The meetings will be held at the embassies of Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, said Randolph Parcasio, legal counsel of the MNLF and head of delegation in the November tripartite meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The joint working groups are supposed to submit their reports on January 10 for deliberation by the next Tripartite Meeting on January 14, 2008.
The five joint working groups, which shall be composed of three representatives each from the government and the MILF, are on the Shari’ah and Judiciary; the Special Regional Security Force and the Unified Command for the Autonomous Region in Mindanao; Natural Resources and Economic Development issues (including mines and minerals); Political system and representation; and Education. These are the same issues listed in Phase 2 of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
The working groups’ meetings will be attended by representatives of the OIC’s Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP).
The PCSP is an 11-nation expanded version of what used to be the Ministerial Committee of the Eight headed by Indonesia. The Committee of the Eight had earlier been tasked by the OIC to chair the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF, which has been holding an observer status in the OIC since 1977.
In the early 1970s, the OIC tasked a Committee of the Four which was later expanded to Six – Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Senegal and Somalia and in 2000 was expanded to Eight with the inclusion of Malaysia and Brunei.
The PCSP now includes Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan as chair of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers.
The working groups will look into the provisions of RA 9054, the law that was supposed to have incorporated the provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, and compare this with the Agreement’s provisions.
The venue for the January 14 Tripartite Meeting is “to be decided later” as no agreement was reached on the matter during the Jeddah talks in November.
Earlier, MNLF officials said they prefer Jeddah to remain the venue for the second Tripartite Meeting. Jeddah is the base of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which brokered the talks that led to the signing of the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements and which is again facilitating the tripartite review. The MNLF holds an observer status in the OIC.
Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan, head of the government delegation in the Jeddah meeting, told MindaNews he proposed the venue to be in Manila to give MNLF chair Nur Misuari a better chance at attending.
Misuari is presently detained in a bungalow in New Manila, Quezon City, for alleged rebellion. He has been detained in the country since January 2002, first at the bungalow in Fort Sto. Domingo, Laguna originally intended for deposed president Joseph Estrada, then at the St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City. His transfer to the New Manila detention house is for health considerations, to ensure he is near a hospital.
Misuari was arrested and detained in Sabah, Malaysia from late November 2001 until early January 2002, for alleged illegal entry.
The OIC had earlier repeatedly urged the Philippine government to free Misuari. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)