Gov‘t, MILF to resume formal exploratory talks on Feb. 9-10 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 15 January 2011 16:01

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed to resume formal exploratory talks on Feb. 9-10 to find a genuine and lasting solution to the long-drawn Mindanao conflict.

Professor Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel, said the agreement to resume the formal negotiation was firmed up during an informal dialogue in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday under the auspices of the Malaysian government.

The announcement for the reopening of formal negotiations will coincide with the resumption of formal talks between the government and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) in Oslo, Norway next month.

“Both parties will resume formal, exploratory talks on February 9-10, 2011,” Leonen said in a press statement.

He said the renewal of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) “will be positively considered in the February meeting.”

The IMT, whose members are from Brunei, Malaysia, Libya and Japan, is in charge of monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire agreement observed by both parties and the ongoing various socio-economic programs in Mindanao, particularly in conflict-affected areas.

The function of AHJAG is to interdict and isolate other armed groups such as the Abu Sayyaf that may try to disrupt the peace and order in a community like kidnapping.

In addition, the government affirmed the security guarantees previously agreed on and will issue identity cards to members of the MILF participating in the peace negotiations.

The MILF has submitted a list of 25 MILF members allegedly in the custody of Philippine security agencies. Leonen said the government, in turn, has agreed to review individually the cases of the people in the list.

“The government panel welcomes the solution of the Malaysian government on the concerns raised regarding facilitation. It is optimistic that talks will move forward constructively,” he said.

Other members of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF are Miriam Coronel Ferrer, and head of secretariat Iona Jalijali.

The MILF panel is headed by Mohagher Iqbal with Michael Mastura and Jun Mantawil as members.

It may be recalled that the last time the government and the MILF held formal talks was on Dec. 8, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, after 16 months of being stalled following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Heavy fighting broke out between government forces and the MILF shortly after the non-signing of the MOA-AD which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Over 500,000 people in Central Mindanao were displaced during the fighting, although most of them have returned to their homes.

Informal dialogue between the government peace panel headed by Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla and the NDF led by Luis Jalandoni starts in Oslo, Norway on Friday.

This is the second round of informal talks during the Aquino government. The first was held in Hong Kong on Dec. 1-2, 2010.

It was during this talk that Padilla and Jalandoni agreed to hold a second round of negotiations before formal talks will be held in Norway on Feb. 19-25.

Formal negotiations bogged down in August 2005 after the United States and the European Union tagged the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), as a terrorist organization.

However, while the talks were in the doldrums, back-channeling negotiations continued between the government and the rebels.

On the talks with the MILF, the government peace panel is expected to raise the issue on the replacement of Othman Abdul Razak as peace process facilitator, and the cessation of hostilities.

Padilla and members of the government peace panel left for Norway on Thursday.

The second round of informal dialogue will last for five days.

The government peace panel will raise the issues on the continued use of landmine by the NPA and the revolutionary tax imposed by the rebels on business firms.

The United Nations (UN) has banned the use of landmine because of its indiscriminate destruction to lives and property.

On the other hand, the NDF is expected to demand for the release of captured NPA leader Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara.

Alcantara, who has 23 standing warrants of arrests, including murder charges, was captured by government forces in Lucena City last Jan. 4.

Alcantara was also implicated in the killing of Romulo Kintanar, a former top NPA leader, in 2003.

Brig. Gen. Jose Z. Mabanta Jr., Armed Forces spokesman, said the capture of Alcantara was a big blow to the NPA, particularly in Southern Luzon because Alcantara was the one who directed all NPA operations in the area.

But the government is still verifying the claim of the CPP that Alcantara is a consultant to the NDF, hence immune from arrest under the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees signed between the government and the NDF.

The NDF has listed 96 names as consultants, 21 of them carrying true identities and the rest are known by their aliases.

Whether Alcantara’s name is in the list is now the subject of verification by the government in the presence of the NDF.

The list is being kept by a Dutch bishop in The Netherlands.

“The process of determining if one was covered by JASIG will be decided by opening the vault, which is now under the Dutch bishop. Both parties agreed that it is sealed so the claim that the JASIG list is being changed from time to time, as far as we’re concerned, (is untrue)… there’s a sealed list that is now in a bank, in a vault,” according to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda during a briefing in Malacanang on Thursday.

“And when you go in to verify if one is covered by the JASIG, both parties have to be present, the Dutch bishop opens the vault and takes a look," he said.

"There are some names that are aliases; some are real names. To prove that they are covered, aside from aliases there are pictures. So it’s a way of verifying if one is covered by JASIG or not. So that is very clear.    Again they may go to Oslo, and they may demand that but that’s a separate issue. There are no preconditions we have agreed on,” he added.