GPH, MILF reset talks but remain optimistic

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 September) – The government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels  have rescheduled their September 25 to 28 talks to early October, upon the request of the government.

But both expressed optimism that the framework agreement, the first of a series of agreements, would be signed soon

GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen did not reply to a query about the postponement but Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles forwarded to MindaNews Leonen’s text message to her explaining that  informal negotiations through the shuttling of the Malaysian facilitator “resulted in substantial gains on both sides” and that government “needs one more week to complete their preparations as a result of the new but positive developments.”

“We remain optimistic of an agreement soon,” Leonen said.

MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews Monday afternoon that the postponement was upon the request of the government which “asked for more time.”

But Iqbal said they are “moving forward quite fast” with only two more issues that are “most contentious.” These are “territory and internal security.”  He declined to elaborate.

MindaNews sources from both panels said the issue of territory revolves around the question on whether or not the existing five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will still be subjected to a plebiscite for inclusion in the new entity that would replace the ARMM by 2016.

The April 24, 2012 GPH-MILF Decision Points provided, among others, that the two panels would work for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity” (NAPE) in place of the ARMM.

Elections in the 2013 elections will proceed as scheduled while the two panels work on the transition mechanisms leading to the creation of the NAPE by 2016.

Quantitatively, 80%; qualitatively, 50%

Iqbal estimates 80% completed as far as power-sharing is concerned and about 40% on wealth-sharing because “it’s too technical.”

Asked for an overall assessment on the progress of the talks, Iqbal replied: “Quantitatively speaking, from a range of 1 to 100, we are now reaching  80% but qualitatively speaking,  I think 50% because in terms of substance, while majority of the issues in the negotiations are practically settled, the remaining ones are very contentious so that makes it 50%.”

Deles told MindaNews Tuesday evening that the text of the framework agreement will be made public before the signing. “We will not sign anything without disclosing text in advance,” she said.

The panels agreed to move their Sept. 25 -28 meeting to October 2-5.

The last time the panels met in Kuala Lumpur was on September 5 to 8, ending it with a Joint  Statement that they had reached “substantive gains” and “consensus on many issues” but mum on what these gains were and that they would meet again before end of September “to discuss unresolved issues.”

The two panels had repeatedly said they hope to sign a framework agreement soonest.

At the start of the talks on September 5, Leonen proposed “that we take home to our  principals a completed product, a consensus draft, even a very rough draft with some options of a framework agreement for their serious consideration.”

In his opening statement, MILF peace panel chair Mohager Iqbal Iqbal refered to the current talks as “passing through a defining moment, nay critical phase, which allows no complacency on the part of the parties.”

In his closing statement on September 8, Leonen said what they experienced in the four-day talks, the 31st since the 2003 war but the 11th under the Aquino administration, “comes closest perhaps to what we can consider as problem-solving.”

“The atmosphere, so ably facilitated by Tengku Dato Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed both in the plenary and the technical working groups, was marked by what I would like to call principled collegiality. We have kept to our mandates but found, many times, creative options and agreement on these options,” Leonen said, adding they are “definitely moving forward” and that by next meeting, “we hope that we not only move forward but find a quantum leap in our negotiations.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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