Calls for UN-supervised Referendum in Mindanao
By Rexcel Sorza, IOL Correspondent
ILOILO CITY, Philippines, January 28 (IslamOnline.net) – A week before the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), calls for a UN-supervised referendum, as the only means to reach peace, were raised anew.
Eluding most of the country’s Filipino Muslims for decades, peace could be reached through a referendum supervised by the United Nations, the Mindanao People’s Peace Movement (MPPM) formally renewed its call, first raised two years ago.
MPPM, through its chairman Alvaro Senturias Jr., wrote Tuesday to government and MILF peace panels that they are calling for a United Nation’s supervised or managed referendum on political options in the Bangsamoro areas of Mindanao.
MPPM is a coalition of more than 100 human rights and peace groups, non-government and people’s organizations, schools, churches and institutions dedicated to the vision and the search for lasting peace in Mindanao.
The group also formally submitted the proposal to the negotiating panels for the undertaking of the UN supervised referendum “seven to ten years after the effectiveness of any peace agreement that they will sign.”
“The time lag will enable proponents of enhanced autonomy, a federal state within a federal Philippines, and an independent state for the Bangsamoro a chance to campaign for their favored option,” the group explained in the letter, a copy of which was sent to IslamOnline.net.
Abhoud Syed Lingga, chairman of the Bangsamoro People’s Consultative Assembly and executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, told IslamOnline.net Friday, January 28, the UN-supervised referendum “is the peaceful and democratic way of resolving political conflict.”
Referendum, Lingga said, would give the Bangsamoro people the opportunity to make the final decision on their political status instead of their leaders.
“It is the democratic and peaceful way of resolving political conflicts. It has been used in many countries, like Czechoslovakia, the Canadian province of Quebec, and East Timor.”
Not only that, it will also “serve as the basis of authority and last word on a solution to the conflict between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government” as the referendum “will accommodate the divergent views on approaches and solutions to the problem.”
Lingga said “the problem is basically political” as “the Bangsamoro people through the years continuously assert their right to a separate state”.
The United Nation supervision is needed, Lingga pointed out, “to ensure the credibility of the outcome of the referendum” and “to ensure that the decision of the Bangsamoro people will be enforced.”
He said people could be made to choose between independence and unity with the Republic of the Philippines.
“If the choice is independence, the United Nations shall organize a provisional government and supervise the drafting of a constitution and first election. If the choice is unity with Philippine government, free association, enhanced autonomy or federal relation could be availed of.”
Lingga also stressed that the holding of a referendum “does not automatically result to separation of the Bangsamoro people from the Philippines.”
Referendum, he emphasized, “is a peaceful and democratic alternative to violence” and “it is a disincentive to violence. Let us give peace, peace with justice, a chance by denying people the incentive to use violence.”
After more than 30 years, the MILF has failed in its military campaign to reclaim Mindanao from the Philippines.
The Moro National Liberation Front managed to ink an agreement with the government in 1996, giving autonomy to Muslim provinces in Mindanao. It did not, however, put the conflict to end.
MILF itself has been calling for a referendum in the Muslim island since 2000, but their negotiating team declined to comment on the fresh call for referendum.
The conflict in Mindanao is estimated to have claimed more than 100,000 lives aside from the displacement of thousands more. The southern Philippine island, touted to be the richest in natural resources among the three islands of the country, is slowly winning the confidence of investors with the looming lasting peace.
Philippine government negotiators could not be reached for comment. They are now in Europe for a negotiation with the National Democratic Front and Communist Party of the Philippines.
The Malaysian government is brokering the peace negotiation between the parties. The formal peace negotiation is set to resume in the first week of February in Kuala Lumpur.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on January 31st 2005