Mind da News: Agreement Ahead? Or, Disillusion!

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, July 8, 2013 – After a lapse – call it just “lull” or, seriously, “impasse” or “stalemate” or “deadlock”, but not yet “breakdown” – of three months, the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have resumed today, July 8, until the 11th their much delayed negotiation on the Annexes, particularly that on wealth sharing. This is their 38th Exploratory Talks.

This resumption has been the most publicized of all talk openings dating back to 1997, running through 16 days. Obviously, the government has been eager to ease growing anxiety over fears that the peace talk was leading to a breakdown and the government was being blamed for it.

GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer has taken exception; the three-month break was not an “impasse” since there had been communication between the Parties through the Malaysian facilitator. That’s it exactly; during the negotiation on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, the Malaysian facilitator shuttled between Manila and Darapanan to break the impasses.

GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, in an article last June 21 posted in the website of OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) announced — not from Manila but Oslo, Norway – that the panels would meet early in July, giving no date, “to further discuss the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization”. The Manila media picked this up highlighting the government and MILF disagreements on the wealth sharing annex.

Ferrer met informally MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal at Oslo Forum 2013 on conflict mediation and peace processes. Ferrer said, she handed to Iqbal “the government’s full proposals on wealth sharing annex”. This was a departure from their agreed protocol of doing official business only through the Malaysian facilitator. But, how could Iqbal refuse the meeting and accepting the proposals at such a place and occasion?

In five successive articles – July 3, 4, 5 and 6 – Philippine Daily Inquirer announced the date, July 8, with Ferrer and the Palace as the sources. The two articles on July 6 were posted at a six-hour interval. The articles were merely rehashed. The July 5 and 6 reports quoted the July 5 OPAPP website posting, “PH hopes to finish wealth-sharing annex with MILf in next round of talks”.

In all these efforts through media to arouse and sustain public interest in the resumption of the talks on the annexes, two positions are evident: The government earnestly hopes with “resolve to complete the annex on the wealth-sharing annex” during the July 8-11 39th Exploratory Talks; Iqbal said: “I expect that it will be hard work.” In highlighting the government position in the OPAPP reports, the Manila media elicited MILF reactions.

In the July 5 OPAPP website posting, Ferrer said that the desire to sign the annex on wealth-sharing is mutual: “We’re both very conscious that we do want to finish (the Annex) as soon as possible; that we do need to find compromises to be able to put something in the text and sign on to it. It’s in this stage that both parties want to come to terms with the remaining issues, specially pertaining to the wealth-sharing annex that has taken a long time to process.”

After taking that long in studying with “due diligence” the initialed text on wealth-sharing, what has the government decided to offer? OPAPP said, “Coronel-Ferrer disclosed that the GPH proposal on wealth-sharing provides for a fiscal arrangement that is better than what exists in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

How better than the fiscal arrangement in the ARMM is the new GPH proposal? OPAPP quoted Ferrer: “There will be more taxing powers and a more defined sharing of government resources on the whole, in keeping with the goal of having a strong and viable autonomous Bangsamoro governance.”

What is the government’s thinking? When it’s better than the ARMM, it’s best for the Bangsamoro. This is oblivious of the fact that the MILF proposals have no reference whatsoever to the ARMM. “How better” it is really will be known by how the MILF will receive the amended proposals at the four-day exploratory talks.

Iqbal in reiterating the MILF position said: “The MILF has stood pat on keeping the initialed document” — without revealing details about the initialed document. He said the MILF Central Committee has “looked at the [amended] document but basically we are sticking to the original initialed document”.

The media reports reveal some specific disagreements. These must be just the top of the iceberg. Considering the three-month impasse, there should be more.

Reports Inquirer Mindanao (July 3, 2013: PH gov’t, MILF to hold talks July 8 to break deadlock):

“The MILF also pointed to some changes in the percentages of some wealth-sharing items. In its original proposal, the MILF sought a 75-25 sharing scheme in favor of the future Bangsamoro government.

“According to an MILF source, the government wants the 75-25 sharing scheme retained except for 50-50 for renewable energy and 100 percent for non-metallic resources.”

Where is the disagreement? After studying the initialed document with due diligence, the government approved the agreed 75 – 25 percentage wealth sharing in general but rejected the “50-50 for renewable energy and 100 percent for non-metallic resources.” The “50-50” percentage sharing is provided in Article XI, Section 5(b) of RA 9054. If reducedd in wealth-sharing annex, the fiscal arrangement – contrary to Ferrer’s claim – is not better than in the ARMM. The “100 percent for non-metallic resources” not being in RA 9054 would make the fiscal arrangement “better”.

Inquirer Mindanao (June 28, 2013: Gov’t-MILF peace talks back on track) reported another change in the initialed document, citing Iqbal:

“Although the agreement was initialed last February, the government is seeking to subject the annex on wealth-sharing to ‘some refinements’ after a due diligence review.

“Among other things, the government said it does not want to peg grants to the proposed future “Bangsamoro” government as a percentage of the total annual budget.

“Rather, it wants to peg the grants to a specific fund source, in keeping with generally accepted fiscal management practice as Ferrer explained earlier.”

Evidently, as agreed in the initialed document, the MILF wants to avoid the ARMM officials’ yearly trouble of appearing in budget congressional hearings haggling and defending the ARMM budget. For Bangsamoro to have yearly budgetary grant “as a percentage of the total annual [national] budget” is a better fiscal arrangement than what presently exists for the ARMM.

Inquirer Mindanao said “Iqbal would not elaborate on what he and Ferrer had discussed, but he said the ‘chance meeting’ did not change his pessimism about the peace process because of the government’s alleged backtracking on some agreements.” (Bold, italics supplied)

The media reports show just a few of what the Parties have to iron out during the four-day 39th Exploratory Talks. There must be more contentious issues. We have no way of fathoming them.

What lies ahead of the talks – an agreement or disillusion? Friday, July 12, should be the revelation day. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)