GPH, MILF resume peace talks in KL 12 days before end of 1st quarter

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 March) –  The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels resume negotiations Monday in Kuala Lumpur, 12 days before the end of the first quarter, the period within which both panels had hoped to forge a peace agreement.

But a comprehensive peace agreement does not appear to be forthcoming, at least not in the next 12 days as sources from both panels say they have yet to surmount challenges they left behind in the peace talks last month.

“Let us redouble our efforts to conclude these negotiations in the soonest possible time.  The sooner, the better,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said in his February 13 opening statement.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on the same day asked the government peace panel to “consider seriously from now on putting all these agreed points including the 11-point formulation” in December 2011 “into formal documents and sign them, so we can tell ourselves that indeed we have achieved something and we are moving forward.”

For the first time in the peace negotiations under the Aquino administration,  consultants will join the peace panels this week. Both parties agreed in the February talks to invite two consultants each when they resume talks this month.

The panels have yet to announce the names of the consultants attending the talks.

The panels ended their three-day talks on contentious substantive issues on February 11 with a carefully worded statement that  expressed “satisfaction on the progress of their discussions” but recognized the “many challenges that have  yet to be resolved in order to find a political solution to the Bangsamoro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.”

The Statement acknowledged the “need to explore creative approaches that will address the political, legal and other dimensions of the problem.”

The panels are resolving issues on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, and interim period.

“Within the first quarter”

In the January 2012 talks, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal expressed optimism an agreement would be forged soon.

In his opening statement on January 9, Leonen said “within this first quarter, let us attempt to craft an agreement” while Iqbal said “we want to finish this process as soon as possible and give our people the much sought for peace.”

The  first quarter ends on March 31.

When the talks ended on  January 11, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) issued a press statement quoting Leonen as saying, “we have inched forward but not fast enough” and that there was “very slight movement.”

In the February talks, Leonen and Iqbal  were more cautious in their language.

“We propose that in this round of talks, we focus once more on the substantive issues and explore common grounds. We acknowledge that the issues that we tackle now are the more difficult ones but we are optimistic that we can find mutually viable solutions. Let us redouble our efforts to conclude these negotiations in the soonest possible time.  The sooner, the better,” Leonen said in his February 13 opening statement.

Iqbal on the other hand said all the issues had been laid on the table: power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, and interim period and “we must tighten our belt and continue to deal with these issues head-on, bearing in the mind that time is running out, if we are to take into consideration the view of the GPH that the comprehensive compact has to be signed next month.”

An OPAPP press release on February 15 quoted Leonen as saying the peace process with the MILF “has moved forward… Now we have moved at least a few feet” and that “the day will come, I hope very, very soon that we will be able to sign a peace agreement.”

Monthly meeting

The panels met for formal exploratory talks four times last year but have been meeting monthly since December 2011.

When the Aquino administration took over on June 30, 2010,  it gave priority to the peace process with the Bangsamoro.  But issues over the talks facilitator delayed the resumption of the talks. It took six months for the two panels to finally sit down, initially informally, in January 2011.

The two panels held their first formal exploratory talks in February 2011, with the MILF presenting its draft peace settlement proposing a sub-state within the Philippines where they can exercise self-governance. In subsequent consultations with various secotrs, Iqbal would say they are not asking for a separate state or independence but genuine autonomy.

The next talks were held in April. The panels canceled a planned June meeting to give way to a historic meeting between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on August 4 in Tokyo, Japan, the President accompanied by Leonen and key Cabinet officials, Ebrahim accompanied by Iqbal and members of the MILF Central Committee.

In the one-on-one talks between Aquino and Murad, both agreed to fast-track the peace process to ensure a peace agreement is forged within the first half of the President’s term, so the peace agreement can be implemented within his administration. The President bows out of office  noon of June 30, 2016.

But the peace negotiations nearly collapsed on August 23, when the GPH panel presented its “three-for-one” formula that the MILF peace panel rejected. Leonen quickly replied, “We reject your rejection.”  The talks adjourned on the second day of the three-day schedule as both parties sought to consult their respective principals.

They met again informally in November before finally sitting down across the negotiating table in December.

Since December, the panels have been holding three-day negotiations monthly: on December 5 to 7,  January 9 to 11, February 13 to 15 and this week, March 19 to 21.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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