MORO LIBERATION NAT'L FRONT (MLNF) ASKS FOR NEW PEACE TALK TIMEFRAME
Cotabato City, Jan. 11, 2001 (BULLETIN BY EDD K. USMAN ) - The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which forged a peace accord with the government in 1996 has called for a renegotiation of a new time frame for the transitional stage of the peace process as it objected to proposed Senate Bill 2129. The leadership of the MNLF also believes that no elections should be held in Mindanao's fourprovince autonomous area.
MNLF Secretary General Muslimin G. Sema said the MNLF position resulted from what he called the government's failure to comply with the Sept. 2, 1996 peace agreement's Paragraph 2(a) that calls for the amendment or repeal of Republic Act (RA) 6734, the ARMM Organic Act, within 1996-1998, the two-year transitional phase, which is Phase 1 of the accord.
Sema, concurrent mayor of Cotabato City, said the peace accord states that while peace and development programs are being put in place in the 14-province and 10-city Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD) in Mindanao, the goverment was supposed to initiate the amendment or repeal of RA 6734 inside Phase 1.
He added that the bill should contain some provisions of the agreement and the expansion of the coverage of the present autonomous region, which after the President's approval a plebiscite is to be conducted in the proposed expanded autonomy's territory.
"Because the government failed to pass a law to conform with the time frame, the MNLF believes the government has violated the peace agreement,' Sema said, adding as a result of this non-compliance there is now a 'compelling reason to renegotiate a new time frame'."
He said that to prevent further breach of the peace agreement, there should be no regional political exercise in the ARMM - Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi - for regional officials this coming national and local polls in May.
In a letter to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and the rest of the senators dated Dec. 20, the MNLF through Sema enumerated reasons for its objections to S.B. No. 2129, such as alleged absence of "formal consultation made by and between the Senate and the MNLF with the participation of the Organization of Islamic Conference; a plebiscite should have been held between 1996-1998; and the proposed Senate measure contains provisions "violative of the 1996 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Peace Agreement."
The MNLF also intimated to the Senate leadership its preference for a provisional government as the new transitional mechanism.
Along with the letter, the MNLF also submitted to the Senate its own version of an ARMM organic act.
The Senate approved yesterday on third and final reading the bill which seeeks to expand the coverage of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), amid doubts on whether it could be implemented this year.
It passed Senate Bill (SB) 2129 on the proposed amendments to the ARMM Organic Act, authored by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., to increase the Mindanao areas covered by the autonomous region.
The ARMM bill is expected to expand a plebiscite in 11 more provinces, and 13 cities in Mindanao to determine if they should be included in the areas covered by the autonomous region.
The plebiscite will be held in the provinces of Basilan, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Palawan, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay; andthe cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Kidapawan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, Koronadal, Digos, Takurong, and Zamboanga, to determine if they should be placed under the ARMM.
Under the present setup, the ARMM is composed onlyof the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Through the plebiscite, the four provinces will also be given the say on whether or not to ratify the ARMM organic act.
Pimentel said while the eventual enactment of his proposed measure looms, its enforcement within the year is hanging for lack of time. Preparations for a plebiscite, he said, might take long ". . . .so the most logical thing to do is to extend the term of incumbent ARMM officials, and hold the plebiscite next year."
"Ang mangyayari, extended until next year yung term nila (What willl happen is that the term of ARMM officialswill be extended until next year) because we still have to work (out) the plebiscite, and then determine when the elections should be held… .on the assumption that there will be a change in the coverage of the ARMM," the Senate president said.
He said if the plebiscite will be held this June , the ARMM elections may be held on Aug. 15 and those elected will assume office on Sept. 30. The terms of incumbent ARMM officials end this June, but since there are many problems, they will have to be extended to pave the way for the plebiscite, Pimentel added.
"Hopefully, the ARMM bill will end the complaints of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) because this legislation will enforce the Jakarta agreement entered into by then President Ramos and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1996. Butt I'm not too sure of itseffects since reports said the AFP wants to resume the fight against it, so this is another problem," the Senate president said.
One of the main features of the Pimentel bill is the provision which allows even non-Muslims to run for the top ARMM post as the measure stresses the Muslim predominance of the big area. Under the bill, the region will be renamed "Muslim Autonomous Region in Mindanao " (MARM) to stress that it is predominantly occupied by Muslims. (Gabriel S. Mabutas)
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