Unresolved facilitation issue in GRP-MILF peace talks delays resumption

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 November) – The still unresolved issue of facilitation in the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been cited as the reason behind the delay of the resumption of the talks under the new Aquino administration,

Government peace panel member Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told a forum over the weekend on “Moving Forward”  in the peace process, that while the government is ready,  ”we need maayos na proseso” (orderly process), referring to the “process of facilitation, the pending status of which has not enabled the immediate commencement of talks.”

Malaysia, which has been facilitating the talks since 2001, remains as the facilitator but the Aquino administration has expressed some concerns on the facilitation.

“You do have to agree with me that should one side have concerns with respect to how the facilitation is set up, that it is entitled to raise these concerns through the proper channels,”  Ferrer said.

“In any negotiation there should be a level of comfort with regards the infrastructure for the talks that will carry us through for the long haul. This is a matter we would like to believe the other party deems equally essential to address,” Ferrer told some 60 media executives and senior journalists attending the 6th Mindanao Media Summit at the Garden Oases Convention Center here.

She added [the government] was coming up with much better proposals on facilitation and other matters because “I don’t think it’s proper to start where the previous administration ended…Both parties should be comfortable with the process.”

But MILF negotiator Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, speaking in the same forum, said “the MILF is not negotiating with a particular administration or particular persons but with the Philippine republic, hence, all agreements signed since 1997 are binding on both parties.”

Lingga said the resumption of talks should begin at the point where negotiations ended last June 3, 2010, adding any attempt to disregard the gains of the negotiation will derail the peace process.

He insisted that protocols already established should be recognized and that there’s no need to change procedures including that of facilitation even if a new administration has taken over.

“If there are issues raised, these should be discussed in formal negotiation,” he said.

He reiterated that the talks should resume based on the June 3, 2010 agreement the MILF  signed with the Arroyo government.

B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc, an alternate member to the MILF peace panel said the Front was not
to blame for the slow pace of negotiation.

Kinoc called President Aquino’s statement that talks would resume after Ramadan an open-ended statement since it did not mention a specific date.

But Ferrer said it would be counterproductive to impute that the delay [in the resumption of talks] was caused by the President’s alleged insincerity as the government was just concerned with the process.

“We had wanted the facilitation issue to have been resolved much earlier, but it has taken longer. If we can simply meet and sit down with each other, these talks would have been underway weeks ago.  But, like you, we are concerned with process and therefore raise our concerns in the proper way,” she said.

Before facing each other at the negotiating table, the panels communicate with each other through the facilitator, Malaysia.

Ferrer said the government will reach out to the grassroots, influential sectors in and out of government as well as get lawmakers on board the peace process.

She pointed out that the Aquino administration did not want a repeat of the 2008 scenario, apparently referring to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain debacle.

Ferrer said “we learned our lessons in 2008” and “not everything rests on the executive and political will should be able to generate national consensus.”

She said implementing [a future agreement] should not be difficult by reaching out to all segments that will be part of the implementation.

“The House and the Senate should be one with us in the process. The bigger public including the media should be reached out for them to understand the issue,” she added.

“Each lawmaker is a power,” she said in explaining the move to include members of Congress in the advisory body to be convened by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Lingga assured the MILF agenda did not include calls for an independent Bangsamoro state, only the “highest form of self-governance for the Bangsamoro and equitable sharing of resources found in their homeland”.

He said the great challenge is whether the President has the political will “to surmount all obstacles and oppositions including well entrenched spoilers once the peace talks starts or when an agreement will be signed”.

He urged the media to undertake an “advocacy for a more liberal interpretation of the Philippine Constitution and for changes to the Constitution to accommodate Bangsamoro aspirations and to educate the Filipino people on the GRP-MILF negotiation, the importance of its success, and the costs of the conflict if it will continue.”

The Summit organizers invited government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal. Both opted to send representatives. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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