MIND DA NEWS: Annex on Wealth-Sharing snagged

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 June) – Initialed last February 27, the Annex on Wealth-Sharing has remained snagged and, together with the other annexes, can delay longer – if not much longer – the signing of the Government – Moro Islamic Liberation Front Comprehensive Agreement and the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by the Transition Commission.

Two media reports reveal the snag to be a source of concern. The MILF opposes the attempts of Government to have changes in the initialed document. Government says MILF “should give up” some of its demands in wealth-sharing, as well as in power-sharing, that cannot be devolved to Bangsamoro; these are hampering the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement.

Reported Luwaran.com, the MILF Central Committee on Information website (June 12, 2013: MILF to hold on to initialed annex on wealth-sharing ):

“The government had their first change of position vis-à-vis the initialed document especially on natural resources and block grant to Bangsamoro government during the 38th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks last April 9-11.  The MILF negotiating team vehemently objected to the changes.”

Luwaran quoted Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel “Except for those that are in harmony with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), we don’t accept the changes introduced by government on wealth-sharing,” who said that “the MILF is sticking to the initialed document”.

“The second backtracking is contained in the so-called ‘notes’ recently sent to the MILF through the Malaysian facilitator, Dato Tengku Ab’ Ghafar Bin Tengku Mohamed, who visited the MILF leadership at Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindano last June 7.” Iqbal refused to divulge the content of the “notes”.

Luwaran further revealed:

(1) MILF has no plan to abandon the initialed document. Backtracking by any of the two parties is a serious drawback to the peace process.

(2) From a peace panel member: “The peace negotiation is an exercise in futility if there is no stop to this changing of positions by the government negotiating team. We are not renegotiating the initialed document,”

(3) The “notes” sent by the government to the MILF peace panel is an attempt to throw the blame on the MILF for making it appear that the ball is in our court.

(4) From Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the MILF Committee on Information: “Two changes of positions in a row within the span of two months is alarming.”

(5) Frustration on the ground is gaining momentum, as a consequence of too much unnecessary delay from government. Radical elements within the MILF are beginning to be restive and hitting the MILF and its peace panel.

(6) Three months have elapsed since the annex on wealth-sharing was initialed without clear direction for the talks. Government is sitting on it unnecessarily in the guise of due diligent study.

Luwaran did not indicate what in the “notes” from the government has made it appear “the ball is in the MILF court”. This, however, may be inferred from the press statement of Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Government peace panel.

Her statement appended to The Philippine Star report (June 13, 2013: Gov’t, MNLF resume talks) is revealing. Could this be in the “notes” of Government to MILF?

The MILF should give up some of their demands to achieve a final peace agreement under the proposed Bangsamoro government. There are provisions proposed by the MILF that the government cannot devolve to the Bangsamoro. One is the MILF proposal that the budget of the Bangsamoro government would be automatically appropriated separate from the annual general appropriations act (GAA).

The other contentious issues that hamper the early signing of the peace agreement are the provisions of power sharing where the government maintains that it cannot delegate to the Bangsamoro the handling of national defense, foreign relations, customs and tariff, and immigration.

She said obviously exhorting the MILF: “These are issues when, if you will not bend, surely we will not be able to arrive into an agreement. So, these are the challenges. So we really have to see that in the process of our aspiration we cannot have all of this.”

MILF understands Ferrer as saying “the ball is in your court”.

What are the causes for concern?

First: Behind their beautifully worded Joint Statements apparently stalk distrust and reservations with each other’s sincerity. While expressing optimism of success, they are now warning each other of the responsibility for the looming failure.

Second: As reported by Luwaran, the Annex on Wealth-Sharing was initialed by former Secretary Senen Bacani and Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the government and MILF peace panels, respectively. However, during the final stage of the discussion of wealth-sharing, no less than Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, chairs of the government and MILF peace panels, respectively,  led the discussion, which culminated in the initialing of the document last February 27.

This means all the provisions in the initialed documents were mutually agreed by the two Parties. For the last three months after the initialing, Government has proposed changes to which MILF has objected.  Does it mean that Ferrer had no full authority, or she exceeded her authority, to commit Government in the negotiation?

Third: In the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro [III.2], (a) defense and external security, and (b) foreign policy are among the powers reserved for the Central Government.  If, as Ferrer has said, MILF is demanding for these in their power-sharing proposal, does it mean MILF was insincere in signing the FAB?

The snag cannot be downplayed. It explains why there was no exploratory talk in May after the election as previously announced. This must explain why two weeks in June are about to pass without any announcement as to when the next exploratory talk will be. The drafting of the BBL is further set back by another month.

How much longer will the signing of the Annexes be delayed – all four, not just the wealth-sharing? Bangsamoro is imperiled! (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)