• Mindanao peace process Aquino’s legacy – UK envoy

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    Implementing the provisions of the Mindanao peace process before President Benigno Aquino 3rd ends his term in 2016 is “ambitious” but doable if he is committed to do it, British Ambassador to Manila Stephen Lillie told The Manila Times on Thursday.

    Lillie, who will soon be ending his diplomatic tour in the Philippines, said the timetable may be ambitious but not impossible if there is “political commitment.”

    “I definitely think that should be their objective. That should be a part of the President’s legacy,” he said.

    The United Kingdom is a member of the International Contact Group (ICG) that monitors the progress of peace initiatives in Mindanao. Lillie said supporting the negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been a “big area of engagement” during his time as ambassador.

    For the past four years that Lillie was in Manila, the British Embassy has brought various peace process experts here for dialogues and seminars and to share Britain’s own experience in drafting a lasting peace pact regarding the Northern Ireland dispute.

    “My assessment of the peace process is very positive. It has made remarkable progress as shown by the signing of the agreement last October. That agreement took huge courage by the President and the leader of the MILF,” the envoy said.

    “We definitely believe that was the right thing to do. Now, the job is to complete the negotiations, details and annexes and of course, to implement it,” Lillie added, admitting that implementation “brings its own challenges.”

    The Framework Agreement signed by the Philippine government and the MILF is seen to pave the way for lasting peace in Mindanao, where decades of fighting has left thousands dead and hampered the development of the resource-rich region.

    The annexes, negotiations and the details of that agreement need to be completed “pretty soon,” Lillie said, so that the implementing rules and guidelines can finally be discussed.

    “The President is still very popular. He has a strong political mandate [that further]grew in the [recently concluded]elections. They [government]are laying the right foundation. It’s a very great achievement for the administration,” he said.

    But Lillie warned that the benefits of the peace process will not be immediately felt by the people. He advised both the government and the people in Mindanao to be patient and focus on the goal.

    “The signing of the peace process creates very high expectations. [But] it takes a very long time to feel the benefits. People think we sign the peace process and then the next day, it is full of foreign investors. That’s not going to happen,” Lillie said.

    “It will take a lot of time for the peace dividend to filter through the people. There is a risk some people may lose patience or feel frustrated. People should not feel thrown off because of that,” he said.

    He cited the case of Northern Ireland where some splinter groups still engage in violence after more than a decade of peace. However, he said an “overwhelming majority” of people in Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the old days where there is “very low development.”

    Lillie also urged people involved in bringing peace to Mindanao to keep the faith and focus on the goal.

    “There will be fantastic benefits for the country [in terms of]stability in development and international reputation,” he said.

    “My impression, having been to Mindanao on many occasions, what people want is they want an end to [the]conflict. [And] that is what the government is trying to deliver,” he said.

    “The challenge will come during the implementation,” the envoy said. “It’s going to take time to develop it . . . long time to prosperity.”

    The Department of Budget has released P42 million for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will craft the basic Bangsamoro law.

    Budget Sec. Florencio Abad said P25 million will be used for the BTC’s operating expenses and P17 million for the salaries and benefits of the 16 appointed commissioners.

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