With Entry of CIA-Funded Group, US Deepens Involvement in Mindanao Conflict

The Asia Foundation, a “charity group” founded and funded by the CIA that represents American political and economic interests in Asia, is now part of a group that would help facilitate the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — The engagement of The Asia Foundation in the on-and-off peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signals the further deepening involvement of the United States in the Mindanao conflict.

Announced in a news release dated Nov. 13, The Asia Foundation’s involvement in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations will take the form of membership in the International Contact Group (ICG), which is “tasked with supporting the next stage of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF to end conflict in Mindanao.” Asia Foundation, the news release states, “will network with stakeholders in the negotiation, coordinate with the facilitator (Malaysia) to provide research input, and give feedback and advice for the peace process.”

US involvement in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations began in 2003 through the Philippine Facilitation Project (PFP) launched by the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

The USIP is an institute governed by a “bipartisan” board of directors whose members are appointed by the US president and confirmed by the US Senate, and four ex-officio members: the secretaries of state and defense, the president of the National Defense University, and the president of the institute.

In an 2007 report, “Toward Peace in the Southern Philippines: A Summary and Assessment of the Philippine Facilitation Project, 2003-2007”, G. Eugene Martin and Astrid Tuminez – PFP’s executive director and senior research associate, respectively – wrote that the US Department of State in 2003 engaged the USIP to facilitate a peace agreement between the GRP and the MILF.

“The State Department felt that the Institute’s status as a quasi-governmental… player would allow it to engage the parties more broadly than an official government entity could,” Martin and Tuminez wrote. “To accomplish its mandate, USIP launched the Philippine Facilitation Project…”

The PFP organized and facilitated a series of workshops, for members of both the GRP and MILF peace panels, on ancestral domain, which was first discussed only in 2004 but even then was emerging as the most contentious issue in the negotiations. These initiatives by the PFP produced what became the highly contentious Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD).

Ancestral Domain and Deadlocks in the Talks

The GRP had consistently insisted that areas to be covered by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, the name of the territory that the MILF wanted to create, other than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subjected to a plebiscite. This repeatedly led to an impasse in the peace negotiations with the group. The impasse was broken only in November 2007, when the GRP and the MILF reached an agreement defining the land and maritime areas to be covered by the proposed BJE. Things seemed to be looking up after that, prompting lawyer Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, to make media statements to the effect that they expected a final agreement to be signed by mid-2008. But all hopes for forging a peace pact between the GRP and the MILF were dashed in December that year, when the peace talks hit a snag following the government’s insistence that the ancestral domain issue be settled through ���constitutional processes” – a phrase which, according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, had been inserted into the agreement without their consent.

The December 2007 deadlock on ancestral domain was followed by a series of clashes between government troops and the MILF, as well as a partial pullout of the Malaysian contingent from the International Monitoring Team (IMT), which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of agreements related to the peace talks, as well as development projects in the areas of conflict.

Even as the GRP-MILF conflict showed signs of re-escalation, however, both sides were talking about the possibility of signing an agreement on ancestral domain sometime in 2008.

Eventually, the series of ancestral domain workshops organized and facilitated by the PFP produced a draft Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) outlining the scope of the proposed BJE. The ARMM was to serve as the core of the new administrative region. The residents of the other areas sought to be covered by the BJE were to vote in a plebiscite sometime this year.

The MoA-AD was supposed to be signed by the GRP and the MILF on Aug. 5, 2008, but the Supreme Court a day before issued a temporary restraining order on its signing following a petition by North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, supported by another petition filed by Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and two congressmen. The Supreme Court later ruled that the MoA-AD is unconstitutional.

The non-signing of the MoA-AD gave rise to a re-escalation of armed confrontations between government troops and the MILF in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Maguindanao –- provinces known to be strongholds of the MILF. Following the outbreak of renewed hostilities, the government ordered a manhunt for Abdurahman Macapaar a. k. a. Commander Bravo, Ameril Ombra Cato, and Alim Pangalian – who were dubbed as “rogue MILF commanders” and leaders of “lost commands”.

The re-escalated conflict led to the displacements of hundreds of thousands in Mindanao.

Enter Asia Foundation

On Sept. 15 this year, the GRP and MILF panels agreed on the formation of an ICG that will provide “critical support” to the peace negotiations in the wake of the escalating conflict. This is where The Asia Foundation comes in.

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    I am Maj Gen (Retd) Lawrence Fernando, 57 years, Former Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army and Overall Operations Commander Western & Central Provinces, Over 37 years of military Experience in Counter Terrorism would like to join your organization to serve any part of the world.
    Please send me required information for any suitable post.
    Thank You.
    Lawrence

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