Gov’t, MILF peace panels break 13-month impasse

The  seven-paragraph Joint Statement, signed by Philippine government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, did not provide details on how the impasse was broken but said the two-day meeting ended “on a high note” with both sides expressing “deep satisfaction” over the “successful resolution of major issues to overcome the impasse last September 2006 over the Ancestral Domain agenda on territory.”

The Joint Statement , signed at around 8:15 tonight, acknowledged  the critical gains achieved in the last two days which, it said, “embodied the culmination of intensive backchannel efforts since February 2007.”

The two panels said they are ready to resume the next round of exploratory talks “by mid-November” and noted that the peace process is “firmly back on track towards the holding of the Formal Talks before the end of the year, thereby concluding the negotiations on Ancestral Domain.”

The two panels expressed their “full appreciation to the international community and other concerned parties whose unflagging support and encouragement helped sustain the momentum of the peace process.”

Earlier,  several  embassies and international donor organizations warned  of possibly cutting off aid or pulling out their personnel doing development work in Mindanao as they expressed concern over  the slow progress of the talks.

The peace panels’ Joint Statement came hours after Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told reporters in Davao City that while the peace process with the MILF was “having bumps and humps,” it is “progressing.”

Dureza met with Davao City reporters from 5:25 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City, on the sidelines of an East Asean Growth Area (EAGA) conference.

He declined to give details on what government  has proposed to the MILF but assured that every commitment that would be made in the agreement  “would pass through both the legislative and the constitutional process.”

Dureza, who served as government peace panel chair from January 2001 to May 2003,  said the executive department  has assured the MILF its full support to the agreement the two panels would be able to forge.

He said negotiations for sustainable peace require a give and take process and that there has to be some concessions “just like in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement signed by the government with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).”

“The legacy of peacebuilding doesn’t happen overnight. It cannot just be switched  on and off,” he said, adding the difficult part is in its implementation.

Dureza stressed they are hoping to find convergence in the peace agreement with the MNLF and that of the MILF.

He announced that the tripartite meeting between the government and the MNLF and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will push through on November  6 to 8. 

The OIC-facilitated meeting seeks to review the implementation of the 11-year old peace agreement.

Dureza said the 20-member Philippine delegation will be led by Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan, the vice chair of the government peace panel that negotiated with the MNLF from 1993 to 1996.

MNLF chair Nur Misuari’s participation in the tripartite meeting is still uncertain. Dureza said only the court can decide if he would be allowed to attend the meeting. Misuari has been detained on charges of rebellion since January 2002.

Dureza stressed that apart from the peace negotiations, the peace process with the MILF also involves peacebuilding, spreading of the culture of peace, and rehabilitation of communities.

He said nearly about a tenth, or US$4.6 million of the Mindanao Trust Fund targeted at US$50 million, had been raised.

Dureza said he was optimistic a peace agreement with the MILF could be signed by middle of next year.

“As someone who oversees the negotiations, I think we could sign by the middle of next year. January is still too optimistic,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Walter I. Balane/MindaNews) 

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