GPH, MILF agree to hold “formal" exploratory talks on Feb. 9 and 10

UPDATED
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 January) – The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed in a day-long “informal” exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur today to hold “formal” exploratory talks on February 9 and 10 in the Malaysian capital.

The panel representatives also agreed to formally seek the renewal of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) during the “formal” exploratory talks next month.

No joint statement was issued because it was “informal,” Marvic Leonen, GPH peace panel chair, told MindaNews.

Malaysian facilitator Datuk Othman bin Razak, the subject of an impasse between the panels over the last two months because the government wanted him changed while the MILF wanted him retained, facilitated today’s meeting, the first ever under the six-month old Aquino administration.

The Kuala Lumpur agreement was a product of a “2 plus 1” meeting of the panels from 9:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m. today (January 13). “Two plus one” refers to the chair and another panel member plus the head of the secretariat” of each panel.

The GPH panel was represented by Leonen and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer with Iona Jalijali, head of the panel secretariat. The MILF peace panel was represented by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and Datu Michael Mastura with Jun Montawil, head of the panel secretariat.

Iqbal and Mastura could not be reached for comment as of 9:30 p.m.

Leonen said the MILF gave a list of 25 members who are reportedly detained. “The government committed to review the cases,” he said.

He said the panel representatives also agreed to reiterate the agreement on security guaranteees and will issue identity cards to members of the MILF participating in the peace negotiations.

In a statement posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Leonen said the GPH panel “welcomes the solution of the Malaysian government on the concerns raised regarding facilitation. It is optimistic that talks will move forward constructively.”

What the “solution” is, Leonen did not say.

“This is a good indication that the peace talks will soon resume,” Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) said of the informal talks. “The reactivation of the AHJAG will help minimize the resurgence of criminality, especially rido (vendetta killings),” he said.

Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), said, “it is encouraging to hear that there is an agreement to move forward. The extension of the mandate of the IMT and AHJAG is most welcome, giving respite from tensions in (Southwestern) Mindanao.”

“That the Philippine government has acquiesced to facilitation by Datuk Othman for now is a wise decision. Now it is time to buckle down and deal with the contentious issues still to be settled. We can only pray that Congress and other actors will support the process,” she said.

“Wonderful,” historian Rudy Rodil, former vice chair of the government peace panel member, said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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