GPH, MILF hope to finish Framework Agreement by Sunday

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KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/06 October) –  Working overtime to finish the Framework Agreement that would be the basis for moving on to the next steps in the Bangsamoro’s quest for self-determination,  the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels  have agreed to extend negotiations until Sunday, the second extension in this round of talks.

“Di pa tapos” (not yet done), GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen told MindaNews at 2:09 p.m. He said they would be done likely “bukas pa” (tomorrow).

“We’re almost there,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said.

The mood since Day One of the talks has been to finish the Framework Agreement now. “We will not go home until we finish,” is a remark MindaNews heard from both sides.

The original schedule for this round of talks, the 32nd since the 2003 war but the 13th under the Aquino administration, was October 2 to 5. On October 3, the panels agreed to extend until October 6, and on October 6, they agreed to move it again until Sunday, October 7.

No plenary session has been held since morning but the two panels have been busy exchanging  documents on the remaining provisions in the framework agreement that have not been agreed upon.

And there are only a few provisions that need to be threshed out, panel members from both sides told MindaNews.

Leonen and Iqbal declined to divulge details of the Framework Agreement for now. But both parties have agreed to have the Framework Agreement,  which Leonen refers to as “the mother agreement,” published first before the document is signed, apparently to avoid a repeat of what happened to the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which was initialed by the parties on July 27, 2008 and was scheduled to have been formally signed in Kuala Lumpur on August 5 that year.

No signing happened as the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order stopping the peace panel chair from signing what they petitioners for TRO said was a document kept under wraps. The High Court in October that year declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional.

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had earlier told MindaNews,  “we will not sign anything without disclosing text in advance.”

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed declined to give an estimate on how many percent of the provisions in the draft framework agreement have been finished.

“A lot, a lot,” he told MindaNews.

The panels have been finalizing the draft framework agreement, reportedly a little over ten pages  without the annexes, with the agreed upon text already highlighted in bold.

As of  4 p.m. Saturday, Tengku said “a lot” of the provisions in the draft have been highlighted in bold.

The near-completion of the Framework Agreement comes six months after the April 24 GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles, which provides, among others, for the shift from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the New Autonomous Political Entity (NAPE) by 2016.

From Cotabato City, Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society sent a text message that the two panels should be commended for their efforts and commitment. The two-day extension in this round of talks, he said, is proof of the panels’ commitment to forge an agreement.  “We have to provide for all-out support to this effort,” he said.

“Let us unite in prayers, Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples, and let us prepare our respective communities to support and defend the outcome of the negotiations,” the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) said in  a statement

“We urge the panels not to stop, to extend the extra mile, exhaust all means and creativity and come home with a framework agreement that will close the centuries-old armed conflict and open a new era of hope and prosperity for our people,”  the MPC said.

It also called on “political leaders especially those vying for the 2013 posts, to support (the President) in fulfilling his commitment to put a final closure to the armed conflict in Mindanao.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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