MANILA, Philippines – Government negotiators and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed peace talks in the aftermath of attacks by a breakaway faction of the rebel group.
The two panels met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Tuesday, August 7, for the start of the 30th formal exploratory talks. Government Peace Panel Chairman Marvic Leonen led the Government of the Philippines (GPH) delegation while Mohager Iqbal headed the MILF side.
A statement from the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Teresita Deles said that the two panels engaged in an executive session with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ghafar Tengku bin Mohamed.
The OPAPP said this round of negotiations is crucial because both parties “continue to build on the modest gains achieved in the previous round of talks.”
A report on the MILF website Luwaran.net affirmed this, quoting an MILF source as saying the meeting will be “very crucial in terms of substance and timeline as both feel the heat to sign an agreement without delay.”
Leonen has said that government is pushing to reach a peace deal within the year.
The Luwaran report said that on the agenda are issues on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory and possibly a further discussion on a transition mechanism that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM.)
In April, both sides agreed on a 10-item Decision Points on Principles that Leonen described as a “guide in the continuous discussion on the substantive agenda.”
In a previous interview, he told Rappler he is “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a peace deal soon.
‘Negotiation table, not battlefield’
The peace talks resumed just days after a splinter MILF group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), attacked 11 towns in Maguindanao, killing three people and displacing villagers.
The BIFF said the assault was in retaliation for the death of a BIFF member and attacks against their Muslim brothers in Basilan.
The Army also reported that BIFF gunmen abducted, killed and mutilated the bodies of two soldiers in Maguindanao. The bodies were recovered on Monday, August 6. A third soldier is still missing.
The BIFF was founded by renegade ex-MILF commander Ameril Umra Kato.
Deles condemned the attacks, saying the BIFF intended to derail the peace process. She, however, said the fighting will not affect the government’s peace talks with the MILF.
At the resumption of the peace talks, Deles said, “The GPH panel is prepared and committed to tackle and seek solutions to the hard issues which will surely arise in this difficult stage of negotiations, determined never to lose sight of the big picture which is the peace and development our people have long desired.”
Deles added, “Government remains firm in its resolve to find a just and peaceful settlement to the conflict in Mindanao on the negotiation table and not in the battlefield.” – Rappler.com