Negotiation observers 'good for peace process'-A A +A
Thursday, August 29, 2013
ILIGAN CITY -- As the negotiations between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) heads for the crucial homestretch, the parties have taken greater steps to further open up the process to public scrutiny.
During the 39th exploratory meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week, the parties allowed three representatives from civil society to observe the negotiations.
They were former Abanse!Pinay party-list Rep. Patricia Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs (nongovernment organizations); Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus; and Salic Ibrahim, chair of the Reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Now! (RAN).
It was the first time in the history of the already 16-year peace negotiations that civil society observers were allowed in the exploratory meeting.
MILF peace panel secretariat head Abdullah Mantawil described the three civil society representatives as “friends of the peace process.”
Also observing the negotiations were three members of the House of Representatives who were sent to Kuala Lumpur by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. They were congressmen Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, Jesus Sacdalan of North Cotabato, and Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur who is also House Deputy Speaker.
In previous rounds of the negotiations, government, with the concurrence of the MILF, has been bringing ranking officials and legislators during the exploratory meeting.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal described this practice as “something good for the peace process.”
Apart from those from civil society and the House of Representatives, several members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) flew into Kuala Lumpur also as observers. The BTC is the body tasked with drafting a Basic Law that will serve as charter of the future Bangsamoro self-governance entity.
The presence of “an unprecedented number of observers,” according to government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was “a glowing affirmation that we need the whole village to build peace.”
As practiced, observers are allowed only during the opening and closing sessions of the panels. However, during the 39th round of the talks, they were also allowed in the workshops of the technical working groups (TWGs), and in the plenary, said Sarenas.
“Indeed, it was an honor and privilege to be allowed inside the plenary and TWG rooms,” she added.
Sarenas related that she was “very hopeful that our presence... add some kind of pressure for the two panels to fast track the negotiations for the two Annexes so work of the Transition Commission and Congress can be done soon.”
Sarenas said they were encouraged by the comments of Malaysian Facilitator Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed who said that civil society groups are “important people who are the bridge between the (peace) process and the people.”
An MILF news release said the audience of civil society representatives in the exploratory meeting was given green light by its central committee “through the peace panel.”
The Malaysian facilitator was then informed of the plan who posed no objection as long as the government panel gives a nod.
Prior to the practice of bringing in observers, the only other independent entities, apart from the Malaysian facilitator, that have a direct feel of the negotiations are the state and non-state members of the International Contact Group (ICG).
The ICG was created by the parties in September 2009 “to exert proper leverage and to sustain the interest of the parties” in the negotiations.
It also seeks to ensure the successful implementation of signed agreements and compliance by the parties of obligations they have mutually agreed upon.
The ICG was formed amid the botched homeland deal in 2008 that could have defined an expanded territory for Moro self-governance. It comprised state members Saudi Arabia the United Kingdom, Turkey and Japan; and non-state entities The Asia Foundation, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Muhammadiyah and Conciliation Resources.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 29, 2013.