OIC to sit as observer in GPH-MILF peace talks

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/22 March) — The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front  (MILF)  ended their three-day peace negotiations Wednesday with no significant agreement reached on the substantive issues of power and wealth sharing but agreed to approve the request of the  Office of the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (formerly Conference) to sit as observer in the 15-year old  talks.

The approval of the OIC’s observer status was contained in the Joint Statement signed by GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqabal with Malaysian facilitator Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.

“Excellent move,” historian Rudy Rodil said of the entry of the OIC. Rodil served as government peace panel member in the negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from 1993 to 1996 and in the negotiations with the MILF from 2004 to 2008.

The OIC, he told MindaNews, is the “perfect mediator between the MNLF and MILF.”

Peace advocate Soliman Santos, a regional trial court judge who has written several books on the Bangsamoro peace process, echoed Rodil’s comment. He told MindaNews the entry of the OIC is “good for convergence and international clout. They should be able to help the MNLF-MILF unity process and see also who better represents the Bangsamoro aspirations.”

“A value addition to the talks,”  said Guiamel Alim, of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.

The 57-member pan-Islamic body brokered the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF that led to the signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

The MNLF has been holding an observer status in the OIC since 1977 and has been sending delegations to OIC meetings in the last 35 years. The MILF is composed of members of the MNLF who broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s to form what it initially called  the “New MNLF” but which it later renamed to MILF. The leader of the breakaway group was Salamat Hashim, vice chair to chair Nur Misuari.

Hashim succumbed to an illness in July 2003. Misuari was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao  (ARMM) a week after he signed the 1996 FPA. He was detained on charges of rebellion from January 2002 to April 2008.

The  OIC initially created a Committee of Four that later expanded into the Ministerial Committee of  the Six led by Indonesia to facilitate the talks until the signing of the FPA in 1996.  In late June 2000, just as the military was about to attack  the MILF’s main stronghold, Camp Abubakar, in the “all-out war “ waged by then President Joseph Estrada, the OIC’s International Conference of  Foreign Ministers (ICFM)  held in Malaysia, added two more country-members – Malaysia and Brunei – to make it into the Committee of the Eight , to look into the implementation of the 1996 FPA.

Historic

That meeting – the International Conference of Foreign Ministers of the OIC – in June 2000, is historic for both the Bangsamoro and the Philippine government. For the first time, an MILF delegation attended the meeting along with the MNLF as OIC observers. It was also the first time the Philippine government attended an OIC meeting as guest.

The June 2000 meeting was held at “Asia’s most extraordinary hotel,” – the Palace of the Golden Horses in Kuala Lumpur, venue of this week’s GPH-MILF peace talks.

Malaysia, an OIC member and member of the Committee of the Eight, has been facilitating the GPH-MILF peace talks since 2001, upon the invitation of  then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In 2006, the OIC  initiated the Tripartite Review of the implementation of the 1996 GPH-MNLF peace pact, expanding the Committee of the Eight membership into the Peace Committee  for Southern Philippines (PCSP), with Indonesia as chair.

The first Tripartite Review was held in Jeddah in November 2007.

An Ad Hoc Hi-Level Group meeting of the OIC-GPH-MNLF Tripartite Implementation Review Process was held in Bandung, Indonesia early this month  “to review the remaining unresolved

issues to complete the implementation of the FPA.”

The GPH-MILF and GPH-MNLF  have been moving as two tracks. The Arroyo administration tried to get the two tracks together but failed.

“Convergence”

The Aquino administration has repeatedly said it wants a “convergence” of  the three tracks —  the GPH-MILF peace talks, the GPH-MNLF-OIC review of the implementation of the 1996 FPA along with its reform agenda in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the core territory of both the GPH-MILF and GPH-MNLF peace tracks.

The MNLF had repeatedly said the congressional act — RA 9054 which amended RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the ARMM —  did not incorporate key provisions in the 1996 FPA and rendered the autonomous region less autonomous than it already was.

The MILF on the other hand has repeatedly said ARMM is a “failed experiment” and is not the solution to the conflict. It handed over its proposed peace settlement in February last year — a Bangsamoro sub-state  that is “less than independence but more than autonomy.”

The government handed its proposed “3 for 1” formula on August 22, 18 days after President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo, Japan to fast-track the peace process and ensure an agreement is reached within the first half of the Aquino administration. .
The MILF panel rejected the proposal. Leonen quickly replied, “We reject your rejection,” the  negotiation was adjourned on the second of the three-day talks.

The Malaysian facilitator shuttled from the GPH to the MILF peace panels in September and October and in November got the key members of the panels into an informal talks that eventually paved the way for the resumption of the talks in December. Since then, the two panels have been meeting monthly and will meet again in April in Kuala Lumpur.

In his opening statement on March 19, Leonen said, “we are approaching what would seem to be a stalemate in our ideas for transition as well as in our ideas of how to make permanent the solutions that work for our peoples. I invite our counterparts to take a step back with us.  Perhaps, by examining the reasons why we insist on our various positions we can see ways forward.”

Iqbal in his opening statement said he hopes the Aquino administration is still pursuing the “first best option, which is to sign an agreement with the MILF, and the second best option, which is merely to reform the ARMM is not being pursued by the government in replacement of the negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.”

“Clearly if the first is the option of the government, then we can expect seriousness in the current peace talks. But if the second is now the option, then it is very easy to see. Expect commitment made to be changed randomly,” Iqbal added.

 

The talks, described “tough” by  both panels, moved on until March 21 but without a significant agreement reached.

According to the Joint Statement, the parties, “continued their discussions on substantive issues, including power sharing on governance and wealth sharing.” Nothing more was said about the discussions.

Aside from approving the request of the OIC-Secretary General’s office to sit as observer in the talks, the two panels also agreed on the  Terms of Reference for the consultants who will be part of their respective delegations in subsequent talks.

What the terms are have not been made public. (Carolyn O.Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

Comments

comments