sulu Provincial Hospital where they briefly spoke with nursing students and medical staff headed by Dr. Farah Omar before proceeding to a short meeting with military officials.
The peace and order is improving a lot in Sulu because of the cooperation of the public and we are now embarking on a new tourism and investment programs will attract visitors and traders as well,” Tan said.
Tan was referring to the “Visit Sulu 2008” and “Wow Sulu” tourism program which aimed to promote the many beautiful islands and pristine beaches here and its culinary cuisine similar with the spicy Indonesian and Malaysian foods famous in the southern Philippines.
Tedoro said the government is supporting the local tourism project by promoting Sulu as a new holiday destination in the south. (With reports from Ely Dumaboc and Nickee Butlangan)