GPH-MILF talks, post-FAB signing: the ‘devils’ and ‘angels’ in the details

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews 16 November)  –  Unlike last month when they were crafting the final text of what would become the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), there is much laughter now and the faces  of the members of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels have lightened up as the talks resumed this week, the first since the signing of the FAB on October 15 in Malacanang.

There are more people, too – 40 for the GPH delegation and 15 for the MILF – with the three technical working groups (TWGs) on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization  meeting simultaneously on the details of the Framework Agreement that would provide for the creation of  the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by June 30, 2016.

At the foyer at the Lower Ground floor of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel near the TWG meeting rooms,  they even jokingly refer to each other by TWGs – the “wealthy” for the wealth-sharing, the “powerful” for the power-sharing and the “normals” for the normalization, the preferred term of the MILF over the usual DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) in post-conflict situations.

But while the relationship between parties has changed from adversaries to partners and there is much laughter and camaraderie,  both panel are aware, and they have become increasingly aware as the days moved on, that crafting the annexes that would form what would be the comprehensive agreement by yearend 2012 is no laughing matter and no walk in the park given  the  “devil” or  “devils” in the details.

GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, however, would rather summon the “angels.”

Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal were optimistic about the outcome of this seven-day TWG negotiations in their opening remarks on Monday morning but by Friday noon, both acknowledged to MindaNews that although “substantial” progress has been made in all three TWGs, the work will not be finished  this week.

Leonen told MindaNews both sides will have to work on the “intensive data needed” and consult with their principals.

Perhaps, a TWG member said, more “angels” need to be summoned.  “I am having difficulties finding the angels in this document,” said another on Friday morning.

This round is scheduled to end on Sunday, November 18.

“Angels rather than the devils”

At the opening last Monday, Leonen said he was “certain that both of us will try to find solutions in order to complete the Comprehensive Agreement, preferably in this round.”

“I do not believe that the devil is in the details,” Leonen said, adding, “there has always been something wrong with that metaphor. I think it is more that the ‘angels’ will be found in the details.  Angels because the way we craft our agreements will unlock more opportunities for our peoples to achieve a life that they deserve. We should look forward at working the details in order to find solutions rather than to find the problems. Hence the angels, rather than the devils.”

Iqbal, also at the opening, said “the issues before us are hard, they are not easy issues. But I am optimistic that the parties will surmount it because, first, the euphoria in our success in signing FAB is very much alive. There is overwhelming response from the people, not just the Muslims, even the Christians’ response are overwhelming and very encouraging. “

He said the panels cannot proceed with the next phases of the  peace process unless the issues on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization are settled.

But Iqbal acknowledged that “normalization” is the “harder nut to crack” because “it is not only about disposition of troops, weapons, decommissioning and policing, but it is more importantly tied up with implementation of the Agreement on the ground, which in turn breeds trust. Trust is something that cannot happen instantly especially between former adversaries. You have to patiently build and nurture it.”

Workshops

The TWG on Normalization met for the first time on Monday, unlike the TWGs on wealth-sharing and power-sharing which started in August and were expected to finish this week.

The MILF’s TWG on Normalization  handed over its proposal to their GPH counterpart  on Wednesday afternoon and the two sides called it a day by 3 p.m. with an agreement to meet at 9 a.m. on Thursday, to give enough time for the GPH to study the proposal. The Thursday morning meeting ended at 10:07 upon the request of the GPH for time to go on a workshop.  Sessions resumed at around 2 p.m. but adjourned for the day at 4:25 p.m.

They met again shortly after 9:30 a.m. Friday but by 10:12 a.m. Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, the GPH peace panel’s Senior Military Adviser who is a member of the TWG on Normalization, came out of the meeting room and with his team of generals  went up to their caucus room for yet another workshop. (The GPH delegation stays in another hotel but gets a room here for caucuses).

“Coffffeeeee break,” said Ferrer, laughing as he implied it would take longer than the usual coffee break.

They were supposed to resume at 2 p.m. but the GPH-TWG asked to reset it to 3 pm.  They  arrived at the meeting venue at 3:38 p.m., the GPH –TWG returning to the foyer at 3:40 p.m. for a short break that ended ten minutes later.

Some member s of the TWG on wealth-sharing were seen leaving the meeting room at 10:54 a.m.  Friday. The TWG on power-sharing  went for a coffee break at 11:15 a.m.  “Short lang, five minutes lang,” said Mike Pasigan of the MILF-TWG.

From ‘contentious’ to ‘unresolved’ to ‘further discussion’

Both TWGs resumed sessions in the afternoon and were still inside the meeting venue as of 4:50 p.m.

The “powerful” ended their Thursday session at around 5:40 p.m. Undersecretary Chito Gascon of the Office of Political Affairs , a member of the GPH-TWG on power-sharing, told MindaNews they were now down to only five issues “for further discussion,” out of the 15 they listed.

Gascon said they have classified the items as negotiations progressed  from “contentious” to “unresolved” to “further discussion.”

They have three members each from the GPH and MILF, a note-taker each and advisers and observers.  Advising for the TWG on Normalizaiton are GPH peace panel member  Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal; for the TWG on wealth-sharing, GPH’s Senen Bacani and MILF panel’s Abdulla Camlian; and for power-sharing,  GPH’s Hamid Barra and the MILF panel’s Abhoud Syed Lingga.

MILF peace panel members Datu Michael Mastura and Maulana Alonto are in Djibouti, Africa, attending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.

The TWGs have no third party facilitators.

New signatory?

Despite the challenges, both Leonen and Iqbal are confident they would finish the annexes by yearend 2012, as agreed upon in the FAB.

Iqbal said Thursday that the panels are more focused now on “problem-solving.”  Leonen on Friday said that given their “problem-solving” thrust, he is confident that the comprehensive peace agreement which is “the Framework Agreement plus the Annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization,”  will be signed before the year ends.

A frontrunner for the vacated post of Associate Justice in the Supreme Court, Leonen may not be the signatory of the comprehensive peace pact for government if he is named to the Supreme Court next week.

If appointed Justice, this will be the last round of talks Leonen will chair since his appointment as GPH peace panel chair on July 15, 2010. A new chair will have to be appointed to carry on the remaining tasks because the peace panels will not be disbanded even after the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement.

The FAB provides that at the end of the transition period, the GPH and MILF peace panels, together with the Malaysian facilitator and the third party monitoring team, “shall convene a meeting to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition” and “an ‘exit document’ officially terminating the peace negotiation may be crafted and signed by both parties if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2012/11/16/gph-milf-talks-post-fab-signing-the-devils-and-angels-in-the-details/


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