KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Are they close to an agreement?
In an indication of the significance of this round of talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), President Benigno Aquino III sent his spokesman, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, here to huddle with represenatatives of both sides.
Lacierda arrived here Thursday afternoon, July 11, along with Presidential Adviser on Peace Teresita Deles, as both parties tried to hammer out an agreement on wealth sharing between the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity and the central government on the scheduled last day of the negotiations.
They did not join the formal talks, which started in the morning. Instead, Lacierda and Deles met with members of the government peace panel team, led by chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and two members of the MILF peace panel – chairman Mohagher Iqbal and Roberto Alonto — in a separate room. Malaysian Facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed was also present in the meeting.
In that closed-door meeting, Lacierda “relayed a message” from President Aquino III to both parties, according to a source who refused to elaborate.
The meeting only lasted 10 minutes, and the panels resumed their session right after.
As of posting, Deles and Lacierda were still in the venue of the talks, waiting for developments on whether the annex on wealth sharing – one of the annexes needed to complement the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro – can be signed.
It’s unusual for Cabinet members who are not directly involved in the talks, to pay the peace panels a visit in Kuala Lumpur.
For this round of talks, both parties are racing against time to seal a deal on how to share wealth between the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity and the central government.
They could not agree on the details of sharing revenues from taxes, block grants and natural resources. The government refused to sign any documents twice – in March and April – even after an initial draft was completed in February. At the time, the government said it needed more time to conduct due dilligence.
An agreement would be a breakthrough in the peace process, since wealth sharing is tied to the issue of power sharing, which is also on the agenda.
Frustration grew after both sides failed to schedule any talks right after the May mid-term elections as what was originally planned, prompting MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to write a letter to Aquino.