August 21, 2008

Peace talks charade

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the GRP-MILF* Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA) fiasco -- aside from the recognition on paper of the Moro people's right to self-determination -- is that the chain of events has forced the US-backed Arroyo regime to drop the charade that it is negotiating with the MILF in good faith, towards a political settlement that truly addresses the roots of the armed conflict, most especially the central issue of ancestral domain.

The prospective signing of the MoA by the GRP and MILF negotiating panels has triggered an unfounded and near-hysterical outcry against the supposed imminent dismemberment of the Philippine Republic; the issuance of a Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order stopping the inking of the MoA; and has ignited the fresh outbreak of hostilities evoking even further widespread and more intense Moro bashing and calls from both the Arroyo camp and the leaders of the anti-Arroyo Opposition for another all-out war to finally annihilate the MILF.

The series of announcements by Malacañang -- first, that the Arroyo regime had all along intended to push for Charter change that would create a Bangsamoro federal state under some kind of Philippine federal republic purportedly to bring peace to Mindanao; then the intent to revisit and renegotiate the MoA in order to placate those who charge the MoA to be “unconstitutional” and “treasonous”, thereby rendering the issue before the Supreme Court moot and academic; and now the shift of focus of peace negotiations from armed groups to the unarmed communities supposedly in response to MILF armed provocations in North Cotobato and the Lanao provinces -- betrays a devious stratagem.

The US-Arroyo game plan aims merely to ensnare the MILF into a prolonged ceasefire; confuse as well as raise the hopes of the Moro people that the GRP, with US prodding, will grant their aspirations for a Bangsamoro homeland and self-rule; and coopt the MILF leadership or force them into a negotiated capitulation. This stratagem has long been used in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations causing the current impasse that is tantamount to its breakdown under the Arroyo administration.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Arroyo regime never intended to sign the MoA. That is why it did not muster the political support of its canine loyalists among the local government officials in affected provinces, whether Christian or Muslim, and kept the terms of the MoA and its intentions, even its pretended intentions, top secret.

All the better to whip up controversy due to the dearth of information about what was really happening in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, public ignorance and lack of sympathy for the grievances of the Bangsamoro together with the deeply-entrenched and widespread anti-Moro prejudice. And all the better to have a TRO, unanimously issued by the Supreme Court, that conveniently provided the legal mechanism to stop the signing of the MoA that was to be witnessed by high-ranking officials of foreign governments, not least of which from the formal mediator, Malaysia, and the informal power-broker, the US.

Armed hostilities between the military and armed units of the MILF have broken out once more and have caused civilian deaths and displacement, damage to property and casualties on both sides. They are the direct result of the treachery of the Arroyo regime vis a vis the MoA and its cynical use of the peace negotiations to “neutralize” the MILF politically and militarily so that it can train its guns solely on the communist led-New People’s Army.

The lack of unqualified support for the MoA by even from those who uphold the Bangsamoro right to self-determination is traceable to the outrageous opportunism of Mrs. Arroyo in using the agreement to justify changing the Philippine Charter and thereby opening the door wide open for its self-serving agenda of extending its term limits and remaining in power beyond 2010.

Government's formal manifestation in the Supreme Court that it will revisit and renegotiate the MoA has all but killed whatever prospect of progress, if not breakthrough there was in the negotiations, real or illusory, and pulled this back to a situation much worse than before the MoA initialing.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s most recent get-tough and unmistakably hawkish pronouncement is that her government would no longer negotiate with armed groups until they give up their arms but would instead “talk directly to communities”. She said that "engagements with all armed groups shall be about disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation”.

Unless the Arroyo regime is at war with “communities” and not armed political forces such as the NPA and the MILF, her statement could easily be dismissed as empty, if not ludicrous. Unfortunately, it could be a prelude to a major breakdown in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations and constitute the signal fire for further intensification of military offensives against the MILF and armed assaults against the civilian population.

Mrs. Arroyo’s obsession with remaining in power coupled with the dominant fascist mindset in her Cabinet has completely blinded the Arroyo regime to the lessons of history. Military solutions have never succeeded in extinguishing the struggles, much more the aspirations, of an aroused people, be it the Bangsamoro or the Filipino people.#

**Government of the Republic of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front


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