[PHOTO - While members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front cannot openly help enforce the gun ban in Maguindanao through joint police-Army security checkpoints like this, local poll officials and peace activists are certain they can help restrain armed groups from roaming around, or getting close to thoroughfares, for the whole duration of the election period. (John Unson)]

COTABATO CITY, FEBRUARY 1, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By John Unson - The extended operations of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the anti-crime Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) will boost government’s effort to ensure safe elections in in many flashpoint areas in Mindanao, officials said.

The government and MILF peace panels again gave the IMT and the AHJAG imprimatur, during the Jan. 21-25 exploratory talks in Malaysia, to continue helping enforce, for another year, the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities.

Peace activists, some of them involved in foreign-funded projects complementing the GPH-MILF peace talks, were elated with the consensus reached by both sides, apparently in recognition of the roles of the IMT and AHJAG in helping maintain the fragile peace now in conflict-prone areas.

The IMT, comprised of military officers from Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Indonesia, and non-uniformed conflict resolution and rehabilitation experts from Norway, the European Union and Japan, has been helping monitor the GPH-MILF ceasefire since late 2003.

The AHJAG, on the other hand, was established about six years ago and is composed of representatives from the Armed Forces, the Philippine National Police, and the MILF, which are cooperating in the interdiction of criminals and terrorists in areas covered by the ceasefire.

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Even the provincial election supervisor of Maguindanao, lawyer Udtog Tago, is convinced that the IMT, the AHJAG and the joint GPH-MILF ceasefire committee can help the police and military maintain law and order in isolated areas where elections are to be held in May this year.

Tago said he has not received any report yet purporting violation by MILF forces of the Comelec’s gun ban, which started Jan. 13.

Tago said they are now drafting a letter, with the help of various non-partisan peace advocacy outfits, to the MILF, asking the group to help maintain law and order in the surroundings of their camps by restraining guerillas from roaming around with their guns during the election period, particularly, during the actual polling day in May.

The governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Hataman, who chairs the regional peace and order council, and Fr. Dave Procalla, chairman for ARMM of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, both said they support the move of the Commission on Election's provincial office in Maguindanao.

Maguindanao's re-electionist governor, Esmael Mangudadatu, said the provincial peace and order council, which he chairs, can even pass a resolution endorsing the plan of the Comelec's office in the province.

There are documented reports on how the AHJAG, with the help of the IMT and the joint ceasefire committee, managed to peacefully resolve conflicts involving armed groups in many areas in Maguindanao, some of them identified with big political clans.

The GPH and MILF panels, in their traditional joint communiqué after last week’s 35th exploratory talks in Malaysia, also lauded President Benigno Aquino III for his administration’s commitment to foster lasting peace in Mindanao.

Apart from extending the tenure of the IMT and AHJAG, the joint communiqué also stated that both sides have crafted the terms of reference for the “Third Party Monitoring Team,” which will monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB).

The GPH and MILF panels are still trying to complete all the four annexes to the FAB - territory; wealth and power sharing; and transitional arrangements and modalities.

The FAB, signed by the two panels in Malacañang last Oct. 15, 2012, aims to establish a more politically and administratively-empowered Bangsamoro autonomous political entity to replace the ARMM.

The latest joint communiqué of the two panels was signed at the culmination of last week’s peace talks in Malaysia by Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Muhagher Iqbal, chief negotiators of the GPH and MILF, respectively.

The Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks, Tengku Datu’Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, also signed on the document.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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