3 years after the MOA-AD, silence on the GPH-MILF peace front

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 August) –  Three years after the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain  (MOA-AD),   secrecy continues to shroud the peace talks between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with both panels keeping mum on what was supposed to be a scheduled meeting this week in Kuala Lumpur.

Last week, President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address was silent on the peace process. This week, the two panels were supposed to meet August 2 to 4 in Kuala Lumpur but  there is no indication that this scheduled meeting – where government is supposed to present its counterproposal to the MILF – pushed through.

Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal have been unavailable for comment since last week. Repeated queries if the KL talks would proceed as scheduled went unanswered.

Explaining the President’s silence on the peace process in his SONA, Deles told MindaNews,  “both major tables (GPH-MILF and GPH-National Democratic Front) are in sensitive, complex stage at this time. But something will unfold soon.”

“Something” is apparently unfolding. But both sides are not telling.

There is no announcement on the websites of  the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the MILF’s luwaran.com, that the talks pushed through or was cancelled.

The last time the two panels met was on April 27 and 28, the second formal exploratory talks under the Aquino administration.  At the end of  that meeting,  they signed a joint statement agreeing to meet again on June 27 to 28,  with the GPH panel expected to submit its counter-proposal.
On June 27, the expected panel to panel talks under the Aquino administration  did not happen. In its stead was an executive session involving only the panel chairs , one member each and their secretariat heads.
The executive session was on the request of the GPH panel, with the consent of the MILF.
Sources from both the government and MILF peace panels told MindaNews that days before the June 27 meeting, the Malaysian facilitator had notified the MILF that the GPH panel would defer submission of its counter-proposal but would like to meet in an executive session.
No public explanation was made for the deferment but a June 27 press statement issued by OPAPP from Kuala Lumpur quoted Leonen as saying the two panels were able to “level off on important points to facilitate the talks.” The statement, however, was silent on what these “important points” were.

Civil Society organizations issued a statement on June 28,  urging the government peace panel, “in the spirit of transparency and accountability to its stakeholders,” to “at least offer an explanation why there was no counterproposal submitted  in the last talks.”

But while civil society groups protested the delay, the MILF, curiously, did not. A report posted  on its website said the MILF peace panel “accepted the reason given by its counterpart vis-à-vis this deferment after a lengthy discussion on the matter.”

It quoted Iqbal as saying, “The MILF delegation was prepared to push our ancestral domain agenda… that is why we downplayed the GPH’s ‘grand gesture’ until we receive their rejoinder draft.”

Iqbal did not say what the ‘grand gesture was’ but added that the MILF “keeps an open mind, and even the extension of a handshake is a gesture of goodwill.”

In its August 3, 2011 report, the International Crisis Group, the world’s leading independent source of  analysis on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict, noted that the Philippine government is “experimenting with a creative but risky strategy to bring peace to Mindanao.”

It cited  the three goals of the strategy: “demonstrate that good governance in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is possible through a two-year reform program; bring separate discussions with two insurgencies, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the much larger, better-armed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) together; and hammer out the territory and powers of a future Moro “sub-state” in peace talks with the MILF.”

“Until now, the government has not made clear how the three components fit together, but it may reveal its hand – at least in part – in mid-August 2011, when it is widely expected to present a new proposal to the MILF,” the report said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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