A good up-to-date summary of the peace situation in the Philippines by fellow peace worker Susan Granados.
MINDANAO PEOPLE'S PEACE AGENDA
:: On July 23, 2009, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) declared its suspension of military operations or SOMO against the MILF.
:: Two days later, July 25, the MILF issued a corresponding order to all its field commands to suspend all military actions or SOMA against government forces.
:: The SOMO and SOMA were declared after almost one year of renewed fighting between the Philippine Government and the MILF that resulted after an aborted signing of an initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the two parties. On October 14, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines declared this draft agreement unconstitutional, leading to further escalation of hostilities that displaced more than 600,000 people in Central Mindanao.
:: In late 2008, the formidable Bishops Ulama Conference (BUC), a convergence of high-ranking religious leaders who have resolved to give an interfaith dimension to the continuing search for peace in Mindanao, had tasked a section of the “academic community” in Mindanao to conduct a series of community dialogues and consultations covering the whole of Mindanao on how to put the peace process forward after the MOA-AD controversy.
:: Dubbed “Konsult Mindanaw,” these dialogues began in February 2009 and would soon end. About 800 focus group discussions (FGDs) have been slated to be conducted in eight Mindanao regional groupings, namely: Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao region, Caraga, Central Mindanao, Socsksargen, Northern Mindanao, and Lanao region.
:: While government-inspired, Konsult Mindanaw is being done independent of government. It has been made sure that in the dialogues, ample representations cover various sectors among Muslims, indigenous peoples, Protestants and Catholics. The sectors include women, youth, rural and urban poor, local government units, nongovernmental organizations, internally displaced persons, traditional leaders, religious groups, academics, business practitioners and professionals. Special group discussions are being conducted among artists, armed groups, and children. It is hoped that the result of these community dialogues would put the Mindanao peace process back to its track with more vigor and resolved.
:: In February 2009, a civil society – led consultation process was conceived and is currently being undertaken by seven major peace networks in Mindanao, under the umbrella network of networks “Mindanao Peaveweavers” (MPW). Named “Mindanao Peoples Peace Agenda” (MPPA), the objectives include: (1) the development of a common understanding of a Mindanao Peoples Peace Agenda (MPPA) among the MPW member networks and the wider Mindanao peace constituency, and (2) the translation of these Mindanao Peoples Peace Agenda into public policy and lobby points that would help increase engagement of civil society and grassroots in formal policymaking processes in the country.
:: The consultation process hopes to end in a Peoples Peace Assembly to be held in October or November 2009, with the end in view of arriving at consensus points to support and help sustain the peace process in Mindanao.
GRP–MILF PEACE TALKS
:: On July 28-29, 2009, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Panels finally ended their impasse and held a special meeting in Kuala Lumpur and issued a Joint Statement which included agreements on the following:
.. Mutual effort to sustain both the Government’s Suspension of Military Offensives (SOMO) and the MILF’s Suspension of Military Actions (SOMA). .. Acknowledgment of MOA-AD as an unsigned and yet initialed document, and commitment by both parties to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement. .. Work for a framework agreement on the establishment of a mechanism on the protection of non-combatants in the armed conflict. .. Work for a framework agreement on the establishment of International Contact Group (ICG) of groups of states and non-state organizations to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process.
:: In this same statement, it was mentioned that the GRP Panel Chairman took serious note of the concern of the MILF on the implication of the exclusion from the SOMO of some MILF commanders tagged as “rogues” by the Government.
:: The formal resumption of the GRP-MILF Peace Talks was set to the third week of August with two issues top in their agenda: Formation of the International Contract Group and setting up of a mission that will protect non-combatants from harm’s way. But the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) postponed the resumption of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
:: The two parties would also discuss the possible return of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). But decision on their return is still hazy as this will require the concurrence of contributing countries.
MILF CONSULTATION AMONG THEIR PEOPLE
:: The MILF conducted Mindanao-wide consultation meeting of grassroots leaders on August 7- 12, 2009.
:: Ghazali Jaafar, Vice Chairman of the MILF for Political Affairs, said the purpose of the consultation is to provide updates on the recent developments on the peace process between the government and MILF, particularly on the four issues reached by the government and MILF during the special meeting of the two parties’ peace negotiating panels in Malaysia last July 28-29, 2009.
:: Jaafar also said the consultation is not as massive as what the MILF had on May 29-31 in Darapanan, where at least a million people came and participated in said direct consultation.
GRP TALKS WITH THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC FRONT OF THE PHILIPPINES (NDFP)
:: The NDFP is the umbrella organization of revolutionary forces in the Philippines led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).
:: Secretary Avelino Razon of the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP) recently announced that peace talks with the NDFP will resume in Oslo, Norway in October instead of this year as originally set.
:: Peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP reached an impasse in 2004. A year later (2005) the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG), providing “safe conduct pass” to panel members to the talks, was suspended.
:: In 2008, a Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed between the two parties. CARHRIHL is the first out of four main agenda in the GRP-NDF peace talks. The other three are: (1) Social and Economic Reform, (2) Political and Constitutional Reform, and (3) Disposition of Forces.
:: At the moment, a series of regional consultations are being conducted by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), which is supported by the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform (NEPP), all over the Philippines on a draft agreement between the Philippine government and the NDF on Social and Economic Reforms.
:: These consultations are spearheaded by the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC--a member of PEPP), together with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).
Jeremy Simons has been a peace builder in Mindanao, Philippines since 2008. Prior to that he was a community worker and restorative justice mediator in urban Denver. He was born and raised in the Philippines and is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. He has been published in the Denver Post as a Colorado Voices columnist and Mindanao news and information service; and contributes to the blog www.geographyofgrace.org.