GPH, MILF stuck on power-sharing; no deal struck this round

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 Oct) — The government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels resumed talks Tuesday, extended it supposedly until Saturday but ended early Sunday morning with no deal struck on the Annex on Power-Sharing as the parties got stuck on a major issue on the ministerial form of government.

October 13 is two days short of the first anniversary of the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Signed on October 15 last year amid an atmosphere of euphoria and hope, the FAB paves the way for the creation of the “Bangsamoro,” a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and would be a ministerial form of government.

Four annexes to the FAB are needed to complete the comprehensive agreement – Power-sharing, Wealth-sharing, Normalization and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities. While the parties committed, under the FAB, to complete the annexes before yearend of 2012, not one annex was signed last year.

The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities was signed in February while the Annex on Wealth-sharing was signed in July.

The carefully-worded six-paragraph Joint Statement signed shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday, states the parties “made substantial progress on the remaining Annexes on Power-Sharing and Normalization” and that they “proceeded in exhaustive, honest discussions in order to identify the best formulations for an agreement that would respond to the aspirations of both Parties.”

“The remaining challenges and the time constraints demand that the Panels remain focused on completing the annexes following a break for Eid’Ul’Adha. Both sides have a full understanding of their responsibility as they strive towards a sustainable and inclusive solution for the benefit of all people in the Bangsamoro,” it said.

Malaysia is celebrating Eid’l Adha on Monday while the Philippines is celebrating it on Tuesday, October 15, the first anniversary of the FAB signing.

Like last month’s Joint Statement, no date for the next talks was mentioned.

Both government and the MILF acknowledged the negotiations were difficult.

“Still hard work”

Neither GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer nor Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles answered queries late Saturday and shortly after midnight Sunday although at 6:30 p.m., Deles said, “still hard work.”

Iqbal at 4 p.m. on Saturday said the talks were “moving slowly” and that there was a “slim chance” they would complete the Annex on Power-sharing.  “Still uphill fight,” he said at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. At 11:20 p.m. Iqbal said they were still in the venue of the talks and were “about to clinch structure of ministerial.”

Apparently, it was not clinched.

“Rigidity has prevented the parties to move fast. No date set for next talks. But many issues were settled,” said Iqbal in a text message at 9:35 a.m. Sunday. Iqbal and his panel were leaving Kuala Lumpur for Manila on the same day.

Ferrer told MindaNews in a text message at 10:20 a.m. Sunday that their Malaysian hosts (Malaysia is the facilitator of the talks) “are celebrating Eid’l Adha holiday and could no longer extend the talks to today unfortunately.”

But she added that “very good progress has been achieved in the power-sharing annex including on the possible structure of the new Bangsamoro political entity and the intergovernmental mechanism that can be instituted to ensure coordination and cooperation between the Central and Bangsamoro governments in the exercise of various powers.”

Understanding, Disagreements

Ferrer said the MILF submitted the features of its envisioned government which the panels discussed and that there is “understanding now on power-sharing but some disagreements still on specific features.”

She said discussions are also ongoing on the extent of territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro “over waters and on the protection of fishing rights of subsistence fisherfolk in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf.”

She said the two panels’ Technical Working Groups on Normalization also met “and achieved working consensus on the mechanisms that will address the different security aspects of normalization such as the private armed groups, and disposition of weapons and combatants, and land conflicts, the provision of socio-economic programs and reconciliation,”

“In all it was a productive meeting but the discussions on the many items took time. Despite the exhausting daily overtime sessions in the last five days, the panels remained upbeat. The parties have agreed on a process that will facilitate the settlement of the unsettled issues and will met again in due time.”

MindaNews sources in Kuala Lumpur said the parties did resolve some of the aspects on the structure of the ministerial form of government but a major element in the ministerial form as formulated was not acceptable to the government panel. Dropping it was not also acceptable to the MILF as it would “make the Bangsamoro Assembly no different from the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly.”

989 days to June 30, 2016

By October 15, 2013, only 989 days are left until June 30, 2016, the end of the Aquino administration.

Under the FAB, both government and the MILF had adopted a roadmap to ensure that the comprehensive agreement is signed within the last half of Aquino’s six-year term and his “legacy,” the Bangsamoro government, is in place by the time the President steps down.

The “Roadmap to the Creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Political Entity” prepared by the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office in time for the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012, listed 15 steps to 2016.

These are: 1. Signing of the FAB by both parties; 2. Parties adopt Annex on the Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (the illustrated roadmap does not mention the annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization but they should be on this Step); 3. Transition Commission (TransCom) is formed via Executive Order (EO); 4. Congress passes resolutions supporting the EO; 5. TransCom drafts Bangsamoro Basic Law bill; 6. Bill is submitted to Congress; 7. Bill is certified urgent by the President; 8. Congressional action on the bill; 9. Bill submitted to the President for approval; 10. President signs the bill into law; 11. Plebiscite is held for the ratification of the law; 12. Promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law; 13. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created. ARMM is deemed abolished; all devolved authorities are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; 14. Ministerial form and Cabinet system of government will commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place; and 15. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is replaced upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.

Steps 1, 3 4, partly 2 and 5 of 15 steps

A year after the FAB signing, the GPH and MILF peace panels have signed only two of four annexes; three Terms of Reference — for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), and the Sajahatra Bangsamoro; a certificate extending the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team up to March 2014 and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group until February 14, 2014.

The 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been working but cannot proceed as fast as it would want to because of the unfinished two annexes. The TPMT and ICP have also started work but again cannot proceed quickly because the two annexes have yet to be completed.

The panels have gone through Steps One, Three and Four of the roadmap but only half of Step Two and the early stages of Step 5.

The panels hope to finish the drafting of the Basic Law by 2014 so that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) can take over from the ARMM hopefully by late 2014 until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro in May 2016 and their assumption to office by noon of June 30, 2016.
Peace panel members from both sides acknowledge that every month’s delay in the completion of the Annexes is a month taken away from the Basic Law drafting or viewed from another angle, a month taken away from the BTA. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/ MindaNews)

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