GPH-MILF peace talks ‘substantive’ but consistency needed

A lecture by the government's peace process chief prompts desire to end Mindanao conflict

MANILA, Philippines – Peace talks between the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have reached a “substantive” stage but should remain consistent with ground realities, the government’s top peace process official said Friday, February 3.

Teresita Quintos Deles, secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, cited the Aquino administration’s gains in the peace process during a lecture at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. She was a recipient of the Metrobank Foundation Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance.

HOPEFUL. Teresita Quintos Deles, secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, believes the government and the MILF can come up with an agreement.

During her lecture, Deles cited the resumption of peace talks in February 2011; the President’s “grand gesture” of meeting with the MILF chair in Tokyo in August 2011; and Aquino’s declaration of “all-out justice” in the face of a public outcry for an all-out war after the Al-Barka tragedy in October 2011. 

She also said the two parties held talks in January 2012 and scheduled another round this month.

“The way ahead will be bumpy but the good thing is that both sides appear committed to engage at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield. Neither side seems poised to walk away when the going gets rough – and I am certain it will get rough many more times over,” Deles said.

‘Disconnect’ in public mind

Deles, however, expressed concern that violent actions on the ground alongside peace talks, in general, “create a sense of ‘disconnect’ in the public mind.”

“People begin to have the sense that the parties are just playing games… Once people lose their trust in the process, it means serious trouble for any peace table,” she said.

Jane Marie Dimacisil, a young Muslim professional who listened to Deles’s lecture, made a similar observation.

“The military would be saying that they are committed to promoting peace, becoming an actor for the peace process, but at the same time, it’s true that there is a disconnect happening,” Dimacisil said. “You’ll see extrajudicial killings, you’ll see torture, you’ll see bombings.”

Nevertheless, Dimacisil sees positive developments in the way the government is handling its peace talks with the MILF, a group that has waged a secessionist campaign against the Philippine government since the 1970s.

“I like how they continue to cite that both parties are really committed to the negotiating table,” she said.

Hope under PNoy admin

Deles said the public could hope for a better peace process during the Aquino administration. The government, she said, has made conflict resolution a priority amid setbacks  particularly “where the past administration left off.”

In terms of peace talks with the MILF, one such setback, she said, is the outbreak of hostilities in 2008 after the fiasco over the unconstitutional Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. This left nearly 700,000 persons displaced and provoked “soaring levels of distrust on all sides,” Deles said.

Deles, who had also served but later bolted the Arroyo administration, said Aquino “ushered in a shift in perspective in making and building peace.”

“For the first time, we have a government that states as a matter of national policy that promotion of the peace process shall be the centerpiece – not a by-the-way, not a sideline or side effect, but the centerpiece – of the internal security program,” she said before students and other professionals.

Doubts linger, however, over the government’s capability to forge a peace deal with the MILF, according to renegade MILF commander Ameril Umra Kato.

Close to the heart

How the peace process will turn out tugs at the heart of Muslims like Dimacisil.

Her family lost members – her grandfather and uncle – through involuntary disappearances in the 1970s due to the long-standing conflict in Mindanao. “It’s really disheartening,” Dimacisil said.

DESAPARECIDOS. Jane Marie Dimacisil lost family members due to the Mindanao conflict.

Dimacisil could only hope for “genuine dialogue.” “I believe genuine dialogue would be where parties really listen to one another, and listening would translate into action that would be beneficial to both parties, and something that’s not just a press release, something that really happens on the ground.”

Her wish, she said, is simple. “It sounds very cliché-ish but yes, peace, long-lasting peace in Mindanao. Some people would really laugh at me when I say that, but then it’s true.”

Deles said the government hopes to conclude political settlements and closure agreements with the MILF, among other groups, within Aquino’s 6-year term – “now with just 4 years, 4 months, and 27 days left to do it.”

“We have to be brave and bold in seeking a final resolution of all internal armed conflict,” Deles said, “because we have to win the peace for all Filipinos.” – Rappler.com 

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