GPH, MILF resume peace talks in KL as DFA sends ship to Sabah on humanitarian mission

By | February 25, 2013

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 February) –The Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front  resume negotiations in Kuala Lumpur today (Monday) on the four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB)  that would complete their comprehensive peace pact, while negotiations for a peaceful resolution on the two-week standoff  in Lahad Datu, Sabah between Malaysian authorities and an armed group led by an heir of  the Sultanate of Sulu, continues.

On Sunday,  the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that a ship on humanitarian mission would be dispatched to Lahad Datu to “fetch and ferry back the women and other civilians among the 180-member group who are holed out in Lahad Datu.”

“Onboard the ship are Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel,” the DFA press release posted on its website at 6:55 pm.. on Sunday, said. No names of the leaders on board were mentioned.

“We sent the ship to  Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said.

Del Rosario reiterated his call to the group identifying itself as the “Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu,” and led by Rajah Mudah (Crown Prince) Agmuddin Kiram,  brother of Sultan Jamalul III, “to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time, we are addressing the core issues they have raised.”

The DFA had earlier asked Malaysia to extend up to Tuesday, February 26 the February 22 deadline for Kiram’s followers to leave or face deportation.

The Malaysian government had assured it will not use force on the Filipinos in Lahad Datu, del  Rosario told a media forum in Manila on February 21.

On the same day, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III told reporters in Iloilo that resolving the Sabah standoff through the use of force is not the effective way of dealing with the problem.

“We have been dealing with this. We have been talking to parties concerned including the family of the Sultan to ensure na may peaceful resolution,” said the President who acknowledged the ”good relationship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

MALAYSIAN PM. Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak stands between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim at the signing of the FAB in Malacanang on October 15 MindaNews file photo by Keith Bacongco

MALAYSIAN PM. Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak stands between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim at the signing of the FAB in Malacanang on October 15.  MindaNews File photo by Keith Bacongco

Malaysia has been facilitating the GPH-MILF peace process since 2001 and heading since 2004,  the International  Monitoring Team (IMT) overseeing implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the parties, in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

On the historic claims of the Kirams over Sabah, the President said: “I am not an expert. I have tasked the experts to study all of this and to find out precisely all of our standings. Where do we stand? And from where we stand where do we move forward?” the President said.

The ship, with hull number AT296, sailed Sunday from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu and will be “prepositioned offshore Lahad Datu while talks with the group are underway,” the DFA said.

The DFA notified the Malaysian Embassy in Manila on Saturday about the ship’s dispatch the next day.

Outside the purview

PEACE PANEL CHAIRS. GPH peace panel chair MIriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal at the February 11 launching of Sajahatra Bangsamoro in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Behind them is Mike Pasigan, the MILF peace panel's spokesperson for the Sajahatra Bangamoro  MindaNews Photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

PEACE PANEL CHAIRS. GPH peace panel chair MIriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal at the February 11 launching of Sajahatra Bangsamoro in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Behind them is Mike Pasigan, the MILF peace panel’s spokesperson for the Sajahatra Bangamoro. MindaNews Photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the issue on unsettled claims over Sabah is “a foreign policy matter that is outside the purview of the (GPH-MILF) talks.”

Ferrer explained in a text message to MindaNews  on February 19 that the FAB  provides for “ respect for customs, and recognition of identities and narratives as part of transitional justice” and “takes into account the plurality of groups and histories in the Bangsamoro.”

She said the Sultanate of Sulu “remains a traditional authority that is respected in Tausug society” and that the GPH peace panel “accorded them that respect when we met in 2011 with the Sultan Jamalul III, Esmail, and Abjimmudin Kiram brothers, a branch of the descendants of the Sultanate, and identified ways to acknowledge their historical and societal roles.”

But the issue on the unsettled claims over Sabah, Ferrer said, “is a foreign policy matter that is outside the purview of the talks” and “won’t unhinge the momentum of the peace process as inclusivity of all stakeholders in the Bangsamoro has always marked our approach.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, was also confident that the standoff in Sabah will not affect the talks

“No direct effect. Tuloy ang talks, Iqbal told MindaNews on February 19.

On the same day, an article in the MILF website, luwaran.com, quoted Khaled Musa, deputy  information chief of the MILF Committee  on Information, as saying that the MILF reached out to the Sultanate of Sulu “as we did to other groups in Mindanao on the subject of resolving the conflict in Mindanao.”

“ We did this on several occasions particularly when the MILF peace panel had a sortie in Zamboanga City more than a year ago,” Musa said in “response to allegations purportedly coming from one of the spokesmen of the Sultan of Sulu that they were not consulted on issues surrounding the GPH-MILF peace negotiation.”

Musa recalled that in the Zamboanga forum, “one of the relatives of the Sulu sultan asked the policy of the MILF regarding the sultanate especially the Sulu sultanate and the answer was: ‘We want to preserve it but we will not revive it.’”

Musa was also quoted as saying that the Sultanate is “part of Moro history and heritage and it is one of the basis of the present Moro’s assertion of its right to self-determination” but added that the  MILF “will not stand in the way if the various sultanates would want to revive themselves.”

“We respect their decisions,” said Musa.

Four Annexes

The GPH and MILF peace panels signed on October 15 last year the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) which provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by June 30, 2016.

Part of the core territory of the future Bangsamoro is the five-province, two-city ARMM that includes Sulu.

As agreed upon in the FAB, the two panels were supposed to have completed by December 31, 2012 the annexes on Power-sharing, Wealth-sharing, Normalization, and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, to complete theit comprehensive peace pact.

The panels met in November, December and last month ended their five-day talks on January 25 without completing any of the four annexes.

The panels, however, issued a Joint Statement claiming the talks “successfully ended” with both parties “achieving a milestone” with the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the body that will “review, assess, evaluate and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes.”

The panels will identify the members of the TPMT “within one month,” the Joint Statement said.

A month has passed but no member of the TPMT has been identified.

Under  Sec. 11 of  the FAB’s Chapter 7  (Transition and Implementation), the TPMT is to be composed of “international bodies, as well as domestic groups to monitor the implementation of all agreements.”

In their Joint Statement on January 25, the GPH and MILF peace panels announced the extension of the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led IMT and the GPH-MILF Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) for another year “in recognition of their important roles in the peace process, without prejudice to adjustments that may be needed pursuant to developments in the crafting of the Annexes to the FAB.”

President Aquino visited the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on February 11 to launch the “Sajahatra Bangsmoro” (Peace Bangsamoro), a socio-economic program to benefit MILF communities.

He is expected to announce soon the 15 members of the Transition Commission (TransCom) that would, among others, draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The MILF, which will chair the TransCom, had earlier submitted the names of  its eight members to Malacanang while President Aquino is still choosing the seven representatives to the TransCom. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)