GPH, MILF to meet for 10 days next month to finish annexes

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews / 25 August) – The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels on Sunday afternoon ended the four-day 19th round of talks under the three-year Aquino administration, with both panels agreeing to meet for ten days next month to finish the annexes on power-sharing and normalization.

The seven-paragraph Joint Statement signed at 3:55 p.m. said the panels “worked towards the resolution of  some of the most crucial issues” and that despite the “sensitivity of these issues,” they remain “committed to the problem-solving approach in order to reach consensus.”

UNTIL NEXT MONTH. GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal exchange copies of the Joint Statement in the presence of Madame Che Khasnah, head of the Malaysian Secretariat. MIndaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

UNTIL NEXT MONTH. GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal exchange copies of the Joint Statement in the presence of Madame Che Khasnah, head of the Malaysian Secretariat. MIndaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

In the spirit of partnership and mutual understanding, they are confident that an agreement will be reached soon,” the statement read.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that they hope to finish the two remaining annexes in next month’s round.

“We will try our best to finish,” she told MindaNews.  “We will find a way to complete the annexes,” she said.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said the ball is in the GPH court. “Ang problema hindi sa MILF” (the problem is not with the MILF), he told MindaNews.

In their opening statements on Thursday, Ferrer said she hoped the parties would “put to sleep the infamous devil in the details and awaken the angel of creativity and compromise.”  Iqbal on the other hand said he saw a “ray of hope that the Annex on Power-sharing will be settled and signed by the parties during this meeting” so they can “pour all our remaining stamina on normalization, an issue that is not too difficult to overcome by willing and committed peace partners.”

As early as Day One, however, there was no sign of any signing by the end of this round. Malaysian facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed had told MindaNews the parties were “working on the language” of the annexes and were expected to bring back the drafts their respective principals.

The panels were supposed to have a plenary session at 9 a.m. Sunday to continue discussions on the Power-sharing draft but Tengku fell ill and was unable to come. The panels cannot hold a plenary session in the absence of the facilitator.

Both panels were ready to stay until late Sunday evening. In fact, GPH panel members had their flights to Manila rebooked from 5:30 p.m. Sunday to Monday morning.

Special Team

The panels opted to have the Special Team on Power-sharing meet instead on Sunday morning to resolve issues that they can, on their level, resolve, even as they remained stuck on some provisions in their working draft, including newly-introduced issues from both sides.

Late Saturday afternoon, sources from both panels and observers who attended the plenary at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel, told MindaNews that issues already resolved at the level of the Special Team on Power-sharing were shot down during the deliberations on the draft, prompting Tengku to ask aloud where the direction of the talks was headed.

“There are conceptual barriers that have to be overcome,” summed up a member of the MILF panel in the Special Team told MindaNews, specifically noting that the future Bangsamoro government is a ministerial form of government, much different from the current system. A member of the GPH panel in the Team acknowledged there are still several issues where both positions are still far apart but “we are in a problem-solving mode.”

The Special Team on Power-sharing and the Technical Working Group (TWG) on Normalization actually began their meetings on August 21, a day before the formal talks opened.

The TWG on Normalization ended Saturday noon its four-day talks with the contentious issues still up for consultation with their respective principals.

Negotiations on power-sharing started in August last year while negotiations on normalization started in November.

The annexes on power-sharing and normalization and the signed annexes on transitional arrangmenets and modalities, and wealth sharing, along with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the parties signed on October 15 last year, will complete the comprehensive peace agreement which the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) needs to draft the  Basic Law for the Bangsmaoro government, the new autonomous political entity that both parties hope to set up by June 30, 2016.

Language

Unlike the Special Team on Power-sharing, the TWG on Normalization has yet to come up with a common draft and will still be exchanging notes between now and the next round of talks.

The Special Team on the other hand has a common draft whose paragraphs are color-coded: black for approved final text at their level,  gray for almost, red for the government’s proposed wording and green for the MILF.

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had told the Mindanao Business Conference on August 8 in Davao City that while there are still “very difficult issues to be negotiated,” both sides have expressed a “shared commitment to complete the remaining Annexes on Power Sharing and Normalization to be able to sign the comprehensive agreement in the soonest possible time.”

She explained that as agreed upon in the FAB, the relationship of the Central Government with the Bangsamoro Government shall be “asymmetric” and therefore different from local government units.

“The Power-Sharing Annex sets out to delineate what are the powers reserved for central government, the powers fully devolved (or “exclusive”) to the Bangsamoro, and which are concurrent powers to be shared by both.  The Normalization Annex, on the other hand, will lay out the simultaneous, phased and calibrated actions that will be taken, by both parties, to include the reform and strengthening of the police, the control of loose firearms in private hands, the redeployment of the military, the delivery of socio-economic peace dividends and the decommissioning of MILF forces and weapons so that, in the words of the FAB, ‘they are put beyond use.’

Optimism

An air of optimism marked the start of the four-day talks on Thursday, the first time the panels had 11 observers attending the plenary and the negotiations of the special team on power-sharing and TWG on normalization.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte of the House of Representatives sent three Mindanawons to observe on Thursday and Friday – Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan.

Five of the seven government nominees to the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission were also here on Thursday and Friday: former Ambassador Akmad Sakkam; Johair Wahab, former chief legal counsel of the GPH peace panel;  Froilyn Mendoza, aTeduray who co-founded the Téduray Lambangian Women’s Organization, Inc.;  Talib Benito, Dean of the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City and former Isabela City councilor Eisma of  Basilan.

Mindanao’s civil society had three representatives as observers — Patricia Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (Mincode); Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus; and Salic Ibrahim, chair of the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc.

It was the first time in 12 years that civil society representatives from Mindanao attended the talks as observers.

Salic told MindaNews he was “lipay” (happy) to have been allowed to observe and listen to the discussions. “The talks are not easy. The stance of the negotiators can influence the process, whether to hasten or to delay,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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