GPH, MILF resume talks on annexes

By | April 10, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/10 April) – The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formally resumed Tuesday afternoon negotiations on the three annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that would complete the comprehensive peace pact, four months past their supposed deadline.

The resumption came six days after the “first en banc meeting” in Pasig City of the 15-member Transition Commission (TransCom) where MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent TransCom chair,  expressed hope the annexes would be finished “before the elections.”

The synchronized national, local and regional elections are a month away, on May 13.

“We cannot proceed to discuss the substantive issues (in the TransCom) unless the three remaining annexes will be discussed and signed by the parties,” Iqbal told a press conference in  Pasig City on April 3, during the body’s  “first en banc meeting.”

“ I would like to believe once again that it must be finished before the elections,” Iqbal said.


Agreed upon in Kuala Lumpur on October 7 and signed on October 15, 2012 in Malacanang in the presence of  President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Malaysian Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, whose country has been facilitating and hosting the peace talks since 2001, the FAB provides the framework for the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by 2016.

Under the FAB, the parties agreed to work on the annexes “and complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.”

The panels met in November, December, January and February but managed to finish only the annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, in February.

“Call of the hour”

The annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization are still pending.

The panels were supposed to have resumed talks on March 25 to 27 but a March 25 press statement from Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said President Aquino sought postponement of the talks. No reason was cited but the next day Deles’ office belatedly issued a Q and A that said the President “deems it necessary to have more time for review and consultations on the draft annexes.”

The talks formally started at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday although members of the GPH and MILF Technical Working Group on Normalization started a day ahead,  convening at 9:45 a.m. on Monday and meeting again on Tuesday morning and afternoon until they were called to the plenary.  Plenary sessions and TWG meetings are held behind closed doors.

In  his opening statement Tuesday,  a copy of which was given to MindaNews, Iqbal said “settling the remaining issues is the call of the hour.”

“Can we conclude this negotiation now and proceed without delay to normalization, construction, and development of the devastated region of the Bangsamoro” he asked?

“Without appearing very simplistic,” he said, “I think we are about to achieve this historic feat of signing the comprehensive peace agreement with the Aquino administration.”

Iqbal based his optimism on the outcome of the last talks in February. He said he is hopeful that the Annex on Wealth-Sharing will be signed during this round of talks “because the text had been settled during the 36th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks last February 25-27.”

Sources from the TWG on Wealth-Sharing said the annex had been initialled in February.

On the Annex on Power-sharing,  Iqbal said he was “upbeat that we can readily settle this,” noting that there are “only three or four issues remaining for discussion” and that when these two annexes are settled, the Annex on Normalization “will easily fall in place.”

“Spoilers within”

Iqbal, who spoke after GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, began his statement on what he referred to as “spoilers within,” apparently a continuation from an editorial with the same title published in the MILF’s website, luwaran.com, a day earlier, apparently referring to “spoilers” within the GPH and MILF peace panels.

He admitted that sometimes it is more difficult to negotiate with your own peers rather than with your adversary and that worse, one may be “virtually negotiating with himself or herself, because there are instances one disagrees with the decision of the principal and in this particular case, one has to choose: follow your own thought or toe the official line.”

“This is a difficult moment in the life of a negotiator, which he or she has no way to resolve except to do the right thing: make an appeal for the reconsideration of the decision, or he or she has to leave for good (with personal conviction intact),” Iqbal said.

He said they have dealt with the “spoilers” within the MILF, those political or military leaders who disagreed with the leadership in some vital decisions regarding the negotiation “but practically, except one, we handled them in favour of the higher cause of the struggle.  The higher interest must be upheld at all times.”

As of 12 noon Wednesday, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer’s opening statement has yet to be released to the public. Usually the GPH peace panel chair’s opening statement is posted on the same day at the OPAPP website.

The OPAPP, however, posted a press release at 11:28 a.m. Wednesday or nearly 20 hours since Ferrer delivered her statement, explaining that the reason why the March talks were reset for April was to give time for a thorough review.

No copy of the statement was posted on the website.

No promise of moon, sun, stars

The OPAPP press release quoted Ferrer as saying the Aquino administration wants an agreement based on a “solid foundation that that will withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, the cynicism of the critical.”

“Our President, this government panel, our government, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun, and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark or to your own resources when the going gets even tougher,” said Ferrer.

She said Cabinet members had “gone out of their way to shepherd this process.”

“Our agenda remains clear: we solve the remaining issues across the three annexes, seek the creative compromises, and find the right language, “ Ferrer was quoted as saying.

The  opening rites ended at 4:19 p.m. It was followed, according to GPH peace panel member Bai Yasmin Busran-Lao by a one-on-one meeting of  the panel chairs with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, who were later joined by  panel members handling the Annex on wealth-sharing.

The session ended at 9:07 p.m. Tuesday.

The TWG on Normalization resumed negotiations at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

The International Contact Group, on the other hand, met with the GPH peace panel at 11 a.m. and was scheduled to meet the MILF peace panel immediately after.

The plenary session will resume at 2 p.m.

The GPH introduced  new members of its delegation during the opening rites Tuesday:  Atty. Anna Tarhata Basman who took over the post from Atty. Johaira Wahab who has been appointed TransCom member, and  Gen. Cesar Dionisio Sedillo, former assistant division commander of the 6th ID, now new chair of the GPH Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), who replaced Brig. Gen. Jose Gilberto Roa who retired on April 1.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)