GPH, MILF: draft Bangsamoro Basic Law done by Aug. 18 “In sha Allah”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 10 August) – The peace panels of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front ended their 10-day “workshop” here Sunday without completing, again, like in the three similar ”workshops” last month, a “mutually acceptable” draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This time, however, both parties set a deadline to “finish an agreed draft” by “August 18, 2014, in sha Allah” (God willing).

The self-imposed deadline was contained in a seven-paragraph press statement read during the joint press conference at the Kalaw Room of the Waterfront Insular Hotel here at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, some 50 minutes after the plenary session resumed after a five-hour break that had Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa meeting with the two chairs separately in a function room at the other wing of the hotel, to discuss “immediate ways forward.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe panels have met for a total of 21 days — July 8 to 11 in Kuala Lumpur, 18 to 21 and 25 to 27 in Manila and Davao from August 1 to 10 — over the same issue: to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL and while their press statement said they have “reached agreement on substantial portions” and “developed a shared understanding of the remaining challenges and unsettled issues,” neither peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (GPH) nor MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal could say with certainty that they could, indeed finish in eight days – by August 18 — what they failed to accomplish in 21 days.

“In sha Allah,” said Ferrer. “In sha Allah” said Iqbal.

The press statement, in fact, has “In sha Allah” after “August 18, 2014.”

Asked what will happen if they again fail to finish by August 18, Ferrer said: “the only way to go is forward so when we set a timeframe, it means that we will try our best to finish because we do know that every day’s delay also compromises the passage of the BBL within this year.”

“We do have a big responsibility to accomplish this job as soon as possible. We are not shirking away from that responsibility and we hope to be able to meet the deadline and also address the other items all the other programs that we have committed to do as part of the Annex on Normalization,” she added.

Morning of ‘no direction’ to afternoon of action

Ochoa arrived at the Waterfront Insular Hotel from Manila with Governor Mujiv Hatman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao shortly before 1 p.m. but stayed only at the other wing.

Alhough he did not show up at the GPH-MILF’s meeting venue at the Kalaw Room, Ochoa’s presence changed the course of the meeting Sunday from a morning of “no direction” to an afternoon of action.

Members of the International Contact Group (ICG) and Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) had in fact met separately with the panel chairs after the morning break that started at 10:25 a.m. to help in the process check as MindaNews sources from both government and the MILF observed that the session on what was supposed to be the last day, had “no direction.”

No one could say for sure in the morning whether or not there would be a press conference when the panels adjourn. Although the panels were reportedly going to issue a joint statement, what the statement would contain was still a problem Sunday morning.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed who arrived Friday afternoon as an "observer."  Photo courtesy of Dr. Steven Rood

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed who arrived Friday afternoon as an “observer.” Photo taken Sunday morning, courtesy of Dr. Steven Rood

The night before, the ICG and TPMT also met with the GPH and MILF chairs separately following an impasse over a major provision one side did not want but the other side insisted.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process who arrived Friday afternoon and who is here not as facilitator but as “observer,” also met with the two panel chairs on Friday and Saturday.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, who was staying in a downtown hotel, arrived at the Waterfront Hotel at 11:15 a.m but proceeded immediately to the wing where Lawin Room is located, the venue of Ochoa’s meetings.

In and out of Lawin

From a vantage point at the lobby cafe,  MindaNews could see the movement of panel members from Kalaw Room to Lawin Room and back.

Tengku and Ferrer were seen moving from Kalaw Room to the other wing at 1:17 p.m. although Tengku later said he went to the smoking area and to his room. The wing where Lawin Room is located is also the wing where the rooms of participants from the GPH and MILF are.

Iqbal and MILF panel member Al Kamlian moved towards the other wing at 1:34 p.m. , greeting members of civil society who were waiting at the lobby café, but were seen passing by the lobby café at 1:56 p.m. on their way back to Kalaw Room for the 2 p.m. meeting.

Tengku was seen passing by the lobby café on his way back to Kalaw Room at 2:07 p.m.

Iqbal and Mike Pasigan, Executive Director of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) passed by the lobby café at 2:32 p.m. and were seen entering the Lawin Room at 2:33 p.m.., passing by the lobby café en route to Kalaw Room at 3:05 p.m.

Deles moved out of Lawin room when Iqbal and Pasigan entered and proceeded to the lobby café, looking for members of the Mindanao Peaceweavers who were bringing flowers, fruits and chocolates for both the GPH and MILF panels.

Hataman had earlier gone to the lobby café for a huddle with civil society representatives and some participants to the 10-day “workshop.”

When Iqbal and Pasigan returned to Kalaw Room, the MILF panel immediately met while the government panel members also met with Ochoa at the Lawin Room.

“Immediate ways forward”

Iqbal and Pasigan were again seen passing the lobby café from Kalaw Room at 5:23 p.m., entering Lawin Room as Deles and company moved out of there, and were seen passing the lobby café at 5:37 p.m.

When MindaNews asked after the first meeting what he and Ochoa discussed, Iqbal replied, “immediate ways forward” but declined to provide details.

MindaNews learned from a government source that the second and shorter meeting between Iqbal and Ochoa, was just a handing over of a list of the issues that the MILF raised and which Ochoa would hand over to the President.

By 5:41 p.m., the GPH panel members returned to Kalaw Room for the plenary.

No specifics

During the half hour press conference that followed the plenary, Ferrer, Iqbal, GPH panel member Senen Bacani and MILF peace panel member Abhoud Syed Lingga, appeared uncomfortable when asked for specifics such as what exactly are the issues that have yet to be resolved, how many per cent of the issues have been resolved, how many of the 18 Articles in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law are now “mutually acceptable.”

The panel chairs were also not comfortable in answering the question, “Why was the Executive Secretary here?” (Ochoa left for Manila with Hataman after the meetings).

“We cannot confirm or cannot deny,” said Iqbal. “No comment,” said Ferrer. “We did see him around,” a reporter said.

On the issues that have yet to be resolved, Iqbal said, “maybe what is more urgent is what are the major issues under discussion right now – power-sharing wealth-sharing , administration of justice, policing , etc.. “

Asked to be more specific, Iqbal replied, “territory, powers of government, policing, admin of justice, transport, other issues. There are so many issues,” he said.

“Are you on the same page as to how many issues are still to be resolved? Ten? Seven? Five? Three? One?” MindaNews asked.

“Handful”

Bacani replied, “about a handful would be a good description of how many more issues. About a handful.”

Iqbal said they’ve “covered a lot of ground and settled a substantial part” but would not say what this “substantial part” is.

The press statement itself was also vague. It said the panels discussed in plenary and in small groups “specific issues such as fiscal autonomy and administration of justice.”

Ferrer, who was earlier quoted by Manila-based newspapers to have said they have reached an agreement over 70% of the 18 Articles told the press conference Sunday night, “at this point let’s not talk in terms of percentages.”

“How many of the 18 articles are now ‘mutually acceptable’?” the panels were asked.

Ferrer replied: “There are several articles that have been closed or almost closed except for a few remaining items, but the longest articles containing provisions that cover the parts of power and wealth-sharing annexes, because precisely they are. long, there are more items that will still have to be agreed on.”

PNoy-Murad meeting

Ferrer said, “from here, all issues are remanded to our principals and then the next steps undertaken as soon as possible” but what these “next steps” are, neither Ferrer nor Iqbal gave specifics.

“We will be consulting our principals after which we have several mechanisms that we can utilize to be able to resolve the remaining portions where common language is not yet found,” Ferrer said.

What these “mechanisms” are, Ferrer didn’t say but she emphasized that the deadline they set “expresses our common sense of urgency to finish the mutually acceptable draft and also to reassure our respective members of Congress that this being an urgent bill, we are not going to make it very difficult for them to undertake their own legislative process.”

MindaNews learned form government and MILF sources that among the “next steps” is that the panels will meet again “this week.”

Asked if President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim would meet “before the 18th or after the 18th,” Iqbal said the meeting is “still in the pipeline but as to timeline, we have not yet decided on that but in principle that is one of the options.”

Both panels have yet to decide on what to do with the final “workshop” results — whether these would be returned to the BTC as Ferrer said on Day One because it was the BTC that elevated the issues raised about the draft BBL in a resolution no July 3, or to Kuala Lumpur as proposed by Iqbal also on Day One, or to the principals.

Lingga said, “I think the decision will be made after we’ve finished the draft. We cannot tell you now what we will do about it.”

Asked separately at the close of Day 6 if they were already on the same page as to where to bring the “workshop results” on Day 10 – whether to BTC or to Kuala Lumpur – Ferrer said, “cross the bridge when we get there” while Iqbal said “pag-uusapan pa (we will still discuss it).

Tense moments, Rollercoaster ride

A reporter asked the panel chairs to describe the 10-day meeting. Iqbal said “tense moments are normal in negotiation. That makes it very, very exciting,” eliciting laughter from the “workshop” participants who stayed on for the presscon.

“In a negotiation, we have to be soft on people and hard on issues,” Iqbal said, adding they are “articulating what is good for the Bangsamoro people and not bad for the Philippine government. We have to be very firm on that.”

Iqbal stressed that one essential element of a negotiation is “you manage your emotions. If you cannot manage your emotion, then I think you are in trouble.”

Ferrer described the 10-day meeting as a “rollercoaster ride but at the end of it we’re still together and we’re still committed to finish the job.”

More recess period, fewer session days in Congress

During his State of the Nation Address on July 28, President Aquino was expected to have submitted to Congress and certified as “urgent” the “mutually acceptable” draft Basic Law that he wants passed before yearend 2014.

Ferrer said the Bangsamoro Basic Law is listed number 1 among the 27 priority bills of the Aquino administration.

Congress has very few session days left until the end of the year.

According to the legislative calendar, Congress will go on break on September 27 to October 19, November 1 to 16, and December 20, 2014 to January 18, 2015. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2014/08/11/gph-milf-draft-bangsamoro-basic-law-done-by-aug-18-in-sha-allah/

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