GPH, MILF peace panels agree to “move forward on substantive agenda”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 Nov) – The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels agreed in Kuala Lumpur today (Thursday) to “move forward on the substantive agenda” of the talks and meet again “very soon for this purpose.” At the same time they agreed to await recommendations relating to the review of the ceasefire mechanisms that may result from investigations that the International Monitoring Team and other ceasefire mechanisms, will conduct in Al-barka, Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen summarized what happened in Thursday’s “informal executive meeting” in a five-paragraph statement.

No joint statement was issued but Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the two panels “agreed to separately issue a statement with common points.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal affirmed the points in Leonen’s statement but told MindaNews in a telephone interview that they would issue a separate statement tonight.

“That’s okay,” he said of Leonen’s statement, but added, “we will still issue our own statement.”

Leonen described the meeting as a “candid exchange where both sides cleared the air about pressing issues regarding the negotiations.”

He said they “leveled off more on each other’s concepts and identified our common grounds as well as our differences” and as they had hoped,  “agreed to move forward on the substantive agenda and meet again very soon for this purpose.”

Thursday’s meeting came 72 days after they adjourned the talks on August 23,  following the MILF peace panel’s rejection of the government’s “3 for 1” proposed peace settlement.

Al-barka

On the incidents, particularly in Al-baka Bsilan, “we agreed that investigations through the ceasefire mechanisms shall continue to be conducted. These include those to be done by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in coordination with the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). We will await recommendations relating ot the review of ceasefire mechanisms that may result from these investigations,” Leonen said.

The IMT had announced last week it would conduct a probe in Basilan and Zmboanga Sibugay next week.

Leonen added that the MILF “reaffirmed that it will cooperate with Government with respect to its efforts to inderdict kidnap-for-ransom groups, criminal syndicates, and ‘lost commands’ pursuant to the Joint Communique and Implementing Guidelines of the AHJAG.”

The AHJAG  is a joint action team, represented by members from each panel, against “criminal elements operating in MILF areas/communities, in order to pursue and apprehend such criminal elements.” It was set up thorough an agreement in 2002 on the “isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups including so-called ‘Lost Commands’ operating in Mindanao”  and it is tasked to “establish a quick coordination system to enhance their communications and working relations for the successful apprehension or capture of criminal elements in accordance with the agreement.”

Criminal elements “operating outside MILF areas/communities are considered beyond the purview of the peace process.”

“It was a one-day, informal meeting hosted by the Malaysian facilitator, with each side represented by three panel members and the Panel Secretariat head,” Leonen said.

3 + 1 after 3 for 1

The “3 plus 1” meeting – or three panel members plus one — started at 9:30 a.m. at the Executive Boardroom of the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur,  the same room used by the GPH and MILF peace panels for the talks on August 22 and 23. The negotiations then were scheduled until the 24th but adjourned shortly before noon of August 23.

The government peace panel was represented by Leonen, members Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Senen Bacani and Iona Jalijali, head of the peace panel.secretariat while the MILF was represented by Iqbal, members Michael Mastura and Maulana Alonto and Jun Mantawil, head of the peace panel secretariat.

The last time the GPH and MILF peace panels met was on August 22 and 23. Unlike Thursday’s 3 + 1, the August meeting was attended by the five-member panels. The August negotiation was preceded by a meeting in Japan between President Benigno Simeon Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on August 4.

But the euphoria over the August 4 meeting was short-lived. When the government peace panel submitted its proposed peace settlement – the so-called “3 for 1” formula — on August 22, it was rejected by the MILF peace panel on August 23.

Leonen summed up the government’s “3 for 1” formula as massive economic development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment.

Finding the common ground

The MILF peace panel then said that they were recommending to the MILF Central Committee, the rejection of the proposal claiming the gap between the MILF proposal submitted on February 10 and the GPH proposal submitted on August 22 was like “heaven and earth.”

In a press conference in the afternoon of August 23 at the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Leonen said “it depends on who is looking at this gap, and on what prism or what filter to use.. of course from our perspective we think it is very workable. This gap is very workable. In other words, it is not too far apart. Of course from the statement made by the MILF, it appears to be a very wide chasm.”

He said these perspectives should be brought to the negotiating table so they can discuss them and move forward.

Iqbal told MindaNews  on August 23 that their proposal, which includes the Bangsamoro sub-state, was “a product of 10 years of negotiations and so many compromises already.”

“One significant compromise is we removed (from our draft) the option to secede,” he said, adding the government’s proposal was “way below our expectation.”

Iqbal said the negotiations would not be fast-tracked “if we use their draft.”

President Aquino and MILF chair Ebrahim had agreed in Japan on August 4 to fast-track the negotiations so that implementation can be done within  the term of the Aquino administration. The President serves until June 30, 2016.

The Malaysian facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, shuttled between the panels two weeks after the adjournment, to try to narrow down the gap and find some common ground. But since the visit of the Malaysian facilitator, both the GPH and MILF peace panels had kept mum about the peace process until the November 3 meeting.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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