Manila sees peace in six months

  • ASEAN+
  • Tuesday, 07 Jan 2003

MANILA: Philippine President Gloria Arroyo should be able to forge peace pacts with communist and Muslim rebels in six months, according to her key ally, who has proposed a “unity” government to speed up reforms. 

House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia said that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the New People’s Army (NPA) must have representation within the government to end more than three decades of war. 

The MILF is the country’s biggest Muslim rebel group while the NPA is the 9,000-member armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and has been branded a terrorist organisation by the United States. 

De Venecia, who with Arroyo co-chairs Lakas-CMD, the country’s ruling political party, has been pushing for a “government of national unity” after her recent decision not to seek re-election in the 2004 presidential elections. 

In a surprise move on Dec 30, Arroyo said she was withdrawing from the presidential race so she could concentrate on beefing up the poverty-stricken economy during her remaining 18 months in power. 

De Venecia said that a peace settlement with the NPA and MILF could “for sure” be secured within six months through a “combination of back-channel talks and formal talks.” 

He added that Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was helping Manila forge a peace deal with the MILF after both parties signed a ceasefire pact in Kuala Lumpur last year. 

Separately, MILF vice-chairman Ghazzali Jaafar told a local radio station yesterday that peace talks with the government would resume in Kuala Lumpur on the last week of January. 

Manila is reportedly finalising separate political packages to end the war with the two rebel groups. 

De Venecia said communist insurgent leader Jose Maria Sison, who is living in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, had offered fresh hopes for an end to his rebellion. 

“The six months was indicated by Joma (Sison’s nickname) himself while the deal with the MILF could be forged perhaps even faster than that,” he said. 

Last week, de Venecia proposed that Sison and MILF chief Hashim Salamat or their representatives be given positions in the unity government. 

“Joma said he will not join the unity government but it has given a glimmer of hope that we can have peace negotiations completed within six months,” de Venecia said, without elaborating. 

President Arroyo had supported in principle de Venecia’s unity government proposal and had set up a cabinet panel to study it although she had stressed that such an administration should be programme and not people-oriented. 

De Venecia hit back at those who opposed any representation by the MILF and NPA in the government. 

“Do you think this is a one way street? 

“Do you think the Tamil Tigers (Sri Lankan rebels) or the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) will make peace if you don’t give them a place in the sun?” he asked. – AFP 

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