GPH-MILF “workshop” in KL ends; panels to meet again in Manila

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 July) — “Modest progress.”

The peace panels of the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended Friday noon  their four-day “workshop” on the final text of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), achieving “modest progress” and agreeing to meet again in Manila “within the next few days” to come up with a “mutually acceptable BBL for submission to Congress,” a joint press statement from Kuala Lumpur said.

The “special meeting” held at the Bellamy House in Kuala Lumpur since July 8 “provided the panels the opportunity to clarify misperceptions and affirm the intent and sincerity of the parties to abide by the signed agreements,” the joint statement said.

It said the panels discussed the contents of the draft BBL submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and reviewed by the legal team of the Office of the President.

“They achieved modest progress and identified consensus language in the light of signed agreements” and “resolved to continue working together to come up with a mutually acceptable draft Bangsamoro Basic Law,” the statement said.

They also agreed to “continue discussions on specific concerns in Manila within the next few days” to ensure that the draft law would be submitted to Congress “at the soonest possible time.”

The panels are racing against time as Congress is reopening on July 28 with President Aquino delivering his fourth and second to the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) before he bows out of office on June 30, 2016, the date the peace panels targeted to be the inauguration of the Bangsamoro government and its first set of elected officials.

The five-paragraph joint press statement did not say what major substantive issues were resolved but MindaNews sources in Kuala Lumpur said the consensus reached on these major issues would be brought back to their respective principals for consultation and approval.

“Serious concerns”

The panels went to Kuala Lumpur following “concerns” raised by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal during their meeting with President Aquino in Hiroshima on June 24 on the Malacanang-proposed revisions to the draft BBL. This was followed by a BTC resolution on July 3, elevating to the panels the “serious concerns” on the proposed revisions.

The BTC is the body tasked to draft the BBL. The MILF-led, President-appointed 15-member BTC submitted its draft BBL to Malacanang on April 22, expecting it would be transmitted to Congress and certified urgent by the President when Congress resumed session after the Holy Week break on May 5. Congress adjourned sine die without receiving the draft.

Malacanang returned the draft with its proposed revisions on June 21.

No details about the “concerns” raised by the MILF to President Aquino in Hiroshima were revealed but Iqbal on June 26 broke his silence in a peace forum in Istanbul, Turkey, where GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was also a speaker.

“Less autonomous than ARMM”

Iqbal, concurrent chair of the BTC, said Malacanang’s proposed provisions had “heavily diluted” the BTC draft, and if made the basis for the law, “would be worse than RA 9054,” the law governing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Even before RA 9054 lapsed into law on March 31, 2001, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which signed a Final Peace Agreement with the government on September 2, 1996, had protested that it would render the ARMM “less autonomous than it already was.”

Iqbal said that what would happen would be a future “Bangsamoro” government that would be less autonomous than the ARMM that it seeks to replace.

President Aquino told reporters in Iloilo on June 27 that efforts were being undertaken to ensure that the final draft would be one that “both sides will fully support and endorse” to Congress.

“GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer had described in her press statement on July 7 that the workshop would “thresh out the various substantive matters that have arisen from the BTC submission and the subsequent OP (Office of the President) review.”

KL workshop

The workshop began July 8 and was supposed to end July 10 but Iqbal told MindaNews in a text message late Thursday evening, that they “will extend up to tomorrow (Friday) morning.”

Ferrer said: “It’s not a question of extending or not. We arranged to leave Friday afternoon.”

What the panels have accomplished, Ferrer and Iqbal had kept mum, issuing only very short, general statements.

Ferrer on Wednesday morning said “Ok naman, may naayos” (Okay, Some [issues] are being resolved).

Although she replied to MindaNews’ text messages on Thursday afternoon, she did not answer the question on what the panels had accomplished.

Iqbal on Thursday afternoon said, “partial agreement on many issues” but declined to give details. In the evening, he replied: “there is modest progress” but again gave no details.

Observers

Early Friday morning, Iqbal said, “we will try to cover as much ground this morning” but again declined to provide details. Ferrer did not send a reply.

Sessions are supposed to be held only for half a day in deference to Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, but on Thursday, they took a break in the afternoon and resumed sessions late afternoon, ending at around 9 p.m.

Eleven members of the BTC – six from the GPH and five from the MILF, including the BTC members who are panel members – also attended the workshop as “observers.”

The BTC on July 3 passed a resolution expressing “serious concerns over some major revisions, modifications and alterations that deviated from the significant contents of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

The BTC elevated their concerns to the panels for “clarification, discussion and resolution” of the issues affected by the proposed revisions “… in the higher interest of finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Mindanao.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2014/07/11/gph-milf-workshop-in-kl-ends-panels-to-meet-again-in-manila/

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