Aquino vows to end fight with Islamists


MANILA - Sixteen days into the presidency, President Benigno C. Aquino III Thursday (July 15) reiterated his commitment for a comprehensive, just and peaceful solution to the long-drawn southern Philippine conflict to move the country forward. Close to 200,000 have been killed in the fighting the past four decades.

In a statement, the President said he expects talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Front (MILF) “to resume soon” when he announced that Lawyer Marvic Leonen, dean of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, is the new chair of the government peace panel that will negotiate with the MILF.

Leonen has replaced Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis. Other members of the new government peace panel will be announced later.

Formal talks with the MILF reopened on December 8, 2009 after negotiations bogged down in August 2008 following the non-signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.

Despite the collapse of the peace talks, the government and the MILF continued backdoor negotiations until both parties agreed to resume in Kuala Lumpur December last year.

The President has instructed the panel “to review the past agreements and recommended how we can move forward cognizant of the limitations that both parties have to deal with.”

“I view the negotiations as a dialogue to ensure that we can fully apprehend the problem and provide lasting solutions,” he said.

The President said the panel will report to him directly and to Secretary Teresita Deles, the new presidential adviser on the peace process.

“We will learn from the mistakes of the past by ensuring that consultations be done at the soonest and most appropriate time with all the constituencies of the government of the Republic of the Philippines. This includes not only the peoples in Mindanao but also the local governments involved, the legislature and those who keep watch over the pronouncements of our Supreme Court,” the President said.

He stressed that when he took his oath as President, he vowed to “do justice for all,” adding that I intend to do just that.

Mr. Aquino also said that “I am aware of our history, our different cultures and the many just aspirations of our peoples.”

Peace talks with the MILF started in 1997 during the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos after it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front following the signing of the 1996 peace agreement.

However, the talks broke down after then President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF in 2000.

Negotiations were revived in 2001 when then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to over the presidency following the ouster of Estrada from power.

The off-and-on peace talks continued up to this day with President Aquino vowing to pursue the negotiations until a just and comprehensive agreement is reached.

Asia, ConflictBen Cal