GRP-MILF TALKS: High hopes for peace – SWS survey


A high 83 percent of Filipinos are hopeful that exploratory peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur on Monday will result in the signing of a peace agreement, according to survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS) conducted on June 3-6, this year.

The result of the survey was released Sunday by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on the eve of the resumption of exploratory talks in Malaysia.

The MILF has proposed for the creation of a sub-state to end the four decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.

OPAPP said in the SWS survey, majority of Filipinos or a whopping 83 percent “remain optimistic that a peace agreement between the two parties can be forged soon.”

The SWS surveyed the “extent of hope of peace between the government and the MILF by area among 1,200 adults through face-to-face interviews,” OPAPP said, adding that “fifty-nine percent of those highly optimistic about the peace process came from Mindanao, 38% from the Visayas, 30% from (other parts of) Luzon and 25% from Metro Manila.”

Only nine percent answered in the negative about the outcome of the talks that have dragged on for over a decade.

In a statement released by Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda with regard to the recent survey on the peace process, he said the strong showing of support for a positive result in the peace talks comes from southern Philippines.

PRESIDENT AQUINO with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim in the tokyo meeting

“This hopefulness points to strong public support for the President’s (Benigno S. Aquino III) policy of achieving peace in Mindanao on a basis that takes into account justice for all concerned, whether they be Moros, Christians, or Lumads,” he said.

“It is no coincidence that optimism for peace between the government and the MILF is highest in Mindanao, at 59 percent, where everyone knows full well, how much there is to gain by achieving peace,” Lacierda added.

The exploratory talk in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 22-24 will be the 22nd exploratory talks between the two panels.

Early this month, President Benigno S. Aquino III held a two-hour one-on-one talk with MILF chairman Haj Al Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo to hasten the peace process.

It may be recalled that three years ago, heavy fighting broke out between government forces and MILF rebels in Central Mindanao following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.

The MOA-AD would have given the MILF larger area of control under an autonomous government.

A so-called “lost command” of the MILF, headed by Amiril Umra Kato and Commander Bravo, went into a rampage, killing people and burning properties in some parts of Central Mindanao and Sarangani province.

Recalling the fighting, OPAPP said residents of Barangay Libungan Torreta in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato were retiring to bed on the night of August 18, 2008, when families in nearby Northern Kabuntalan were frantically running for their lives when fighting erupted between soldiers and MILF rogue members.

Aisa Radjac, whose family was among those thousands displaced, recounted the pandemonium that broke loose in the area.

“We were forced to evacuate when the conflict happened in our place,” she said. “Nobody told us where to run; maybe it was God’s will that we found safety in Libungan Torreta, which we reached by crossing the river,” she told OPAPP officials.

Municipal administrator Ibrahim Rahman, then a councilor residing in Libungan Toretta, narrated that they could hear the mortars being fired in the neighboring town. It was already 10 p.m. when he saw three motorized boats approaching the landing.

“On the boats were children aged six to eight, with no parents or guardians accompanying them. Such a pity,” he recalled.

Making things worse, there was no electricity and water supply available that time. The community was not prepared for such situation. Nevertheless, they received the children and the next batches of families totaling to almost 2,000 that arrived from other conflict-affected communities, such as Midsayap and Datu Piang.

In the next two weeks, relief poured from both the government and non-government sectors.

“The local government unit provided 15 sacks of rice, noodles and tents. Aid also came from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 12 and non-government groups, such as International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children, International Organization for Migration, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and many others.

Suffering the aftermath

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) bore the brunt of the conflict heavily. Classes were disrupted, while livelihoods were brought to a standstill as parents struggled to suffice for their children’s basic needs.

Abdul Sampayan Monir said his family longed to return to the house and the farms they have left in Aleosan. However, they felt they are no longer safe in their own quarters as fighting between the military and Kato’s forces could ensue anytime.

“We decided not to return to our place of origin because of the unstable peace condition,” he related. “We chose to start our lives all over again in Libungan Toretta.”

Homeless no more

Helping the IDPs rise above their plight, the government, through the DSWD and the OPAPP, consulted the evacuees early this year on the Core Shelter Assistance Project under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA).

PAMANA is the government’s program and framework for peace and development. A complementary track to peace negotiations, PAMANA ensures that communities benefit from improved delivery of basic social services and are served by a responsive, transparent and accountable government.

The Core Shelter Assistance Project aims to provide basic housing facilities to families displaced primarily due to the violence that followed the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). It is a personal commitment of President Aquino and is expected to be completed in 2012.

Rahman said more than 200 families, who decided not to return to their original homes, signified their intent to settle in Libungan Toretta.

“We feel so lucky that shelters are being built here to address the housing needs of the IDPs. It was like a dream,” he said. Putting his faith in the project, Rahman lent his 10-hectare ancestral land to the IDPs.

Monir, who has been working as the foreman in the project, is excited to transfer with his wife and children to their own ‘modified shelter,’ as they call it.

Now that his family has been recovering from the repercussions of the August 18, 2008 conflict, Monir can only hope that the same hostilities will never happen again.

“We want to live a good life. To have this, we would need peace,” he said.


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