Tough times again for GPH-MILF talks PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 13 April 2012 13:52

The 15-year-old peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seemed to be in rough sailing once more, but the MILF and foreign and local groups helping push the negotiation forward are not about to give it up.

Many peace advocacy outfits, among them the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, the Mindanao Think Tank, and local officials have been urging the government and MILF panels to continue building consensus on how to bilaterally address the remaining substantive issues both sides are yet to resolve.
The MILF said the government is trying to ram down its throat a peace package for Mindanao that is unacceptable to Southern Moro communities.

Ghadzali Jaafar, who is the MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs, told the Oblate Media this was their realization after last month’s March 19 to 21 formal talks in Malaysia.

“We’re just going round and round in circles. The government seemed to be occupied only with `managing’ the Moro issue, not addressing its causes and finding a lasting solution,” Jaafar said.

Peace activists have called on Malacañang to give up its offer to the MILF of “3-for-1 peace formula” and work out a more suitable solution to the Moro quest for self-determination and self-governance instead.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., executive director of the foreign-assisted IAG, said the government’s peace package, which is to be centered on massive economic development; political settlement with the MILF; and cultural-historical acknowledgment, are now being done in form of “reforms” in the administrative and political set-up of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“We know that the MILF do not see these approaches as a viable solution to the Moro rebellion. It has not recognized the ARMM either since its inception in the early 1990s,” Mercado said.

The MILF peace panel already rejected the 3-for-1 proposal during formal talks in Malaysia last year. 

The MILF has been demanding for a more politically and administratively empowered mini- government, “under the Philippine government,” to manage Moro communities and the resources of remaining Muslim-dominated areas in the South.

The government’s 3-for-1 package is a formula to reform the ARMM. It is not a blueprint for lasting peace in Mindanao,” said Mercado.

Mercado, who belongs to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) congregation, was a member of now defunct Regional Consultative Commission, which drafted the ARMM’s charter, Republic Act 6734, which was amended through a plebiscite in 2001 and, subsequently, became R.A.9054.

Jaafar said the MILF is no longer optimistic it can forge a final peace deal with government while under the Aquino administration.

“The previous administrations did not really focus attention on finding out lasting solutions to the problem. That mistake should be an eye opener for the Aquino administration,” Jaafar said.

The government-MILF talks started in January 7, 1997, but had been repeatedly punctuated by security problems in many flashpoint areas supposedly covered by a ceasefire crafted by both sides in June of the same year to prevent undue hostilities while the negotiations are underway.

The rebel group has also been demanding a guarantee from the executive, legislative and judicial branches to government to stand as one in dealing with the MILF peace panel.

The government’s chief negotiator, Marvic Leonen, in a statement emailed to the Daily Zambaonga Times just before the Holy Week, said they have laid out a “pragmatic proposal” that will ensure genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro people.

Leonen’ statement came after the MILF posted in its website, the www.luwaran.net, its sentiment on the seeming lack of tangible output in the May formal talks in Malaysia. 

MILF and government sources, who asked not to be identified, said there was a supposed signing after the last round of talks of agreed instrument of principles, which was to outline the commitment of both sides, a “reaffirmation” to so speak, to focus extensively on the remaining thorny issues of the peace overture.

The document, accordingly, was to bind the two panels, not even an accord, but merely a “renewed pledge” by both sides, to continue talking about Moro identify, system of governance suitable to the socio-economic, religious and political settings in the Moro homeland, natural resources, revenue and taxation, and many other issues parallel with self-governance in the South by the area’s indigenous communities.

There was no signing of the document, whatsoever, after March 19 to 21 talks in Malaysia.

The only breakthrough the two panels accomplished then was the grant of bilateral permission to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly named Organization of Islamic Conference) to sit as “observer” in the government-MILF talks.

The OIC, a block of 57 Muslim states, including wealthy petroleum-exporting countries in the Middle East and the North Africa, brokered the September 2, 1996 peace pact between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Three member-states of the OIC, Malaysia, Brunei and Libya, have been helping oversee the enforcement of the government-MILF ceasefire in flashpoint areas in the South through the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The European Union, Norway, and Japan also have representatives to the IMT.

“The government maintains that it is ready to sign a peace pact with the MILF in the soonest possible time. We have laid a very pragmatic proposal that will ensure real and genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro on the table,” Leonen said in his emailed statement.

According to Leonen, the last round of talks have been very difficult, with both parties engaged in hard bargaining on the substantive aspects of the negotiations.

“Given the dynamic nature of the negotiations, it has to be understood that there are issues that may be hard to resolve,” Leonen said.

Leonen said the government is committed to work hard with its counterparts in the MILF to find mutually acceptable solutions and bring peace in Mindanao. Instead of trying to fuel people’s apprehensions, we urge the MILF to work with government and meet our timetable for a peace agreement this year.

Jaafar said the MILF remains steadfast in its desire to continue negotiating with the Aquino administration.

“The MILF is not turning its back from its avowed position on the importance of finding a peacefully negotiated solution to the Mindanao problem,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar emphasized, however, that the MILF is no longer optimistic it can strike a peace agreement with the Aquino administration.

“We have strong doubts now if the two panels could forge a final peace accord,” he said.

Jaafar said more than 200 MILF commanders, who met in Maguindanao last month believe that the peace talks is not about to be concluded soon, contrary to the claims of some government officials.

“In fact, the outcome of the recent formal talks was disappointing for these commanders,” Jaafar said. — Felix Ostrea