Arroyo Takes Step to Resume Moro Peace Talks
Peace hopes dawned once again on Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, in the Philippines following months of bloody clashes between government troops and separatist Moro rebels. This followed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s appointment of a new head of the Philippines’ peace panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The appointment of Rafael Seguis was immediately welcomed by the MILF.
The Arroyo government expressed hopes Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, that peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could resume within this month following the appointment of a new head of the government peace panel.
The prospects of new peace talks and an end to decades-old hostilities surfaced as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, a career diplomat with extensive experience in Islamic affairs, as the head of the government’s new peace panel with the Moro separatists.
“Once we have completed the panel then we will get a response from the other side. That means we will be ready to resume the talks with them hopefully within this month of December,” said Arroyo’s chief aide, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
Seguis, a former ambassador to several Muslim countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, replaces retired General Rodolfo Garcia.
Seguis said his appointment was “the first step in preparation for the resumption of talks.”
The MILF immediately welcomed Seguis’ appointment, saying this shows that the Arroyo government is still sincere in its efforts to reach a peace settlement in southern Philippines.
“For the Bangsamoro people, we see that the government is still interested to pursue the peace negotiations with the MILF,” MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said in a radio interview.
He said MILF leaders believe that Seguis has the experience and expertise to handle the peace negotiations.
The peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF collapsed last August after the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the proposed memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain which the two parties were supposed to sign in Kuala Lumpur.
The draft peace agreement would have turned over to MILF control large areas of the Philippines’ south. The Moros say those were the communal land taken away from them after the state claimed all untitled land during the Spanish colonial conquest in the 16th century.
The Supreme Court ruling sparked a series of deadly raids by hardline MILF units on Christian settlements in Mindanao, leaving scores of civilians dead and up to half a million others displaced.
Arroyo then suspended peace talks and launched military operations in the south, insisting that negotiations would only resume if the MILF surrendered three senior leaders accused of being behind the atrocities.
On Monday, Jaafar maintained that the controversial MOA is still the best way to forge peace in southern Philippines.
However, Ermita said talks over the so-called Moro ancestral domain would have to start all over again, adding that the negotiations would have to be within the confines of the Philippine constitution.