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Areas of temporary stay like MOA-AD, Escudero fumes

What’s next? Another deal on Moro ancestral domain?

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Thursday scored Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles over the existence of “areas of temporary stay” (ATS), which was used by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to ambush and kill 19 soldiers in Basilan province last week.

Escudero warned that the agreement on the ATS—which refers to safe havens for the secessionist group in parts of Mindanao—could lead to another accord similar to the failed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) secretly hammered out in Kuala Lumpur in 2008.

Prepared during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the MOA-AD called for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, which would have given the MILF a sovereign state replete with its own police and banking system.

But the Arroyo administration eventually backtracked on the secret agreement after it came out in the open and triggered protests. The Supreme Court subsequently declared the deal unconstitutional.

Red flag

“This ATS should have raised a red flag for us because if (the MILF) could enter into an agreement on the ATS, it’s not far-fetched that they might go for something similar to the MOA-AD,” Escudero said in Filipino during the weekly Senate media forum.

“And bear in mind also that Deles was with the previous administration, was with then President Arroyo when this MOA-AD was entered into by the previous government.”

Escudero, an ally of President Benigno Aquino III, wanted to know how the agreement on the ATS came about, its coverage and limitations, including its legal basis.

“First of all, I think our soldiers were killed because of this ATS. If there was no ATS, there would have been no reason or justification the MILF could have used to kill the soldiers who entered the alleged ATS,” he said.

Explain ATS

Escudero said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) should be made to explain the ATS. “When was the agreement entered into? What is its legal basis? How many are there? Where are they located?” he asked.

“Congress was never informed about it. We would not have known that there was such a creature if the massacre didn’t happen,” he added.

Escudero said the explanation should include a technical description of the ATS, noting that soldiers could be at a loss on where such locations were found.

“How would they know if a place is an ATS or not? For example, I’m roaming in Mindanao, how would I know if I’m in an ATS and all of a sudden I am being arrested and asked to produce various permits for companions who might be carrying firearms? The Opapp should be made accountable and it should be made to explain on this.”

P5-M donation

Escudero also questioned Mr. Aquino’s P5-million donation to the MILF’s Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute.

“The MILF killed and is killing our soldiers and they’re saying that the killing was justified. Then we will train them? It doesn’t seem right,” he said.

“I think the whole peace process is misguided. I think the President is being ill-advised by his peace advisers who are of the old school, purely theoretical and more often than not, lack training or exposure in the field,” he said.

Marvic Leonen, head of the government peace panel, should go through a “special training” in negotiations, not just on the “history of the rebellion in Mindanao,” Escudero said.

“We need experts in these things so we won’t be duped, so that we’re not always the ones trailing them,” he said.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Wednesday said the MILF would be asked to account for the amount. To which, Escudero said: “OK … good luck.”

Gadzali Jaafar, the MILF political adviser, denied the donation had been used to purchase arms and that it would be spent as intended for the training of Moro youths. With reports from Jeoffrey Maitem and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao

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