No deal in KL – MILF

Angela Casauay
The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front fail to agree on wealth sharing in their 38th round of talks

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD. Despite their smiles, it's a tough road ahead for the government and the MILF. Photo from OPAPP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (5th Update) – “Too rigid.” “Fruitless talk.”

With these words, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal on Thursday, July 11, said the 38th round of talks with government ended without any agreement.

The entire MILF panel left the negotiating table shortly past 5pm Thursday without signing any documents with the government. In fact, the MILF peace panel members left the venue of the talks at the Palace of the Golden Horses in a huff.

The government wants to extend the talks until tomorrow in an effort to arrive at a compromise on how to share the wealth between the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity and the central government. 

But Iqbal said the MILF did not give any commitment to return to the negotiating table tomorrow. 

“GPH is too rigid as if their mandate is cast in stone,” Iqbal told Rappler in a text message after he left the venue.“There is limited chance we return.”

In an ambush interview, government peace panel head Miriam Coronel-Ferrer admitted, after a closed-door caucus with her team, that “Yes, we’re still trying.”

(Update: The MILF agreed to return to the negotiating table the next day)

An agreement on wealth sharing would have been a breakthrough in the peace process, since this is tied to power sharing, one of the two remaining items on the agenda.

The visit of Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda apparently didn’t help move the negotiations. Asked about whether President Benigno Aquino III”s message – as relayed by Lacierda to both sides – had any impact on the talks, Iqbal said: “Don’t know. I’m out already, resting. 4 days engaged in fruitless talk.”

Lacierda refused to comment.

Asked whether there is still hope for a breakthrough, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles, who arrived at the venue Thursday with Lacierda, said there still is as long as both sides are in a mode of problem-solving. 

“Of course, it’s been a long day, it’s been a tough week,” Deles said. “I’m still hoping that both sides desire more that we are able to move forward than not. And that when the two sides are in that mode, then I can not but hope that we will, in fact, be able to push it forward.”


Both parties resumed their stalled talks on Monday, July 8, and were looking forward to signing a crucial agreement on wealth sharing between the national government and the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity. 

Talks on this issue were already postponed twice, given the complex issues involved. 

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. 

Contentious points

In negotiating for wealth-sharing arrangements, the MILF has stressed from the start that what should be granted to the Bangsamoro must not be less than what the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) presently enjoys.

In his opening statement, Iqbal called on both parties to “find a political solution that is above the current ARMM and below independence.”

Calculating the formula on how wealth will be shared between the national government and the Bangsamoro regional government varies depending on revenue sources such as taxes, block grants and natural resources.

There are many other remaining issues but sources said one of the most contentious ones has something to do with the proportion on how to divide profits from natural resources. 

In ARMM, the government splits profits from natural resources 50-50. For other local government units, the ratio is 60-40, in favor of the national government.

Sources told Rappler the government wants a 50-50 wealth-sharing arrangement for revenues from fossil fuels, gas and oil. It was also the baseline agreed upon by Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during their impromptu meeting in Tokyo in 2011.

“But it was clear the President said we will start ‘from’ 50-50,” a ranking leader of the MILF said. “He did not say we will stay at 50-50.”

The MILF, for its part, is pushing for a 75-25 share on natural resources – in favor of the Bangsamoro – arguing that to achieve true fiscal autonomy, the final peace pact must present solutions greater than what the ARMM already enjoys. Aquino himself has tagged the ARMM as a “failed experiment.”

But it was not only a matter of agreeing on a ratio. One of the key factors that was also considered in the discussions was the fact that no one had any exact figures on the amount of the “natural resources” being negotiated on.

“It’s all speculative,” government peace panel member Senen Bacani said in an earlier interview with Rappler, since no extensive explorations in the area have been conducted yet. Bacani is one of the panel members directly involved in discussions on the wealth-sharing annex. 

Race against time

Both parties are under pressure to arrive at an agreement on this annex as they are racing against time, given the difficult transition to the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity —which involves legislating a new law and holding a plebiscite after. President Aquino and the MILF want all this to happen under his term. 

But Iqbal already dropped hints it was going to be difficult. In his opening statement on Monday, he said: “I know that the road ahead of the current peace talks is still full of humps and bumps. But these should not cause the failure of these talks.” 

READ: Peace pact should shake up the status quo

Breakaway troops launched a series of attacks in central Mindanao days before the resumption of the talks, showing their opposition to the peace process.

The talks aim to end nearly 4 decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao. – Rappler.com

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