US Institute of Peace says it had warned governm
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2008 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – A  group calling itself the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) had been tasked by the US State Department to undertake a project to help expedite a peace agreement between the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from 2003 to 2007 and which supports the establishment of an ancestral domain for the Bangsamoro people.

However, after undertaking its Philippine Facilitation Project (PFP), the USIP has warned of the obstacles to the inking of a peace agreement between the two parties – the need for constitutional amendments, a case at the Supreme Court, Congress’ disapproval of the agreement and the political weakness and unpopularity of President Arroyo.

USIP is an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by the US Congress.

Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.

The US’s special interest in the GRP-MILF peace agreement is meant to prevent international terrorist groups from exploiting the conflict in the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US.

The late MILF chairman Salamat Hashim also personally wrote US President George Bush in 2003 to help resolve the conflict between the government and the Moro people.

The US support for the peace talks with the MILF came during the same period that the MILF, through Salamat, declared that they had renounced terrorism to attain its political ends.

At that time, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that while the “United States absolutely supports the territorial integrity of the Philippines,…we also recognize that the people of Mindanao have legitimate aspirations and some grievances.”

The US government was unwilling to commit financial and economic assistance to MILF areas until an agreement had been signed. The State Department asked USIP to inform it of significant developments, advise on appropriate government responses and if negotiations were not leading to a satisfactory settlement, recommend an end to US engagement.

In a special report published in February of this year and written by G. Eugene Martin and Astrid Tuminez, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, USIP said Mrs. Arroyo expended only minimal political capital to move the peace process forward and that the three branches of government “also lack consensus on the outlines of a deal that may be offered to the Moros.”

Martin was the executive director of the PFP while Ramirez served as the project’s senior research associate. Their special report highlighted the USIP activities in the Philippines from 2003 to 2007. The USIP clarified, however, that the views expressed in the report “do not necessarily reflect the views of USIP, which does not advocate specific policy positions.”

USIP tried but failed to be part of the peace negotiations between GRP and MILF as Malaysia, the host of the talks, had not agreed, but the group had produced and disseminated to educators, journalists and politicians a short video on ancestral domain, tracing the history of Moro grievances and articulating how and why an agreement on ancestral domain could effectively address the roots of conflict.

The video was shown during discussions of Moro ancestral domain in Manila universities, at forums in Mindanao and in a briefing with three Philippine senators.

“Efforts to help the parties think creatively of ways to overcome long-standing obstacles on ancestral domain and to initiate dialogue among disparate Moro ethnic groups made USIP a valuable contributor to the peace talks,” the report said.

There are many hindrances, however, and the USIP said resolving conflict in Mindanao is likely to be an extended undertaking even with the best of intentions from all parties.

“As with past agreements, a serious risk exists that the national legislature could scuttle any agreement signed by the government in the implementation phase. The Supreme Court might also declare unconstitutional any deal on ancestral domain that grants Moro significant political authority and control over natural resources,” the report said.

The report also noted that the ability and intent of Mrs. Arroyo, whose term would expire in 2010, to press the peace process to settlement were also uncertain.

If Mrs. Arroyo makes serious compromises with the MILF or forces significant change in the political and economic dominance of Christian migrants over land, resources and political power in Mindanao, the USIP report said “she could rouse a wave of opposition that might endanger her presidency.”

“Nonetheless, if such an agreement were signed and fully implemented, it would unequivocally augment the president’s historical legacy after nearly 10 years at the helm of Philippine politics,” it said.

The USIP report also said the multiple changes in the composition of the GRP negotiating panel had been a challenge and although GRP negotiators were “well-informed, creative and well-intentioned, they are in many ways unable to influence those at the center of political power and public opinion.”

USIP’s PFP ceased in June of 2007 but the group said the peace process in Mindanao was far from concluded.

The USIP implemented its role as facilitator of the peace process through USIP president Richard Solomon, a former ambassador to the Philippines, who assembled a group of other former ambassadors to the Philippines, the chairman of the USIP Board and a retired general.

The term facilitation signified that the US was not assuming a direct, hands-on mediating role in the negotiations.

AGREEMENT MILF MINDANAO MRS. ARROYO PEACE USIP
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