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Suspend ARMM 2013 polls, peace groups ask GPH and MILF

An influx of registrants overwhelms election officers manning a registration center in …

By Carolyn O. Arguillas, MindaNews and VERA Files

DAVAO CITY — A network of peace groups has asked the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to suspend the election of officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in May 2013 to give way to a transition government that would oversee the shift from the present ARMM to the "new autonomous political entity" (NAPE)  that the two panels had agreed to create in April.

But elections for provincial and municipal officials will push through as scheduled, the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), the "broadest civil society peace networks in in Mindanao" said in a position paper handed over to the GPH and MILF peace panel chairs during the Bangsamoro Leaders' Assembly in the MILF's Camp Darapanan on July 7.

The MPW urged the panels to sign an interim peace agreement declaring that the transition period will span three years — from 2013 to 2016 — and that transitory mechanisms will be installed immediately "that will allow the suspension of the ARMM elections in 2013 and consequently create a transition government in accordance with their mutual agreement to establish a 'new autonomous political entity' in 2016."

"We propose that local elections proceed with local government accountability remaining with the National Government" but the ARMM be "dissolved and replaced later by a Transition Commission whose powers will be granted by Congress," the MPW said in its paper titled  "Civil society consensus points to move the GPH-MILF Peace Process forward."

But while the ARMM will be "dissolved," the MPW also proposed that the "current" ARMM  officials, apparently referring to the OICs President Aquino appointed in December 2011 and May this year, shall be part of the GPH Interim Council under the Transition Commission (TransCom).

The two parties on April 24 signed an agreement on "Decision Points on Principles" that provided, among others, for the panels to work for the creation of a NAPE in place of the ARMM.

The two panels are returning to Kuala Lumpur this week to discuss, among others, the issue on transition which they tabled in late May after a day-long executive session, pending consultation with their respective  principals,

The proposal, the MPW said, is anchored on "what we perceive as a better scenario that offers a better option for acceptability by the key peace actors."

From six to three

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim confirmed in a press conference on July 9 that the MILF has agreed to to cut down to three years its earlier proposed six-year transition period .

"Originally that transition should be around six years because it is our conviction that we need a longer period to prepare the Bangsamoro to govern themselves,  Murad said. But the government (GPH) peace panel, he recalled, argued that if the transition period would be six years, "then it will be passed on to the next  President because the term of  President Aquino will end in 2016."

"So we said we can compromise. We can compromise for three years transition period," he said.

Having agreed to a three-year transition, Murad said, "we hope we can be able to fast track the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the government."

President Aquino invited Murad to a meeting in Japan on August 4 last year, where the two leaders agreed to "fast-track" the peace process so an agreement can be forged within the first half of the six-year term of the President and implementation of the agreement can be made in the last half.

The ARMM election, originally scheduled on August 8, 2011, was reset by Congress to May 13, 2013, to synchronize it with the national mid-term polls. Congress also authorized the President to appoint OICs to serve in the interim.

GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen has repeatedly said that with or without a peace agreement signed this year, elections in the ARMM will proceed as scheduled because "it is still possible to  address the concerns of the MILF  even with election in 2013."

Murad said whether or not the ARMM elections will push through is up to the government. "We have officially told the Philippine government about our concerns on the election of the ARMM in 2013. But then as a matter of policy, we do not recognize the ARMM so it is the making of the GRP and if there is an agreement between the MILF and  GRP, it is the responsibility of the Philippine government to do away with whatever  (it) has created. We have nothing to do with the ARMM. If there is an ARMM elected there, then it is the duty of the GRP to see to it that this ARMM will not run obstacle to the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the Philippine government," said Murad.

"GRP" was the acronym of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines until it was changed to "GPH" in late 2010.

MILF-led; two interim councils

The MPW proposed the creation of a Transition Commission (TransCom) as the "legal authority and transitory governance mechanism at the regional level during the transition period led by the MILF."

It called on the  Office of the President and Congress to "give policy support to legalize the interim agreements between the GPH and MILF by way of law or Executive Order which shall grant the  TransCom governance powers in the entire Transitional Period."

The MPW suggested that within the TransCom, there will be two parallel interim councils that will be "multi-stakeholder and inclusive,"  one represented by the GPH and the other by the MILF.

The MPW proposed that the current ARMM Governor and Regional Legislative Assembly shall be part of the GPH interim council. "This means that all offices under the ARMM and within the ARMM shall be governed by the TransCom," it said.

The TransCom "shall create an efficient and effective bureaucracy as a prototype for an eventual 'new autonomous political entity,'" that shall lay down the building blocks for good governance and replicate "sustainable, participatory and community-based development strategies and practices," it added.

Bangsamoro Basic Law

The TransCom shall also "craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law" during the transition, the MPW said.

" Relevant provisions in the Local Government Code, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), as well as legislations of the Regional LegislativeAssembly (RLA) are codified in the basic law of the 'new autonomous political entity,'" it suggested.

It also proposed that resources be "mobilized and allocated to capacitate the TransCom in establishing good and democratic governance" and allow them to "develop and strengthen their institutions during the transition period in realizing genuine autonomy.

The MPW also proposed the creation of an independent body to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the interim agreements and final peace compact between the GPH and MILF.

The proposed body shall be composed of  local and international guarantors, including NGOs and representatives from the United Nations and the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), a body set up during the ASEAN Heads of State  meeting in May 2011and mandated to resolve and prevent conflict.

The MPW also urged Congress to "enact a law on a National Peace Policy to guarantee that succeeding administrations will honor and fully implement all peace agreements."

The MPW is composed of the Agong Peace Network, the Bisayang Daku Alang sa Kalinaw or Bisdak, the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, the Inter-religious Solidarity Movement for Peace, Mindanao Peace Advocates Conference, Mindanao Peoples Caucus, Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement, Mindanao Solidarity Network with the Initiatives for International Dialogue as lead secretariat along with the Catholic Relief Services and Saligan Mindanaw.

In a press statement issued Friday evening, the MPW said it is "awaiting the responses of both negotiating panels"  while continuing to "refer this proposal to other civil society groups in Visayas and Luzon in the hope of drum-beating and developing a groundswell towards active citizenship and involvement of people in policy development on questions of peace in Mindanao."

It added that Waging Peace Philippines , a nationwide peace movement, has "expressed general support to the proposal."

(ARMM WATCH  is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by  veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")

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