GRP-MILF peace talks: a history of disappointments

Less than two months ago, in October, the two panels finally broke the 13-month impasse on the territory aspect of the ancestral domain issue.

“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,”  government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said in their Joint Statement on October 24.

The panels met again and issued a joint statement from Kuala Lumpur on November 15, affirming “all previous points of consensus on the core items of the territory issue” of the ancestral domain agenda.

“The successful outcome of discussions clears the way for the drafting of the memorandum of agreement on Ancestral Domain which shall be tabled at the Formal Peace Talks scheduled early 2008,” the Nov. 15 Joint Statement said.

The  proposed signing of the agreement on ancestral domain, the last agenda item after security and rehabilitation; and the resumption of formal talks, had been repeatedly mentioned in Joint Statements issued by the peace panel chairs.

The optimism over the signing and resumption of formal talks heightened on Feburary 7 last year when the government panel, then headed by Silvestre Afable and the MILF’s Iqbal signed a Joint Statement on their 10th Exploratory Talks announcing they had wrapped up the last remaining points on the ancestral domain issue and had agreed to forge “as soon as possible” an overall framework for the formal peace talks in late March, with an “indicative timeline for the signing of a comprehensive agreement…… before the end of the year.”

The February 2006 talks ended with both panels “successfully wrapping up the consensus points of the ancestral domain issue, and placing the peace process on track for concluding the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-M ILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of June 22, 2001,” the Joint Statement read.

The agreement on ancestral domain, the Joint Statement said, “may be signed by late March 2006, simultaneously with the inception of the formal talks.”

Among the consensus points on ancestral domain that the two panels agreed upon were: the “joint determination of the scope of the Bangsamoro homeland based on the technical maps and data submitted by both sides; measures to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people arising from their unjust dispossession and/or marginalization; Bangsamoro people’s right to utilize and develop their ancestral domain and ancestral lands; and economic cooperation arrangements for the benefit of the entire Bangsamoro people.”

The two panels agreed to “forge as soon as possible an overall framework for the forthcoming formal talks, together with an inventory of crucial issues to be tackled, the general procedures and parameters and the indicative timeline for the signing of a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the MILF before the end of the year.“

March 2006 passed uneventfully for the GRP and MILF peace panels. By early September, the exploratory talks ended in an impasse over territory.

A year before that, in September 2005, the peace panels scored a breakthrough on the issue of governance.

The Joint Statement signed by Afable and Iqbal then noted that the talks ended with “the parties successfully concluding the most difficult hurdle in the ancestral domain agenda.”

“With this breakthrough, the peace process is on track to complete the ancestral domain agenda before the end of the year,” it said.

The year 2005, like 2006, passed with no agreement on ancestral domain.

Iqbal in an interview in early May 2005 told MindaNews the MILF was considering four governance possibilities in the negotiated political settlement: federal, commonwealth, association of free states and independence.

He explained they had not presented to the government peace panel their “exact position” on any of the four possibilities but ruled out autonomy as an option. “That’s out of the question. We will not discuss autonomy. It’s a failure,” he said.

“We will never sign an agreement with government on the basis of autonomy. We have made that very clear,” Iqbal said.

In December 2004, the discussions on ancestral domain, the last of the three major agenda items aside from security and rehabilitation, were divided into four strands – concept, territory, resources and governance.

A breakthrough on the first three strands happened during the 7th round of exploratory talks in April 2005.

More than the breakdowns, the GRP-MILF talks had also been disrupted by two major wars – in 2000 under Estrada and in 2003 under Arroyo,.

The Estrada administration’s “all out war” in 2000 killed hundreds of civilians and combatants and displaced nearly a million villagers. It led to the collapse of the talks and the disbandment of the MILF peace panel by August that year.

The peace talks resumed in 2001 under the “all out peace” campaign of President Arroyo. That same year, the GRP-MILF peace panels signed two major agreements – on  security and rehabilitation – two of the three agenda items, the third being ancestral domain.

On February 10, 2003, the government peace panel, then led by Jesus Dureza (now Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process),  presented to House Speaker Jose de Venecia,  then Senate President Franklin Drilon, a draft final peace agreement with the MILF,, offering “enhanced autonomy” as the political settlement.

A day later, another war broke out in Pikit, North Cotabato and neighboring provinces, displacing at least 400,000 villagers. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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