Optimism marks resumption of GPH, MILF talks

KUALA LUMPUR  (MindaNews/22 August) – An air of optimism  marked Thursday’s  opening of the four-day talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  on power-sharing and normalization,  with both parties  looking forward to “put to sleep” what GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer describes as “the infamous devil in the details and awaken the angel of creativity and compromise.”

Sources from both parties do not expect a signing in this round of talks but are hoping that the contentious issues are resolved so they can move forward.

Malaysian Facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed told MindaNews the parties are “working on the language” of the annexes and are expected to bring back the drafts their respective principals.

For MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, the last two of four annexes that would complete the comprehensive peace agreement “must be settled and fixed now.”

The panels are back in Kuala Lumpur to finish  the annexes on Power-sharing and Normalization after signing on July 13 the Annex on Wealth-Sharing. The first annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, was signed on February 25.

Wearing his other hat as chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC),  Iqbal appealed to the GPH and MILF to “fast-track their negotiation and, without delay, sign the remaining two annexes and finally the comprehensive peace agreement.”

Iqbal said the BTC “cannot write the Bangsamoro Basic Law in its wholeness” unless the annexes and the comprehensive peace pact are signed.

In his State of the Nation Address on July 22, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014 so “we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016.”

“We cannot afford to delay the completion of the peace process. We must act now before it is too late,” Iqbal said in his statement at the opening rites held behind closed doors.

Copies of Ferrer’s and Iqbal’s opening statements were later made available.

Ferrer said the signing of the Annex on Wealth-Sharing on July 13, the toughest round since the parties signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012 in Malacanan, was generally positively received and that while there were questions and commentaries, they were not so serious as “to throw out or render unviable any single part of the Annex.”

She said the signing “dispelled the doubts that a comprehensive agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF in our lifetime, under this administration, in 2013, can be done.”

“Landmines”

Ferrer acknowledged that the path to the two other annexes “is strewn with various types of landmines.”

She cited the “rampage” of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters while they were meeting here last month, “attacking soldiers and setting off grenades and IEDs in several parts of Central Mindanao, in their bid to derail our negotiations;” the July 26 bombing in Cagayan de Oro City that left eight persons dead and injured some 40 others; and the August 5 bombing in Cotabato City that left eight persons dead and injured some 30 others.

“But through their grievous deeds, these entrepreneurs of violence and mayhem have only succeeded in isolating themselves from the rest of the people.  Bombings, sniping, and various forms of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and objects such as bridges have no place in the moral order that we are instituting in our country and our communities.” “In this round, we will prove that we have not been waylaid by these groups’ destructive, desperate ways,” she said.

Iqbal said the answer to the spoilers is to “finish the remaining issues and sign the comprehensive peace agreement.” “Once the agreement is sealed, it would be very difficult for them to destroy it,” he said. Iqbal paid tribute to the MILF and GPH negotiators who had passed away in the last 16 years of the peace process and those who had fallen ill.

“Finish this process soon”

“Why I am making this narrative? It is simple! I just wanted to stress the need to finish this process soon. Any further delay is not only taking a toll on the very people whose lives are heavily invested in the peace process but more seriously, the various spoilers and enemies of peace are given the chance to spread their venom and to jump on our failures to stop dead the peace process on track. It appears nowadays that there is a conspiracy of all these anti-peace forces against us. This comes in various forms and uses diverse tactics to advance their evil agenda,” he said.

Signing the comprehensive agreement, he said, will not only stop the spoilers on their track but also strengthen the partnership between GPH and MILF so they can “proceed to consolidate the gains of the peace process and strengthen the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and Bangsamoro Transition and set up the Bangsamoro government by 2016. Once the Bangsamoro is set up, “the problems that we are encountering now will gradually be eased out and those still opposing or fighting the government will be deprived of legitimacy and of popular support.”

The panels, through their technical working groups, have been discussing power-sharing since August last year and normalization since November. Iqbal said that as soon as the annex on power-sharing is settled, “we can pour all our remaining stamina on normalization, an issue that is not too difficult to overcome by willing and committed peace partners. After all, the end state that we all desire in this peace process is for peace, justice, and development to reign in our land.”

“Angel of creativity and compromise”

Ferrer said the President has repeatedly expressed his commitment to ensure the roadmap to get the Bangsamoro set up by June 30, 2016 is followed.  She said the panels will do their share by completing the last annexes.

“Let us show that we are ready to put to sleep the infamous devil in the details and awaken the angel of creativity and compromise,” she said.

Reiterating her previous opening statements,  Ferrer said they aim for “an agreement that leaves no one in the prospective Bangsamoro political entity behind as far as protection of rights and access to power and wealth are concerned;” that the agreement “must redound to the well-being of not just one but of all the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro;  not of one political or socio-cultural or religious group but of everyone; not just of men but also of women; not just of the elites but most especially of the poor and dispossessed across the spectrum”

She said she knows there will be more challenges ahead and that “in fact, things might still get worse before things get better “ as this has been the experience in most post-conflict settings. “

This is my objective view, not a pessimistic stance. But it is an appraisal that is imbued with the determination that we shall overcome,” she said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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