June 24, 2012 News: Around thirty leaders of the indigenous people (IP) in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat met with members of the MILF peace panel in Cotabato City yesterday, June 23, to discuss common issues and concerns particularly the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiation, which the IPs have a deep stake especially on the issue of ancestral domain.
There were four IP leaders present, representing the T’duray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, and Maguindanao tribesmen in North Upi and South Upi, both in Maguindanao province. Prominent among the leaders was former South Upi mayor Jovito Martin, who provided much of the salvoes in the two-hour frank and honest exchanges of views. Also present was Melanio Ulama, a T’duray chieftain carrying the traditional title of “Timuay”. He is also a member of the MILF peace panel board of consultants, representing the IPs in Mindanao.
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, and Jun Mantawil, head of the peace panel secretariat, represented the MILF side.
Three agenda were put on the table and discussed thoroughly one by one namely: Expression of support by the IP of the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiation, updates of the negotiation, and a question-and-answer session.
One of the hard questions asked came from a Lambangian elder who asserted that the road from Cotabato City to Lebak, Sultan Kudarat is fully paved and cemented but the best buildings along the highway belong to outsiders but never to the local inhabitants. The MILF responded by saying that those who are pushed to wall must assert their rights continuously until they get what are due to them.
“Liberation comes first in oneself, before others can help and set you free,” he stressed.
“I am afraid that when there is signing of agreement between the MILF and government, this would result in mass confiscation of lands of the IPS,” said a woman from South Upi.
The answer from the MILF was quick and direct to the point: “The MILF Central Committee and in the MILF military organization, there are IPs who are there to protect your rights and interests.”
“This will not happen,” said Jun Mantawil, adding that documents of the negotiation can bear us out on this allegation.
Asked what would be the role of the IPs in case the ceasefire is broken, Iqbal told them to ask the government and the MILF to return to the negotiating table and conclude the negotiation by signing an agreement.
“Continue organizing yourself and assert your rights through democratic means,” he added.
Iqbal invited the IPs to the forthcoming Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly on July 6-9, 2012 at Darapanan and they responded by saying that will come in full force and in traditional costumes.