Manila, March 3, 2003 -- Two opposition congressmen urged the President Sunday to fire Presidential Assistant on Special Concerns Norberto Gonzalez, who conducted back-channel talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which led to provisions in the interim peace agreement that violate the Constitution.

Laban Reps. Rolex Suplico of Iloilo and Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City made the call following a two-day inspection trip of Pikit, North Cotabato, including a closed-door briefing by Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, 6th Infantry Division commander; and in Zamboanga City where they and other members of the House Committee on National Defense were briefed by Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya, Armed Forces Southern Command chief.

Suplico and Lobregat said the committee, chaired by Lakas Rep. Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur, in investigating the interim peace agreements between the government and the MILF, discovered “onerous” provisions in the draft of the final peace accord proposed by Gonzales.

These onerous provisions include: the payment of reparations by government to the rebel group; allowing MILF to exercise police power in their territories; and letting the rebels fly the MILF flag in their areas.

Pichay said the MILF should be more sincere in conducting a peace dialogue with the government, and warned that MILF leaders had used the respite gained from several interim accords to build up their military capability.

Suplico said the back-channel talks conducted by Gonzales were responsible for these objectionable provisions, since these were not transparent and did not have clear parameters as to accountability and representation by Mindanao society.

Lobregat said the peace talks should also incorporate more inputs from a broader spectrum of Mindanao leaders, including legislators and local executives. In contrast, he said Gonzales was not even from Mindanao and was grossly remiss in consulting even local leaders.

Pichay expressed hope that more inputs proposed in his committee’s hearings would be incorporated in the draft peace accord.

Meanwhile, legislators from Mindanao urged the government to focus more attention on the plight of thousands of evacuees in North Cotabato following the military campaign against the Pentagon gang and the MILF, which allegedly protected the bandits.

During their visit, a Cotabato lawmaker delivered some 20 boxes of medicines worth P250,000 and made an urgent appeal to government and the private sector for more aid.

The congressional delegation also talked with Gov. Manuel Piñol of North Cotabato, who said he had no objection to the peace talks so long as both parties observe the policy of disarmament in the province.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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