Pres. Aquino meets with MILF chair Murad

GENERAL SANTOS  CITY (MindaNews/05 August)  —  Now the silence can be explained.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim shook hands and talked peace for  two hours  in a hotel in Japan with their respective panel chairs taking down notes, the President’s Cabinet members and the MILF’s peace panel and Central Committee members as well as the Malaysian facilitator waiting outside the meeting room.

The President and the MILF chair agreed to move the negotiations forward to ensure that whatever agreement is forged can be implemented  within the Aquino administration whose term ends on June 30, 2016, the chairs of both panels told MindaNews in separate telephone interviews. How the talks can move forward, the panels will discuss when they meet within the month, they said.

“This explains the silence,”  government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal, said.

TALKING PEACE. President Benigno S. Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ibrahim meet in a hotel in Tokyo Thursday evening. Both sides said they wanted the peace process to move forward so that whatever agreement is forged can be implemented during Aquino's term. MindaNews photo courtesy of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process.Both panels had kept the meeting under wraps since late June. President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address on July 25 was silent on the peace process.

The panels were supposed to meet in Kuala Lumpur on August 2 to 4 in KL, where government was expected to present its counter-proposal to the MILF draft peace settlement submitted in February.  As agreed upon in the April 27 to 28 talks, government was supposed to submit its draft peace proposal during the June 27 to 28 talks also in KL.

But Leonen said President Aquino wanted to meet with Murad (as the MILF chair is popularly called),  hence the deferment of the submission of the counter proposal and the transformation of the June 27 talks into an executive session so they could discuss the President’s offer to meet the MILF chair.

Iqbal had referred to a “grand gesture” on the part of the government peace panel, as quoted  in the MILF’s website on June 28. But he did not elaborate on what the “grand gesture” was all about.

Thursday’s meeting was scheduled in the evening, after Iftar (breaking of the fast), in deference to Ramadan.  Leonen said it started at 8:45 p.m. and lasted two hours. Iqbal said  the meeting took an hour and 40 minutes. The two chairs took notes as their two principals talked.

“There was a general agreement on the need to come to an agreement very, very soon, to fast-track the peace negotiations,”  Leonen said.

“There is something to hope for but it takes a lot of  legworking,” Iqbal said.

He said the meeting “adds confidence to the parties to proceed. The meeting gives more reasons for the parties to strive hard (at reaching an agreement),” he added.

Iqbal said the meeting ended with a handshake. “The mood at times was jolly, at times, serious,” he said.

“They had good chemistry,” Leonen noted.

Asked if there was mention on the appointment of officers in charge who would serve the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao  for 21 months from September 30, Leonen said, “they did not talk about that. “

President Aquino’s party included Leonen, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and government peace panel member Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

Murad’s party included Iqbal,  some panel members and MILF Central Committee members.

Iqbal said the Malaysian facilitator of the talks, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, “has full knowledge of the meeting. He was present during the meeting but not insider the meeting room.”

The parties had a “greet and meet” session before the President, Murad and the two panel chairs entered the meeting room.

Thursday’s  meeting came exactly three years to the day the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), preventing the government panel from signing the agreement the next day in Kuala Lumpur.

The President actually did what her mother did 25 years ago.

The Preident’s mother,  Corazon Aquino, President from 1986 to 1992,  met with Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari in Sulu on September 5, 1986, to talk peace. The meeting paved the way for the resumption of  the peace talks which had collapsed under the Marcos dictatorship.

President Aquino’s party is expected to arrive in Manila at 1:30 p.m. today.

Japan was mutually chosen as venue because it is a member of the International Contact Group and International Monitoring Team which are bodies involved in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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