Impasse broken by compromise on “immediate” and “later” inclusion

The two panels had earlier agreed that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) would constitute the core of the future BJE.  In addition, the government peace panel proposed the possible inclusion of 613 Moro-dominated villages in Mindanao subject to a plebiscite while the MILF proposed the inclusion of a much wider area.

The disparity between the proposals eventually led to an impasse in early September last year.

With the issue on territory resolved last week, Murad told MindaNews they are “optimistic” the panels will sign an agreement on ancestral domain “before the end of the year.”

In their Joint Statement at the end of a two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur on October 24, peace panel chairs Rodolfo Garcia of the Philippine government and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF, expressed their “readiness to resume the next round of exploratory talks by mid-November.”

“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,” they said.

The last time the panels met for Formal Talks was in October 2001. The last time they held exploratory, which ended in an impasse, was in September last year.

The GRP-MILF peace process is divided into three major aspects: Security; Rehabilitation and Development; and Ancestral Domain.

The two parties had agreed on the Security and Rehabilitation and Development aspects and their implementing guidelines as early as 2001 and 2002.

But President Arroyo suspended the holding of formal talks in March 2002. In February 2003, a day after the government peace panel then headed by Jesus Dureza, the military attacked the MILF camp in Buliok, Pagalungan, base of then MilF chair Salamat Hashim.

With the Ancestral Domain agreement expected to be signed before yearend, the parties can then proceed to the final phase.

“Once all three aspects are resolved, these will be consolidated into a comprehensive peace compact,” the Primer on the GRP-MILF Peace Process said.

The primer, prepared by the Joint Advocacy Group composed of historian Rudy Rodil and Sylvia Paraguya, a Lumad, for the government; and Datu Michael Mastura, also a historian, and former newspaper editor Maulana Alonto, for the MILF peace panel, was distributed in October 2006 during a peace leaders’ forum convened by the Bishops-Ulama Forum and the Mindanao Peaceweavers at the Mandaya Hotel in Davao City.

Murad said the compromise on territory that was reached during the KL meeting was a formula that would have “ARMM plus contiguous areas” join the BJE “immediately” with the other areas, “not necessarily all contiguous” joining “later.” He declined to elaborate on “later” although this presumably refers to within or after a transition period the panels still have to agree upon.

The present ARMM comprises six of 27 Mindanao provinces, namely  Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan (carved out of Maguindanao last year) and Basilan, and two of Mindanao’s 33 cities: Marawi and the newly-created Lamitan.

The MILF had earlier rejected the government’s offers of an “expanded” or “enhanced” ARMM, claiming it is a failure.

The incumbent ARMM officials, elected in 2005, will end their three-year term of office in September next year.

The government-MILF’s Joint Primer had included this issue in the seven-question
primer they distributed last year. Question Number 5 states, “What are the implications of the GRP-MILF process to the ARMM, the MNLF and the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Accord?”

The answer of both panels is: “The elected officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will serve their full term until September 2008. The Philippine Government remains committed to the full implementation of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement of 1996.”

The government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will hold a Tripartite Meeting convened by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) next month in Jeddah, to discuss what have yet to be implemented in the 11-year old “Final Peace Agreement.”

Murad said he expects opposition from some sectors on what would constitute the BJE. 

“That’s quite natural,” he said, adding, “but we are negotiating with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. The entire population of the Philippines, other than the MILF, is represented by the GRP. It is the responsibility of the government to address (the opposition).”

MILF peace panel chair Iqbal said that is for government to address. “That’s why we’re asking the government to make the peace process a national agenda,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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