For TransCom to work, GPH-MILF annexes “must be finished before the elections”

By | April 4, 2013

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 April) –  The three remaining annexes that would complete the comprehensive peace pact between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “must be finished before the elections” because the Transition Commission cannot craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law unless the annexes are signed, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent chair of the 15-member TransCom, said.

“We cannot proceed to discuss the substantive issues unless the three remaining annexes will be discussed and signed by the parties,” Iqbal told a press conference, aired live on ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) from the Crowne Hotel in  Pasig City on Wednesday morning, after the TransCom’s “first en banc meeting.”

Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the GPH and MILF peace panels signed on October 15, 2012, the panels were supposed to have finished by yearend 2012 the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities to complete the comprehensive peace pact. From there, the TransCom, is supposed to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would govern the “Bangsamoro,” the new autonomous political entity that will replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by June 30, 2016.

But in the four meetings after the signing of the FAB –  in November, December, January and February – the panels managed to sign only one, the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, in the last talks in February.

Iqbal said the TransCom for now can only attend to organizational matters such as writing the internal rules, organizing the secretariat and the committees “but certainly we cannot discuss the more substantive part of our task unless the annexes are finished.”


The panels were supposed to have met in Kuala Lumpur on March 25 to 27 but the talks were reset upon the request of President Aquino,  according to a statement issued by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles some 15 minutes before the “special meeting” in Kuala Lumpur on March 25, where GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was to have formally requested postponement and decide on the next meeting.

No reason was cited for the postponement but the next day, Deles’ office issued a belated Q and A explaining that the President sought the postponement because he “deems it necessary to have more time for review and consultations on the draft annexes.”

When the two panels ended their talks on February 27, they were supposed to have consulted their respective principals on their latest draft of the annexes in preparation for the next round on March 25 to 27.

Optimistic

Still, Iqbal told Wednesday’s press conference that he was optimistic the annexes would be finished soon because “we have a partner in government in the person of President Benigno Aquino III as sincere partner in the quest for lasting peace in Mindanao so I am optimistic although  I recognize the way ahead is still full of obstacles, that we need to surmount the obstacles along the way” and that it is “not an easy way forward.”

When a reporter asked if the annexes would be signed before the May 13 polls, Iqbal replied: “I believe that it will be signed because there is no other way except to move forward and finish all the annexes.”

“Any other track is not …advisable … so I would like to believe once again that it must be finished before the elections. The three annexes,” he said.

But Iqbal acknowledged that in the case of the third annex on Normalization,  which contains “very, very difficult issues” such as the decommissioning of MILF combatants and firearms,  gradual redeployment of government troops to other areas and the issue on constituting the police force for the Bangsamoro, may not be settled so “it can be a continuing agenda.

“Normalization is the hardest nut to crack. It concerns very, very difficult issues. Personally I would like to see signing of the architecture as far as normalization is concerned” and the tough issues which he said he expects would be settled “as long as two parties there and talking with each other”

The panels will resume negotiations this month. The mid-term elections will be held on May 13.

Asked how long they expect to finish the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Iqbal asked TransCom member Maulana “Bobby” Alonto to answer.

Alonto, also MILF peace panel member, said  they hope to craft the Basic Law “as early as possible.”

Done by 2014

“Hopefully by 2015 we expect the (Bangsamoro) Transition Authority to be established which would abolish the ARMM by that time. Again we have until 2014 to finish all the tasks the three tasks the main tasks of the TransCom.

Alonto said the TransCom will be based in Cotabato City.

The TransCom was created by Executive Order 120 issued by President Aquino on December 17.

The EO provides the following tasks of the TransCom, in accordance with the FAB: “draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law with provisions consistent with the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; whenever necessary, to recommend to Congress or the people, proposed amendments  to the 1987 Philippine Constitution; and whenever necessary, to assist in identifying and coordinating development programs in the proposed Bangsamoro in conjunction with the MILF Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) and the  Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI)” and for this purpose, “may likewise coordinate with such other relevant government agencies and/or non-government organizations.”

It also adds these tasks: “coordinate and conduct dialogues and consultations with the National Government and various stakeholders in furtherance of its functions; and perform such other relevant functions as the President may hereinafter direct.”

“If possible,  the last man last woman would be consulted,” Iqbal said, “so that they will own the process, they will own the basic law.”

He said if the people own the Basic Law crafted by the TransCom,  he sees no reason why Congress would water down the law, as it did with the 1996 GPH-Moro National Liberation Front peace agreement, or reject it.

“People must own it, not just in Mindanao but everybody. This is for peace. Peace for our people, peace for Mindanao, peace for the entire Philippines,”  Iqbal said.

The Sabah crisis, however, took about half  the time of the 43-minute press conference as reporters) asked, among others how Malaysia (see other story) could continue serving as  third party facilitator in the GPH-MILF peace process, given the alleged human rights violations perpetrated against Filipinos, particularly the Tausugs, in Sabah.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)