Deles says GPH channels open to resolve contentious issues in talks with MILF PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 14:26

Amidst claim by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that peace negotiations with the government have reached a deadlock, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles on Sunday declared that channels of communications are open to discuss and settle the contentious issues, particularly wealth-sharing and power sharing.

Deles made the response in a text message to this writer who asked her reaction on the statement made by Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, who claimed that “a stalemate” has cropped up in the ongoing talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF which was the banner headline of a Manila newspaper in its June 16, 2013 issue.

“Channels are open in order for us to discuss and settle the contentious issues,” Deles said.

The newspaper quoted Iqbal as saying that the peace talks have reached “a stalemate” but the MILF leadership has urged MILF ground commanders to be patient to avoid the resumption of fighting in southern Philippines.

It may be recalled that in the summer of 2000, an all-out war erupted in Central Mindanao between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the MILF wherein the military captured all 49 MILF camps, including Camp Abubakar.

Again in 2007, heavy fighting broke out following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Ancestral Domain which was declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

However, backdoor negotiations continued and formal peace talks resumed in the latter part of 2010 and continued to gain headway over the past three years.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, was also quoted as saying on the slow progress of the negotiations.

However, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the GPH peace panel negotiating with the MILF, in a text message to this writer, pointed out that indeed the “talks are at the last stages; left for resolution are the hard issues” - referring to the wealth-sharing and power sharing.“Had these been easy, they would have been settled months ago,” adding that “in any case, both parties remain committed to the primacy of the peace process and the public is behind this pursuit.” “I am certain both of us will try our best to arrive at workable compromises,” Ferrer said.

Earlier, Ferrer said that the next round of talks will tackle the annexes on wealth-sharing and power-sharing which are the most contentious issues in the ongoing negotiations.

“During the last round of formal talks, the Parties agreed to meet again after the elections and in the interim to process the remaining issues in the annexes through an exchange of notes with the help of the facilitator,” Ferrer said.

“This exchange of notes has already commenced and through this process, we hope to come as close as possible to agreed language and return to Kuala Lumpur to be able to finalize the Annexes on Power and Wealth-sharing very soon,” she added.

Malaysia is the third party facilitator in the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF.

Ferrer admitted that “because the Annexes will further detail what is provided in the Framework Agreement, it is to be expected that finding agreement on these details has been more difficult and complex.”

With respect to wealth-sharing, Ferrer said a draft had been completed by the technical working groups of both the panels of the GPH and the MILF.

“However, prudence on the part of Government requires that it undergoes a final review before the President (Benigno S. Aquino III) gives his final stamp of approval,” she pointed out.

Ferrer reiterated that “the President is committed to delivering an agreement that will allow the Bansamoro to enjoy effective and meaningful fiscal autonomy but also take into account the legal, political, and administrative constraints of the Central Government,” adding that “these are the considerations as to why Government wishes to introduce some changes to the draft annex, particularly with regard some aspects of taxation, fund transfer mechanisms, and revenue sharing.”

She also said the framework provides for three classes of sharing of powers between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro regional government. These are:

—“Reserved” powers or matters over which competencies are fully retained by the central government;

—“Concurrent” powers or aspects of jurisdiction subject to the shared or joint authorities of the central and regional governments; and

—“Exclusive” powers or competencies that are to be devolved to the Bangsamoro.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) has already identified some of the reserved powers. These are:a)Defense and external securityb)Foreign policyc)Common market and global trade, provided that the power to enter into economic agreements already allowed under Republic Act No. 9054 shall be transferred to the Bangsamorod)Coinage and monetary policye)Citizenship and naturalization, andf)Postal service

Ferrer said that “this leaves the other aspects of governance, which runs along a wide gamut of governance functions, for negotiation.”

“Finding the language for this that will not only give life to the intention of the parties, but also be legally defensible and “doable,” i.e. politically and administratively feasible, is not a simple task,” she added.

Learning from the experience of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), government deems it important that these criteria are met, Ferrer stressed.

“This is why Government is currently undertaking technical consultations with the departments and line agencies to make sure that the details contained in the drafts are feasible, not only in legal but also in practical terms,” she said.

For instance, one of the remaining issues in the power-sharing annex has to do with jurisdiction over transportation and communication, she added.

“Given the need to comply with prevailing international standards and our obligations under international law, any sharing of jurisdiction in this regard will have both legal and international implications that need to be carefully studied,” Ferrer said.

As to when the annexes are to be finished, Ferrer said: “The President and his entire cabinet are giving the peace negotiations the attention it needs and deserves to ensure that a comprehensive agreement, one that will give us the best shot for a just and enduring peace in Mindanao, is reached at the soonest possible time. The Government Panel is just as anxious to find workable solutions to these contentious issues and is working diligently and with urgency towards this end. Government is fully aware that time is of the essence and does not wish to “pass the buck” to the next administration to implement the agreement.”

On the implications that there are no formal negotiations yet, Ferrer said that “even without the conduct of formal meetings, the peace process continues to move forward.”

Ferrer said that “the exchange of notes is currently ongoing and Government hopes that this process will allow the Parties to gain more clarity with respect to the current language of the Annexes and lead them to an agreement on the unresolved issues.”

According to Ferrer, the Transition Commission TC) has met several times and was able to approve its internal rules of procedure as well as set-up working committees to draft the Basic Law.

She said the “government hopes that even without the Annexes, the TC can soon start discussion on the substantive provisions of the Framework Agreement that will need to find language in the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” adding that “an example of items that the TC will need to further develop is the provision on the Bangsamoro Government being ministerial in form.”

At the same time, Ferrer said that confidence-building measures between the GPH and MILF continue.

She cited as example the ongoing planning for the provincial launches of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, President Aquino’s concrete, socio-economic initiative aimed at uplifing the health, education, and livelihood conditions of MILF communities.

The program was launched jointly by the government and the MILF in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao recently following the signing ofr the historic signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

With respect to the agreements on cessation of hostilities, the ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the MILF continues to hold, Ferrer said.

“In fact, no armed skirmishes were recorded for the year 2012,” Ferrer said as a “testament to the good working relationship between the government and MILF through the coordinative mechanisms overseeing the implementation of the ceasefire.”

Ferrer also said that both peace panels are “taking the time to continue consultations with stakeholders and their respective constituencies.”

On the part of the GPH peace panel, “these include engagements with government agencies not only for legal and technical concerns relating to the drafts but also to consolidate support for the implementation of the comprehensive agreement and the prospective Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Ferrer concluded.