(UPDATED) Annexes unfinished; GPH, MILF resume talks after May 13 polls

By | April 11, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/11 April) –  The peace panels of the Philippine government (GPH)  and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended their three-day negotiations today (Thursday) with the three annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro still unfinished.

Thursday’s session began at 9:54 a.m. and ended with the signing at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses Hotel at  1:05 p.m. of  a Joint Statement that they will “meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections” to finish the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization.

The annexes are needed to complete the comprehensive peace pact which will then be the basis for crafting the Basic Law for the “Bangsamoro,” the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by 2016.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal shake hands after signing at 1:05 p.m. Thursday a Joint Statement at the end of the three day talks in Kuala Lumpur.  MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal shake hands after signing at 1:05 p.m. Thursday a Joint Statement at the end of the three day talks in Kuala Lumpur. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Discussions of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on Normalization which met since Monday, a day ahead of the scheduled April 9 to 11 talks,  are “moving the parties towards an agreement on the architecture for the normalization process,” it said.


The eight-paragraph statement said the panels “continued to find ways to resolve remaining issues on the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization,  agreeing to exchange notes through the facilitator in the coming days” and affirmed their commitment to “finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said they hope to address a number of issues during the exchange of notes between now and the next round of talks

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described this week’s talks as “very tough.”

“Government is not ready to sign Wealth-Sharing. MILF is very ready,” he told MindaNews.

The Philippines is holding its synchronized national mid-term, local and regional elections on May 13. Malaysia’s election is on May 5.

Different phase

Ferrer told MindaNews that the panels are “already in a different phase of finishing only the remaining issues and the routine does not have to be the same. The approach can be different.”

She said there are only two remaining key issues in the Annex on Power-sharing: “the allocation of the powers across the different items pertaining to transportation and communications and the concept of regional waters.”

In the Annex on Wealth-Sharing, “it’s really getting the whole picture, it’s the fine-tuning and getting the sum total of all the obligations that will be committed by government.”

Ferrer acknowledged that the Wealth-Sharing Annex had been “initialed at the TWG level but as agreed, it will be subject to the review of our principals.”

She said due diligence is being conducted “now that we have the sum total of taxes, block grants, subsidies, revenue shares…and government wants to be very clear about the kinds of commitments  it will be making.”

The Wealth-Sharing Annex was initialed during the February 25 to 27 talks and is, until now, still undergoing review by government.

Ferrer explained that the review process takes long. “Unlike in the case of the MILF when they are focused on this thing, government is focused on many things, it has many agendas so that means in a matter that requires extensive discussion, understanding of the full implications and consensus of all branches of government that will be affected here, then that‘s a process that takes some time in the midst of all the regular governance functions, in the midst of all issues that government is facing.”

The panels also signed the Terms of Reference of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro,  a socio-economic peace initiative of government in partnership with the MILF and personally launched by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on February 11 at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute compound in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

President Aquino then said peace was “abot-kamay” (within reach).

“Abot-kamay  na po ang bunga ng kapayapaang kay tagal nating inaasam-asam” (The fruits of peace that we have long cherished are now within reach), Aquino said exactly two months ago.

Heartbreak Hill

The President, whose family lived in exile in Boston for a couple of years during the Marcos dictatorship, likened the stage of the peace process as of February 11 to the “Heartbreak Hill” of the Boston Marathon.

He said on the last mile of the marathon, when the runner already sees the finish line, the terrain goes uphill. But there is no stopping, he said.

“While nearing the peak of ‘Heartbreak Hill’ there will be more intrigues, more difficult process. But our trust for each other will get us through,” the President said.

The next day, February 12,  members of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” arrived in Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their proprietary rights over Sabah. Whether or not it was mere coincidence, or the product of an alleged conspiracy, the arrival in Sabah led to a standoff that broke into violence on March 1and led Malaysia into launching Operasi Daulat (Operation Uphold Sovereignty) through aerial and ground attacks to flush out the “Royal Security Forces” from Lahad Datu.

At least 70 Filipinos have been reported killed and hundreds arrested in Sabah and at least 5,000 have evacuated to Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan. Complaints of alleged human rights violations were also reported by evacuees.

Although the GPH and the MILF have repeatedly said Sabah is a foreign affairs issue and is not within the purview of the GPH-MILF peace talks, criticisms had been raised about Malaysia’s role as third party facilitator in the peace talks, given that it is a party to Sabah.

Malaysia has been facilitating and hosting the talks since March 2001.

Former GPH peace panel chair Jesus Dureza (2001 to 2003),  wrote in his column on March 11 that aside from the deaths and the violence suffered by Filipinos in Sabah, “one of major casualties of the Sabah incident is the MILF peace negotiations. “

“Evidently, events have overtaken the MILF peace talks.  Even MILF’s claim for a Bangsamoro ancestral domain and right to self determination, without factoring in the Sabah claim, will not fly anymore. Malaysian participation   as a neutral  ‘facilitator’ is now blown to pieces due to their violent operations against the Filipino Muslims in Lahad Datu. With the arrival of hundreds of Filipinos fleeing Sabah, more alleged atrocities committed against Filipinos are starting to surface,” he wrote.

Different feeling

Dr. Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative to the Philippines and its representative to the International Contact Group,  the body created by the GPH and MILF peace panels on July 29, 2009, composed of representatives of state and non-state organizations “to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process,” noticed a “different” feeling in the talks since February, when the Sabah issue came to the fore.

“While many aspects of the talks seem to never change (same participants, same venue, often the same issues) the feeling has been different since early February, when the tragic imbroglio in Sabah erupted, with armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu entering Sabah, followed by a Malaysian security operation in which dozens were killed and hundreds arrested,” he wrote in his blog in “In Asia: weekly insights and features from The Asia Foundation.”

Rood said there is an “obvious question of the effect of all this on the facilitation by Malaysia” of the GPH-MILF peace talks. “Some have called into question the whole notion of Malaysia acting as a neutral facilitator given the Philippines’ claim (though long-dormant) over Sabah (as successor-in-interest to the Sultan of Sulu), and particularly in the context of deaths of Filipino citizens.” But Rood added that “others say that there is no reason to re-think what has been mostly an effective process at reaching an agreement.”

Patience, impatience

Another ICG member, Kristian Herbolzheimer, Director of the Philipines an Colombia Progammes at Conciliation Resources,  described the peace process as “on a good track.”

“At the final stretch of a long negotiation process, expectations are high, which can lead to impatience,” he said.

Herbolzheimer said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams “keeps reminding that peace discussions inside the Irish Republican Army were more difficult than with the British Government. The Oslo peace accord of 1993 between Israel and Palestine eventually failed due to lack of buy-in from all stakeholders from both constituencies. Parties have not been able to rebuild that momentum 20 years later.”

Another ICG member Emma Leslie, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia told MindaNews that peace processes “require us to practice the Islamic virtue of patience or endurance.  It is no different in this process. We would always want things to move faster, but we trust that taking time ensures a just peace in the long term.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)