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Government told: Explain MILF privileges

MANILA -- Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles will have to explain why the government gave the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a piece of Philippine territory and money for the setting up of a training center for future Muslim leaders, a senator said Thursday.

Speaking at a press forum, Senator Francis Escudero said the deaths of 19 soldiers in Basilan last week may have been caused by the grant of Areas of Temporary Stay (ATS) to the MILF.

The MILF rebels have said it had been defending themselves from an Army attack, while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier insisted that the operation was four kilometers away from an MILF-held ATS.

But Escudero said he wants to know why there was an ATS in the first place.

“My question is where did this ATS come from? What is the legal basis in the Constitution or any law that a territory within Philippine territory has different laws?” he said, adding the ATS was like giving the MILF private property and requiring security forces to ask permission before entering.

Congress was not briefed about the existence of the ATS and it would not have come to light if not for the Basilan incident, Escudero said.

Sun.Star tried to reach a government peace negotiator with the MILF for comment but to no avail.

Grant

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) must also explain the grant of P5 million that was earmarked for the formation of Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI), Escudero said.

He said the grant was not listed on the agency’s budget for 2011, adding it may have been “outside the authority and responsibility of Opapp.”

“What did they charge that against, where did the money come from and what was it for?” he said.

The MILF has said the money is still intact but Escudero said that does not matter because “ownership over it has been transferred to the MILF.”

In a statement, the MILF rued the “disinformation campaign” being conducted by those who want to “sabotage” the ongoing peace process.

Both camps will hold talks in November.

BLMI

The P5 million was committed by the government during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to support the establishment of the BLMI.

“This fund commitment was not fulfilled by the previous administration, that’s why the present administration gave it,” Jun Mantawil, head of secretariat of the MILF peace negotiating panel, said.

Escudero criticized the Opapp last week for playing down the incident and for its supposed inclination toward the MILF against the AFP.

He has been calling for a lift of a ceasefire in Basilan to capture rebels responsible for the deaths of Philippine troops.

“I think the whole peace process is misguided, I think the President is being ill-advised but his peace advisers who are of (the) old school, purely theoretical, and more often than not lack training and exposure in the field,” the senator said. (Jonathan de Santos/With Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2011/10/28/government-told-explain-milf-privileges-187519

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