DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 July) – Before the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels resumed talks in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, July 8, their leaders had discussed the delays in the peace process and tried to resolve them through letters.
MILF peace panel chair Mohager Iqbal revealed in his opening statement at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Monday morning that MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim “decided to write” President Aquino a letter to reiterate the “unwavering commitment of the MILF to resolve the conflict peacefully” and “politely informed him (President) of the growing frustration of the people and some members of the MILF as a result of the delay of the talks.”
Iqbal said Murad explained to the President that the delay is perceived to be not coming from the side of the MILF but from the government.
He did not say what Murad’s recommendations were but said “the President responded positively to the letter.”
“I am so sorry I cannot disclose the content of the letter because I don’t have the mandate to do so. Our chairman did not allow that copies be made except one that is intended for the Facilitator for the record of the Malaysian Secretariat,” he said.
Iqbal did not say when Murad wrote the President and to whom it was coursed.
MindaNews asked through mobile phone on Monday evening if Murad’s letter was sent after the shuttling of the Malaysian facilitator in early June and before the forum in Oslo, Norway on June 18 and 19. Iqbal said “yes.”
President Aquino has met and spoken with Murad three times: on August 4, 2011 in Japan, where they both agreed to fast-track the peace process, sign an agreement within the first half of the Aquino administration and implement in the second half; on October 12, 2012 in Malacanan at the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB); and on February 11, 2013 at the launching of the government’s socio-economic initiative, “Sajahatra Bangsamoro.”
It is the first time letters were reported to have been exchanged between Murad and the President.
In his opening statement Monday, Iqbal noted that the last time the panels met in Kuala Lumpur on April 8 to 11, they agreed to “exchange notes” and to meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections.
Notes on how to resolve the contentious issues on the remaining three annexes were exchanged through the Malaysian facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed, who shuttled between Manila and Maguindanao on June 6 to 8, but no date was set for the resumption of the talks as the panels had yet to break an impasse on the wealth-sharing annex.
News that a date had been set for the resumption of the talks came out only after the Mediators’ Forum in Oslo, Norway on June 18 and 19, which was attended by GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Iqbal, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and the Malaysian Facilitator, Tengku.
An article in the OPAPP website datelined Norway on June 21 and titled “GPH, MILF to resume formal talks in July,” quoted Ferrer as saying that “the panel chairs have already agreed on a date early next month to further discuss the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization.”
The report also said Ferrer “handed over to her counterpart the government’s full proposals on the wealth sharing annex for the MILF to study and consider.”
The exchange of letters between Murad and the President apparently fast-tracked the process, at least on setting the date for the next round of talks.
The first date set for the resumption of the talks was July 3 to 5 but this was later reset to July 8 to 11.
“Most critical stage”
Iqbal also narrated in his opening statement how several foreign participants in the Oslo forum described the GPH-MILF peace negotiation as a “success story” but they told them the process is still ongoing and that they are “still treading the most critical stage” of their peace journey and that there are “many spoilers who are waiting in ambush.”
Iqbal has been the MILF’s chief negotiator for the last ten years. He took over from Murad, then Vice Chair for Military Affairs and concurrent peace panel chair until MILF chair Salamat Hashim succumbed to an illness on July 13, 2003. Hashim’s death would be made public 23 days later, along with the announcement that Murad had been elected as his successor and Iqbal, information chief, would take over as peace panel chair.
“As a negotiator for more than ten years, I have learned a lot of hard lessons… For this reason, I know that the road ahead of the current peace talks is still full of humps and bumps. But this is no reason to cause the failure of these talks. Sincere and committed partners in peace process will always find creative formula to get through any differences,” he said.
Iqbal then reminded everyone that “we are solving the Moro Problem or Question, not the Philippine Problem.”
“Remember that a historic injustice has been committed against the Bangsamoro, which must be corrected once and for all in order to put to rest all future legitimate struggles against the Manila government. Therefore, any solution requires a major shake-up of the status quo. A mere resort to legal remedies not founded on negotiated political settlement will not hold water,” he said.
Both parties had agreed in the April 2012 Decision Points and carried over into the FAB, that “the status quo is unacceptable.”
“Above ARMM, below independence”
“Moreover, it is not symmetry or what is common to all peoples of the Philippines is the problem; rather, it is what distinguishes the Bangsamoro from the rest of the inhabitants that we must address, and which distinctiveness we have already discovered the formula: ‘asymmetrical relationship.’ This means, the parties must find a political solution that is above the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and below independence. If we faithfully subscribe to this formulation, the parties can move the process very fast. There would be no back-and-forth movements like what happened for the last more four months,” Iqbal said.
He explained that they rejected the ARMM because “it is not autonomous but an administrative region like the rest of the regions in the Philippines.”
“To fast-track the process, therefore, the government must not offer anything already granted to the ARMM especially by R.A. 9054 or by other legislations. For, these are givens that need no longer be negotiated on. On the other hand, the MILF must not demand anything reserved for an independent state. In order to aid them, they can learn from other models on state-substate asymmetrical relationship that are available around us,” said Iqbal.
Iqbal said he hopes they can sign “hopefully the annex on wealth-sharing” in this round of talks.
He acknowledged that too much pressure is building against us, especially on government.
Last week, the CSO (Civil Society Organization) Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Talks held in Davao City called on both panels to “sign the peace agreement now” because “time is running out.”
Bangsamoro women who gathered at the plaza in Cotabato City at around the same time the panels opened their talks in Kuala Lumpur, also made a similar call.
MindaNews asked for a copy of Ferrer’s opening statement but no copy has been sent as of 9:30 p.m. The speech has not also been uploaded in the OPAPP website. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)