Gov’t, MILF talks reach ‘substantive stage’

David Yu Santos
Will they sign a peace agreement by end of March?


CRITICAL STAGE. The GPH delegation led by chief negotiator Marvic Leonen confers informally during a break on the 2nd day of the the 25th GPH-MILF Formal Talks in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, February 14. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wrapped up their three-day 25th exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, February 15, amid high expectations that a peace agreement may be signed by the end of March.

Presidential Peace Advicer on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles described the peace process as reaching a “substantive stage.” Speaking during an assembly of employees at the Office of the Presidential Adviser (OPAPP), Deles said that the “discussions will be very hard” for the ongoing round of talks even as she urged all stakeholders to support the negotiations.

We want to have good news announced at the end of the talks so we can sustain gains in the peace table, move forward, and draw near to achieving a political solution to the decades-old armed conflict,” Deles said.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed hinted that the current round of talks could be critical. “We will try to resolve issues that are quite serious to deal with,” he said.

In his opening statement at the start of the talks last Monday, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal was quoted by Mindanews, a Mindanao-based online news organization, as saying that the panels are “treading the most difficult phase of the 15-year old GPH-MILF peace negotiation.”

We are now dealing with the core of the Moro question and the armed conflict in Mindanao, which is the issue of genuine self-governance for our people. It is for this reason that we now experience numerous problems along our path. If we are not engaged in real problem-solving negotiation, then we will end up without signing the comprehensive compact soon or at any time during the Aquino administration,” Iqbal said.

Earlier, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen said that among the present administration’s groundwork for peace in Mindanao includes the “President willing to risk his own political future to cleanse government of past sins of corruption and misadministration.”

The President met with key MILF leaders in Tokyo last year.

Leonen likewise called on the MILF to to acknowledge other voices and exercise inclusivity in working with other leaders who represent the Bangsamoro people.

One year

Both panels said early last year that one year would be a “reasonable time frame” to finalize the negotiations and sign a peace agrement.

Frankly, if we conduct this negotiation as real problem-solving exercise, we would not spend 3 years into it. That is too long to spare on something whose main formula does not include option to secede.. 6 months up to one year timeline is enough to complete the process,” Iqbal said in his opening statement during the informal talks on January 13, 2011.

In February last year, Leonen also said that one year is a reasonable period to come to a fundamental agreement on a politically negotiated agreement, as reported by MindaNews.

Leonen was more specific about meeting timelines when he stated during the 5th round of formal talks last month that the “first quarter of the year” will be the “golden opportunity” to finalize the peace agreement.

Our standing instructions from our President are to work earnestly and with due and deliberate dispatch careful to consult all constituents that we also represent along the way. We think that this is possible. Share with us this vision.  Within this first quarter, let us attempt to craft an agreement,” Leonen said.

Iqbal said on Monday that “practically all issues are on the table and are clear to all parties.” He added: “If we cannot settle all these issues soon, there will be more headaches.” – Rappler.com

(Below is the Joint Statement on the 25th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks issued on Wednesday, February 15.)

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