GRP, MILF peace panels didn’t even see each other in KL

The talks, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on December 15 at the Sheraton Imperial, did not push through.  Instead, Datuk Othman bin Abdul Razak, the Malaysian facilitator informed government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia that the MILF had called off the meeting.

Government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia was unavailable for comment but MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews in a telephone interview Tuesday morning (December 18) that they opted to call off the meeting because “if we did not, we would have ended in an impasse again.”

The talks had earlier ended in an impasse, in September 2006 on the aspect of territory under the ancestral domain agenda. It was only on October 24 this year when the two panels finally broke the 13-month impasse and expressed “deep satisfaction over the successful resolution of major issues to overcome the impasse.”

In the Joint Statement signed that day, Garcia and Iqbal said 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 met again last month in Kuala Lumpur and were supposed to meet last weekend to finalize the Memorandum of Agreement on the consensus points on the four aspects of Ancestral Domain: the earlier agreed upon concept, resources and governance, and the last to be resolved – territory.

As agreed upon, the two panels were supposed to submit last week their draft agreement to the Malaysian facilitator, who will then pass this on the other party.

Iqbal said they submitted their draft, cleared by their Central Committee, a week ago, while still in Manila. The government peace panel, meanwhile, submitted their draft to Malacanang for clearance from the Cabinet’s Security Cluster. The draft, now containing the phrase the MILF had objected to – “constitutional process” was submitted to the Malaysian facilitator only towards midnight on the 14th, in Kuala Lumpur.

Iqbal said the government’s draft was a “chop-chop of the consensus points” and contained “new elements” and the “constitutional process” phrase.

The MILF, he acknowledged, introduced into their draft agreement a provision on the percentage sharing under the natural resources aspect. He admitted the provision was “not discussed” in the earlier meetings but said this was “minor” compared with the government peace panel’s “reneging on the consensus points.”

“We are not also asking them (government peace panel) to violate the Constitution,” Iqbal said.

“But that’s what government is saying. Not mentioning the Constitutional process will make them violate the Constitution, they say, because expanding the ARMM area necessarily requires a plebiscite under the present set-up,” MindaNews asked.

“Hindi kami makikialam doon (That’s not our concern.…. It’s up for them,” he said, explaining that in 2005, the government panel offered them a federal state which, he said, was “also a violation of the Constitution but that was up to them already on how they would (effect such a federal state).”

Iqbal in a December 15 statement from Kuala Lumpur which he signed as MILF information chief, said the government’s draft agreement was  “totally unacceptable.”

He said the government panel “reneged from the consensus points on the four strands of Ancestral Domain …This stance of the GRP Peace Panel has virtually jeopardized the integrity of the peace process and to continue with the talks would virtually turn it into a circus. The government Peace Panel has introduced extraneous and new matters not discussed and taken upon by the Parties during the previous exploratory talks on Ancestral Domain that led to the signing of several consensus points on Ancestral Domain.”

Iqbal also added that the MILF, since the start of the talks in January 1997, “has been serious in finding a just, lasting, and comprehensive political settlement of the Moro Problem and the conflict in Mindanao and, therefore, has detested and will not participate in any double deal,” adding that for the MILF,  “it is better to have no agreement at all than to enter into a bad agreement.”

“We believe that spoilers of the peace process right at the corridors of powers are at work behind the scene to intervene again at the expense of our honorable counterpart from the government, without the knowledge of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” he said, warning that the “ugly turn of event in the peace process is taxing the patience of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, who may be compelled to resort to other means, pacific or otherwise, of resolving the Mindanao Conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the present peace process.”

Father Roberto Layson, vice chair of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus and head of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates’ Inter-Religious Dialogue said what happened in Kuala Lumpur last weekend “is not good news especially that the Christmas season is approaching. But I still believe that the two parties will be able to hurdle the difficult process of negotiation especially on the ancestral domain issue. They have done it in the past.”

Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said this “puts to test the political will of the government to overcome the impasse. The ball is now in the hands of the government.”

Garcia was accompanied to Kuala Lumpur by peace panel vice chair Rudy Rodil, members Sylvia Paraguya and Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser, and lawyers Leah Armamento of the Department of Justice and Sedfrey Candelaria.

Iqbal was accompanied by panel members Lanang Ali, Datu Michael Mastura, Musib Buat and Maulana Alonto, and Abdulla Camlian, head of the MILF Technical Committee.

Iqbal told MindaNews they were returning home from Kuala Lumpur on December 19 and that the status of the talks is “a waiting game.”

He said the Malaysian facilitator will likely be shuttling from one panel to the other. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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