Good news from Mindanao

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally announced the composition of its peace panel that will sit with their counterparts in the government to talk about the future of Mindanao.

Leading the MILF side is Mohagher Iqbal, a veteran in peace negotiations with previous administrations. With him are Datu Michael Mastura, Maulana Bobby Alonto, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga and Abdullah Camlian.

Camlian, a native of Basilan, will hopefully represent the sentiments and aspirations of the Moro people in the island provinces.

Professor Lingga, chairman of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, is expected to be a big help in the negotiations with the wealth of ideas he has.

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) issued a statement welcoming the appointment of the new batch of negotiators.

“Their collective wealth of experience in political negotiation and their shared passion for the aspirations of the Bangsamoro will be important as the peace process enters a new phase,” the group said in a statement.

The MILF announcement this week is a positive step toward the realization of peace in the southern Philippines.

We know that there is no easy way to peace, but the people of Mindanao hope that it is better to talk than shoot each other.

The PCID said that after the debacle over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains and the “uncertainty” with the new administration’s peace approach, “the formation of the two negotiating panels represents a constructive direction toward the attainment of lasting peace.”

The group hopes that the peace negotiations under the Aquino administration will build upon the goodwill and successes of previous negotiations and learn from the lessons of the MOA-AD controversy in the past.

We are, however, still waiting for the formation of the advisory body that President Aquino promised. He said it will be composed of members of Congress, retired justices, members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, local governments in strife-affected areas, non government groups and former chairpersons of previous peace panels.

We would like to suggest that a representative from the indigenous peoples of Mindanao also sit in the panel. The lumads are among the most affected sector in the conflict.

People from Luzon and Visayas should also be represented. The peace process should be participatory. It is time that other voices must be heard. The issues in the south are not issues that only concern Mindanaoans.

Equally important are people who will implement the results of the talks. It is crucial, as PCID pointed out, that those who will implement the deal will understand what it is all about.

We only hope that those who will sit in the advisory panel will not just grandstand but will sincerely work for the advancement of the talks.

The PCID is right in urging the government to treat the peace negotiations not only as an occasion to simply manage the conflict in Mindanao “but as an opportunity to address the root causes of the conflict that hopefully will lead to sustainable and just peace.” Joe Torres

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