Murad: MILF’s Central Committee will help fast-track signing of annexes

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/26 July) –  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Central Committee is willing to repeat in next month’s negotiations on the remaining two annexes on power-sharing and normalization, what it did in the last round of talks that helped lead to the signing of the wealth-sharing annex on July 13: gather the Central Committee here “so there will be fast and effective consultation process” with its peace panel in Kuala Lumpur, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.

Murad told a delegation of civil society leaders in Mindanao Thursday morning (July 25) that as far as the MILF Central Committee is concerned, “we are always ready for whatever is necessary in the peace process because … we are all fully supportive.. we are fully sold out (to) this peace process and everybody is supportive.  So we can always do the same and even more than that if necessary, as the situation dictates.”

Murad said that during the last two days of the extended talks on July 12 and 13, while the panels were negotiating in Kuala Lumpur,  “we were here gathered in this room (conference room of the MILF Peace Panel’s office within Camp Darapanan). While they were discussing there, we were also discussing here.”

He said it was the “first time we did this, that while the panel is there, we also had the Central Committee assembled here to discuss whatever problems are being met at the negotiating table.”

Murad noted that some think the wealth-sharing annex can serve as guide to the next annexes but there are some views that the next annexes can be “more bloody.”

But he is confident that with the “motivation to move forward and the sincerity and the interest to move forward, then I think we can move forward in these two other annexes.”

The Central Committee, he added, is “at this point trying to discuss all possible difficult issues” in relation to the power-sharing annex. “We are exploring all other possible means in order to hasten the process because we know that further delaying the process will have a very negative impact on the timeframe we have set for the transition mechanism and once we cannot catch up with the time frame, then it will affect the entire mechanism” that would install the Bangsamoro government by 2016.

The Central Committee “will be very cooperative in order that this process will be hastened,” he said.

In constant touch with principals

MIlF peace panel chair Mohager Iqbal earlier told MindaNews that they were in constant touch with the Central Committee and that on the second day of the extension, at 3:15 p.m. of July 13, when both parties were still in a deadlock, he received a text message from Murad that the Central Committee had decided that if there is no progress in the talks, the panel should return home and not agree to another extension.  Iqbal said that when the parties returned for the plenary, he read the text message in Maguindanaon and translated it into English.

President Aquino and the Cabinet secretaries involved in the issues on wealth-sharing, were also in constant touch with the GPH peace panel. On July 11, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda went to Kuala Lumpur, with Deles staying on until the signing.

The government (GPH) and MILF peace panels are resuming talks in Kuala Lumpur next month after the Ramadhan, to continue negotiations on the remaining two annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that would complete the comprehensive peace pact:  power-sharing and normalization. The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities was signed on February 27 while the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing was signed on July 13.

Under the FAB, the parties actually committed to finish the annexes before yearend 2012.

Through their technical working groups, the panels started negotiations on wealth-sharing and power-sharing in August 2012 and normalization in November 2012.

More than 90% settled in power-sharing annex

While acknowledging that he is not at liberty to divulge the sticky points in the power-sharing annex, Murad said the GPH and MILF peace panels had actually settled “more than 90%” of the issues.

He likened the status of the Power-sharing annex to the Wealth-sharing annex before the deadlock on contentious issues was broken on July 13.

“Generally the other issues were all settled already but there are still some two or three issues which are very ticklish and that is where we are focusing on – two or three, maybe four issues that are very ticklish and sensitive,” he said of the power-sharing annex.

“Even the panels have been saying that more than 90% have been settled already as far as power-sharing (is concerned but the) remaining less than 10 per cent is the heart of the issue which is very, very difficult to resolve so that is why we have to focus on these particular issues,” Murad said in his two-hour meeting with civil society leaders.

Members of civil society organizations pose for posterity with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during a meeting at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao Province on July 25, 2013. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Members of civil society organizations pose for posterity with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during a meeting at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao Province on July 25, 2013. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Present were some 40 representatives of  Mindanao-based coalitions such as the Consortium of Bangamoro Civil Society (CBCS) represented by Abdulbasit Benito of the Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace, Mindanao Coalition of Development Networks (Mincode) under former Abanse Pinay Representative Pat Sarenas, Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW) represented by Gus Miclat of the Initiatives for International Dialogue and Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) led by Mary Ann Arnado. Also present were officials of Oxfam led by Cherian Mathews, the new Regional Director of Oxfam GB, Asia Region.

“Inspiration for generations”

Oxfam, which has been providing humanitarian assistance in the conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro for decades now, provided assistance to the summit of Mindanao’s civil society  on the Bangsamoro peace process held in Davao City early this month and the gathering in Cotabato for Thursday’s dialogue with Murad.

“When we walk with communities who are displaced, we can only do so much to meet their immediate needs. Unless there is a peace process that will lead to enduring peace, the whole situation will not change,” Mathews said.

To Murad, he said, “You are an inspiration for the generations to come…  You will be remembered for the courage you have shown in the peace process.”

Sarenas and the other leaders asked Murad how they can help hasten the process.  Murad said he hopes they would be “more pro-active” in the next steps on the roadmap to the Bangsamoro, such as letting the public understand the agreements, submitting to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission results of  civil society’s consultations and  discussing the peace process with members of Congress.

Murad said he believes the reason why the Annex on Wealth-Sharing was finally signed on July 13, was because of “the interest of both parties to finish off the wealth-sharing agreement.”

He said they were aware that if the wealth-sharing annex had not been settled, “there can be some negative impact not only in the peace process but even on the ground.”

He explained that both parties “were not able to get exactly what they want but then that is part of the process. There has to be some compromise.  We are happy on our side, the Central Committee of the MILF and our people are happy that we have this wealth sharing annex finalized.”

The GPH and MILF peace panels signed the FAB on October 15 last year to pave the way for the creation of the “Bangsamoro,” a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by June 30, 2016.

The FAB also provides that the ARMM would be deemed abolished once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified, and will be replaced by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority that would govern the area until the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro  that will be elected on May 9, 2016 takes over on June 30 that year.

In his State of the Nation Address last Monday, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III called on Congress to pass before the end of 2014 the law creating the Bangsamoro, as he assured that whatever agreement the government will sign with the MILF will be implemented. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)