GPH, MILF reach “substantive gains” but what gains?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 September) – The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels ended their four-day peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur Saturday noon with yet another Joint Statement that they have reached “substantive gains” and “consensus on many issues” but as in previous negotiations, was mum on what these gains and consensus points are.

The panels agreed to meet again before end of September “to discuss unresolved issues.”

What these “unresolved issues” are, the Joint Statement did not say.

The four-day meeting, “marked with mutual trust, sincerity and cordiality, successfully worked towards the crafting of a framework agreement” while their Technical Working Groups (TWGs) which first met in August, “continued their discussions, reached consensus on many issues and submitted preliminary reports which were duly noted by the Panels,” the Statement read.

The two panels have repeatedly said they hope to sign a framework agreement soonest, guided by the 10-point “Decision Points on Principles” they signed on April 24 this year. The April agreement,  the first major pact signed under the Aquino administration,  provides, among others, for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

But while the ARMM will be abolished in favor of the new entity,  both panels had agreed that next year’s ARMM elections will proceed as scheduled on May 13. The two panels are deciding, among others, on the transitional mechanism from the ARMM to the new autonomous political entity.

‘Take home’

At the start of the talks on Wednesday, government (GPH) peace panel chair Marvic Leonen proposed to make as an objective in the four-day talks “that we take home to our  principals a completed product, a consensus draft, even a very rough draft with some options of a framework agreement for their serious consideration.”

There is no mention in the Joint Statement that the objective was met.

MILF peace panel chair Mohager Iqbal said in his opening statement that the negotiation is “passing through a defining moment, nay critical phase, which allows no complacency on the part of the parties.”

In his closing statement on Saturday, a copy of which was released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Leonen said what they experienced in the four-day negotiation, the 31st since the 2003 war but the 11th under the Aquino administration, “comes closest perhaps to what we can consider as problem-solving.”

Leonen said the negotiations were marked by “principled collegiality.”

“We have kept to our mandates but found, many times, creative options and agreement on these options,” Leonen said, adding they are “definitely moving forward” and that by next meeting, “we hope that we not only move forward but find a quantum leap in our negotiations.”

‘Elephants’

A press release issued by OPAPP quoted  Iqbal as saying in his closing remarks that it “if we succeed to sign the framework agreement then we expect a very good atmosphere on the ground.”

But Iqbal noted there are still “elephants” in the room.

“Although there is a clear movement in the negotiation… there are still elephants that we have to fight on the way. But with determination and commitment of both parties, we’ll be able to sign the document very soon,” he said.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed Tengku was quoted by the OPAPP report as saying he was looking forward to the next round of talks “so that substantive progress can be achieved during that time especially bridging the most contentious issues.”

In their Joint Statement in August, the two panels said their joint technical working groups “discussed and reached consensus on some issues on power-sharing and revenue generation and wealth-sharing arrangements.”

Aside from power-sharing and wealth-sharing, the panels have yet to agree on “normalization,” a term the MILF prefers over the GPH panel’s DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration), and the highly contentious issue on the territorial scope of the new autonomous political entity.

The panels have been negotiating peace since 1997, interrupted only by major wars in 2000, 2003 and 2008.
On August 4, 2011, President Aquino broke protocol and met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan where they agreed to fast-track the peace process,  ensure an agreement is signed within the first half of the Aquino administration so that implementation can be done until the President bows out of office on June 30, 2016.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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