POSTSCRIPT / September 6, 2011 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Leaks confirm US hand in MILF talks

LONDON SQUATTERS: Here is one news report that I hope is not true.

The Evening Standard of London reported days ago that a Romanian family had broken into and occupied the house of two Pinay sisters — identified as Amelita and Lilia Olasa — in New Southgate, a residential suburb.

The squatters apparently took advantage of the long absence of the sisters, who are vacationing in the Philippines and may be initially unaware of the Romanians’ takeover of their residence.

My cousin Fe Pascual-Perfect of the London-based Celestial Travel said that when she read the news, the name Olasa rang a bell. A check confirmed that they were Celestial passengers.

She said the Olasa sisters left for the Philippines last March 28. Their return is set Sept. 6 on Cathay Pacific flight CX 906 leaving Manila 11 a.m. today, arriving London 8 p.m. the same day.

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LEAKS ALL AROUND: As it has been raining WikiLeaks in Manila, we might as well join the street crowd splashing around in the floodwaters.

One such leak of a confidential report to the US State Department by the American embassy recounted discussions between embassy officials and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

One transmission reported on a Feb. 24 dinner in Cotabato City last year and follow-on meeting with these participants: Michael Pignatello, political officer, US embassy; Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman; Michael Mastura, MILF panel member; Mike Marasigan, MILF panel secretariat member; Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation country representative for the Philippines; Thomas Parks, The Asia Foundation regional director for conflict and governance (Bangkok office); and Abhoud Linga, director, Institute of Bangsamoro Studies.

* * *

HIGHLIGHTS: Among the highlights of the report:

* Concerned about the Philippine government’s being able to negotiate an interim peace agreement that will satisfy the Moros, the MILF asked that a parallel negotiation with the US be formally conducted.

* The MILF leaders warned they could resort to violence — or “Balkanize the region” — if forced to, but that they wanted to avoid violence.

* On the then upcoming May elections, Mastura said the MILF had been unable to engage with presidential candidates, and believed that then senator Noynoy Aquino was “unable to understand the complexities of the situation.”

* Iqbal and Mastura criticized the leadership of then President Gloria Arroyo and peace panel chairperson Rafael Seguis after the 2008 collapse of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. Mastura called President Arroyo “famous” for her policy reversals. Seguis himself was “deaf,” Mastura commented, adding, “We don’t even know if he is listening,” since he was texting on his phone during negotiations.

* * *

CHARTER CHANGE: Mastura said that the MILF’s draft interim agreement would establish a “transition process” for Moro autonomy that the MILF and the next (Aquino) administration would follow.

The draft has three main components: a six-and-a-half-year timeframe, a particular sequence of actions to be undertaken by each side separately or jointly, and three distinct periods (pre-interim, interim, and implementation).

(FDP: Does Malacañang have this document? Has it consulted key stakeholders on it?)

Mastura said the nature of the relationship between the proposed “Bangsamoro” entity and the central government was unclear, but could be federative, associative, or in another form. In this context, he said the “enhanced autonomy” offered by the government was insufficient.

The MILF would not seek independence, and eschewed the name “Bangsamoro State” in favor of “Bangsamoro,” modeled on Kosovo’s naming scheme.

The Asia Foundation director Steven Rood, also at the dinner at Mastura’s residence, noted that the most challenging aspect of the process would be passing a constitutional amendment permitting the creation of a Bangsamoro “Basic Law,” as desired by the MILF.

(FDP: Has Malacañang told Filipinos about this need/demand to amend the Charter to accommodate the MILF?)

* * *

U.S. HAND: In light of the MILF’s limited confidence in the government, Mastura said the MILF wanted to regularize American engagement through a “parallel dialogue” with the US to support the peace process and come up with new ideas.

He did not specify how the dialogue might work, but noted it would be known to the Philippine government and other parties. Mastura was unable to explain if “parallel” meant parallel to the work of the International Contact Group, or to the GRP-MILF talks.

(FDP: It is widely known that even without this parallel dialogue, there is consultation between the MILF and the US government, which has been putting pressure on Malacañang to continue talking peace with the rebel group.)

Iqbal and Mastura also made an impassioned plea for greater overall US involvement. “Listen to how we feel,” Iqbal implored. “The Filipinos are the rulers, and we (Moros) are slaves. It is a lopsided relationship.”

(FDP: They do not sound like they consider themselves Filipinos.)

They said that because the US erred in including Mindanao in Philippine territory when providing the Philippines with its independence, the US “owed” the Moros its assistance.

* * *

USIP SECRETS: Official US letters of support for the peace process notwithstanding, Mastura said, the US has had no direct engagement in the substance of peace talks since the conclusion of the US Institutes for Peace (USIP) programs years ago.

Pignatello reiterated US policy as outlined in the November 2009 letter from EAP A/S Kurt Campbell to MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim. Pignatello clarified that, while USIP programs had concluded, US engagement on the peace process had not.

(FDP: Malacañang owes it to the people to disclose the details of the USIP programs that impinge on Philippine sovereignty.)

In the years prior to the MOA-AD, senior U.S. officials consistently and privately engaged the most senior members of the Philippine government to encourage them forward in peace negotiations.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September6, 2011)

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