ARMM polls to proceed as scheduled; GPH, MILF now inching “closer to the same paragraph”

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (MindaNews/18 July) –  The Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front  peace panels ended their three-day talks here Wednesday with  a five-paragraph Joint Statement “expressing confidence in wrapping up” discussions on the transition from the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the “new autonomous political entity”  that would replace the ARMM.

While the talks did not yield a major breakthrough, the two panels managed to reach several consensus points during the talks held mostly in executive session and both agreed to continue discussions next month.

What these consensus points are, the Joint Statement, the shortest in the 10 times the two panels held “exploratory talks” under the Aquino administration (the 29th since 2003), does not say. GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal also declined to say what these are, explaining that other issues have yet to be resolved.

The Joint Statement merely said the discussions were on “mechanisms towards the realization of a new political entity that would replace the ARMM,” referring to the transition, and that they  “continued discussions on power-sharing and other related matters.”

But one of the consensus points,  MindaNews sources from both panels said, is that elections in the five-province, two –city ARMM will proceed as scheduled on May 13, 2013 and that “it is still possible to address the concerns of the MILF  even with elections in 2013.”

The same sources said the election issue was already a “non-issue”  during the three-day talks, having been resolved while still in the Philippines, when the Malaysian facilitator, Tengu Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, shuttled between the panels.

What this means is that the ARMM, under a new set of elected officials in 2013, will move alongside a transition commission that would oversee the transition from ARMM to the “new autonomous political entity” by 2016.

The two panels on April 24 signed the “Decision Points on Principles,” the first major agreement under the Aquino administration, providing, among others, for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM.”

Leonen had repeatedly said that with or without a peace agreement signed this year, the  regional polls would still push through on May 13, 2013 as mandated by RA 10153 which reset the August 8, 2011 polls to synchronize it with the national midterm polls in 2013.

Up to GPH

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal late Tuesday afternoon merely echoed what MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told a press conference on July 9 in the MILF camp in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Murad had admitted that they  had “officially told the Philippine government about our concerns on the election of the ARMM in 2013.”

“But then as a matter of policy, we do not recognize the ARMM so it is the making of the (GPH) and if there is an agreement between the MILF and  (GPH), it is the responsibility of the Philippine government to do away with whatever  (it) has created. We have nothing to do with the ARMM. If there is an ARMM elected there, then it is the duty of the (GPH) to see to it that this ARMM will not run obstacle to the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the Philippine government,” he said.

The ARMM’s elected officials in 2008 ended their three-year term of office on September 30, 2011.  The region comprising Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, is presently run by Officrs-in-Charge  (OICs), in accordance with RA 10153 which authorized the President to name an OIC governor, OIC vice governor and OIC legislators to serve until June 30, 2013, when the new set of officials shall have assumed the post.

The Commission on Elections has set for early October the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy for ARMM and other elective posts nationwide.

Murad  had expected the talks in Kuala Lumpur  to be  a “make or break.”

The MILF chair also emphasized that the MILF “cannot compromise any further” because it has “reached the bottomline.”

 “Same page now… closer to same paragraph”

On Tuesday evening, Tengku told MindaNews the two panels, after two days of negotiations were already  “on the same page now, but different paragraphs.”

On Wednesday afternoon, after the scheduled executive session, which was extended from morning, ended at around 4:20 p.m, Tengku told MindaNews the panels were still “on the same page” but were moving “closer to the same paragraph.”

At  the opening of the Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly in Darapanan on July 7,  Tengku, who assumed the post of facilitator in April last year, said the two panels were “not only reading different chapters; they were reading different books.”

“Today, they are now reading the same chapter,” Tengku added on July 7, as he expressed hope that “by end of July, they would be reading the same paragraph.”

The Joint Statement was signed at 5:08 p.m. on Wednesday, after yet another day-long executive session. The panels met in executive session on Monday, Tuesday afternoon and the whole day Wednesday. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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