‘Next round of talks in April may be the last’ – MILF

As of the latest round of talks, the peace panels of the GPH and MILF are still proceeding from different perspectives and premises, especially on essential points.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – In the last round of peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines, they began tackling some thorny points of the proposed peace agreement. The Aquino government has promised to sign an agreement with the MILF within the year. The MILF peace panel, on the other hand, likewise expressed a similar desire but cannot yet see it happening that soon.

In a roundtable discussion with members of the Moro-Christian Peoples’ Alliance in Quezon City shortly after the MILF peace panel flew back from Kuala Lumpur, they shared that the two peace panels had discussed power sharing, wealth sharing, and the form of government to be adopted during the “interim.” But in all of it, there was as yet “no breakthrough.”

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel, said they have not finished talking yet about power-sharing, for example. There are a lot of models under a federal system, he said.


Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)

But it appears that it is neither the lack of time nor the variety of models to choose from that is presenting obstacles to an early peace agreement. Based on the sharing of some members of the MILF peace panel, the two sides have very different perspectives or positions that may not meet each other halfway.

The problem, said Iqbal, is that they are arguing on the basis of a federal system while the government is still working within the framework of a unitary system.

Whether that is deliberate or intentional, or whether the government peace panel just does not really understand the MILF proposal is something Iqbal or Professor Michael Mastura, another member of the MILF peace panel, cannot say yet. What they are sure of, they said, is that in the next scheduled meeting, they are slated to talk about the government peace panel’s counterproposal to the MILF draft compact. Its submission has already been delayed as far as the MILF is concerned, said Iqbal and Mastura.

The MILF is not amenable to the government’s counterproposal. The MILF complained that the Manila government’s peace proposal had “started from zero.” It disregarded certain points that were agreed upon in the last 14 years of peace negotiations.

In the revised MILF proposal submitted to the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the MILF has proposed to carve out a sub-state for the Bangsamoro people. It may include the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, plus other provinces populated by Moro communities, if other residents there vote their consent.


Michael Mastura, senior member of MILF peace panel (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)

It is a compromise proposal between outright secession, which the Manila government vehemently rejects, and continued Moro integration into the sphere under Malacañang’s rule, which the Bangsamoro people, citing historical and cultural differences, have been struggling against for decades now. The proposed substate is also an experiment on federalism, a concept still untried in the Philippines.

Disagreements

On wealth-sharing the members of the MILF peace panel told the Moro Christian Peoples Alliance that they still have not progressed much as of the latest round of talks. They opposed the Aquino government’s overtures toward forming a joint committee to handle socio-economic projects in areas populated or controlled largely by the Bangsamoro people and those included in the MILF’s proposed substate. “That (the joint committee on socio-economic projects) is a matter that should be determined in the peace talks,” said Iqbal.

As for the issue of an interim government, until now, said Iqbal, the two peace panels still have no agreement about what exactly that interim is. The opposing views include taking the ministerial form or the federal form of government.

While there is yet no breakthrough in the peace talks, the members of the MILF peace panel noted that the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Countries had applied for observer status in the ongoing MILF-Philippine government peace talks. They agreed to it. (Note: The MILF has long been applying for an observer status in the 57-member OIC, but so far they have not been allowed in.)

What lies ahead?

Some members of the MILF disclosed that the Aquino government seems to have a shallow reading of what the Bangsamoro people wants. “They think that if they address some grievances of the Bangsamoro people, it would be enough,” said Iqbal.

Mastura shared that the “declared agenda” of the Aquino government’s peace panel is just to institute reforms, and they are not even sure if they could amend the Organic Act of the Philippines to allow the formation of a sub-state.

Meanwhile, some members of the MILF peace panel lamented that they have observed cases where some of their leaders are being “silently wooed” by the Manila government.


MILF Technical Working Group Chairman Hadji Abdullah Camlian (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)

Abdullah Camlian, member of MILF peace panel, said in Filipino that they are getting tired already. “We’ve been coming back and forth for the past 14 years and there is still no agreement.” He said that some of what they have accomplished through the peace talks, some agreements which had been signed already, for example, are either not being honored or being withdrawn.

“We would return to Kuala Lumpur for another round of talks this April, Camlian said. He added that that meeting may well turn out to be their last. ()

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