Peace panels resolve territoral scope of ancestral domain

“We’ve overcome the hurdle,” government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia told MindaNews in a telephone interview at around 11:30 a.m. today, just before Garcia left Kuala Lumpur for Manila.

“This is a big boost forwad,” Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel, told MindaNews in a text message from Kuala Lumpur.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday night, the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and MILF peace panels expressed “deep satisfaction over the successful resolution of major issues to overcome the impasse last September 2006 over the Ancestral Domain agenda on territory.”

The statement provided no details on how the impasse was broken but mentioned mid-November as the date for the resumption of the exploratory talks and that formal peace talks would to formalize an agreement on the ancestral domain agenda would be held “before the end of the year.”

“The Parties express 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,” the Joint Statement read.

Garcia said they have resolved the issue on the territorial scope of the ancestral domain agenda, particularly the area of coverage of the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) through “creative proposals” and “meeting of the minds.”

“I cannot be more specific than that,” he told MindaNews.

Both panels had earlier agreed that the core of the BJE would be the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). The contentious issues that led to the impasse was on the inclusion of some contested areas outside the ARMM.

ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of  Marawi and Lamitan.

The ARMM, set up in 1990, became the area of autonomy for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when it signed a “final peace agreement” with the Philippine government in 1996. The area should  have been expanded through the Special Zone for Peace and Development (Szopad) which MNLF chair Nur Misuari, also ARMM governor, would head. The Szopad was intended to get the other provinces and cities become part of the development efforts pending the passage of  the law that would amend the law creating the ARMM, to allow for its expansion.

Malacanang thought then that non-ARMM provinces that would benefit from the Szopad, may want to join the expanded ARMM. Only Basilan joined the ARMM in the August 2001 plebiscite on the expanded ARMM.

The government earlier offered the MILF an “enhanced autonomy” but the MILF rejected the proposal saying the autonomous region is “an experiment that does not and will not work.”

Iqbal said he is glad the impasse has been broken but added he is aware there are still obstacles along the way.

 “The twists and turns ahead are very crucial and the parties can’t be complacent. They must draw in their remaining stamina and will to surmount the obstacles that lie ahead,” he told MindaNews.

Historian Rudy Rodil, vice chair of the government peace panel, said the 13-month impasse was broken through a “series of meetings from December 2006, including back-channels and special sessions.”

Also, he said, “both parties are determined to have a political settlement” and although there are still issues to be resolved in the next talks, “we are over the hump now.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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