A lot of contentious points still to be hurdled in GPH-MILF peace talks

“What is important to us is that we should have a (Bangsamoro) substate which we ourselves are governing.” – MILF

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Nearly two months after their last talks, the peace panels of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines (GPh) embark this week on their 29th peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The previous scheduled talks had been a veritable shouting match, sources told Bulatlat.com. The 28th talks ended without the customary joint statement of the two peace panels.

In between this week’s peace talks and the last, the MILF busied itself reaching out to many people, including non-Muslims, in the hope that “this peace process will be owned by everybody,” as the MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal told reporters. Iqbal expressed confidence that peace is what everybody wants, hence, promoting, or at least just respecting the peace process, should hopefully be considered as everybody’s responsibility.

Last week, the MILF sponsored a Moro Leaders Assembly in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, attended by thousands of local and foreign Muslims and observers. The assembly has reportedly impressed the participants.

Luwaran.com, MILF’s website, quoted David Gorman, head of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC) and coordinator of the International Contact Group (ICG) overseeing the ceasefire between MILF and GPH: “I was truly impressed with the general assembly. It shows the mandate, legitimacy, and inclusivity of the MILF. It bodes well for the future entity.”


From left to right: MILF’s Datu Michael Mastura, Datu Mohagher Iqbal, Datu Roberto Alonto, at a media dialogue in Quezon City (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)

The MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have also twice met in the past weeks for convergence dialogues, one in Davao and another on the occasion of the MILF-sponsored Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly. They have issued a joint statement last June saying “The MILF and MNLF shall continue to work closer to achieve the Bangsamoro aspiration for justice, freedom and self-determination.”

Yet, despite all these seeming MILF preparations, its peace panel offered only guarded optimism about the outcome of the 29th peace talks with the GPH. Luwaran reported that an official source from the MILF peace panel told them that “while there is some sense of optimism for a breakthrough in the transition arrangement or the road map, the other issues remained very contentious.”

“Anything can still happen,” the official source reportedly said, adding that real negotiation is never easy.

Numerous contentious points

Expected to top the talks’ agenda are the issues of Interim arrangement, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, normalization, basic law, and constitutional issues. But as in past sessions of the peace negotiations, it is expected that both the MILF and government peace panels will raise other agenda for discussion.

Based on the explanation offered by MILF’s Datu Roberto “Bobby” Alonto in their dialogue with the media in Quezon City last month, “What we have signed in the 27th exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur in April are 10 decision points where we agreed on what we should be agreeing about.” Fleshing out the topics listed there would spell the difference between producing a signed peace accord or not.

Contrary to the pronouncement of the Aquino government that the MILF-GPH peace talks are nearing conclusion soon, with a signed accord, an MILF peace panel senior member said they have not yet reached the stage of “ripening of the peace process,” or the stage when the parties are ready to sign. And it is not because they themselves wanted to prolong the talks.

“What is important to us is that we should have a (Bangsamoro) substate which we ourselves are governing,” Iqbal told reporters in the media dialogue. Their proposals of basically letting themselves live according to their own culture and history “need a Bangsamoro state or land,” said Prof. Michael Mastura, senior peace panel member of the MILF.

The group has made it clear numerous times though that they will not submit to a setup like ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), which, they clarified, is really “not a negotiated political settlement.” They explained that there had been no space for genuine Moro self-rule in ARMM ever since the peace agreement between the MNLF and (then) GRP stipulated that in cases of conflict between interpretation of autonomy laws and the Philippine Constitution, the latter would override the former.

So far, the MILF and the GPH panels, according to Iqbal, have agreed that the “GPH will not raise the issue of Constitutionality and the MILF will not raise the issue of independence.” The two peace panels “have no consensus that their peace process is within the framework of the Philippine Constitution.” A consensus or the lack of it leaves the proposed concept of Bangsamoro “substate” hanging. ()

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