GPH-MILF talks: ‘Still struggling’

This is the first time that negotiations extend until the evening, indicating how hard both sides are trying to reach an agreement

STILL NO DEAL. The government and MILF peace panels with Secretary Teresita Deles and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. File photo by OPAPP

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – “We’re still struggling.”

As of 7:30 pm, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are still at the negotiating table in an attempt to reach a compromise over wealth-sharing arrangements between the envisioned Bangsamoro poitical entity and the central government. 

“We’re still here, still hoping against hope,” Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told Rappler. 

The peace talks were supposed to end Thursday but both sides agreed to extend twice as they struggle to agree on the details of the annex on wealth-sharing, one of the annexes required to complement the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. 

This is the first time for this round of talks that negotiations extended until the evening. In fact, both sides had planned on holding talks only for half a day after Wednesday due to Ramadan. 

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told Rappler the panels are presently on recess so members of the MILF peace panel can break their fast. They will resume after dinner, Ferrer said. 

It’s make or break for the peace talks tonight as both sides said this round of talks will end this Saturday, whether or not an agreement is signed. 

Land

Iqbal said the most contentious issue facing the panels does not necessarily concern the ratios over wealth-sharing but a “core principle” over land resources. 

“We have already settled many issues,” Iqbal said. “The position of the MILF is we will stick with the February 27 annex but in this round, we have already agreed on many compromises but now the compromise they want is not with a core issue but a core principle. That’s what we can’t agree to.”

In February, both sides “initialled” a draft of the wealth-sharing annex. But the government wanted to introduce changes to the draft after conducting due dilligence, prompting the MILF to declare a deadlock in the negotiations. 

Ferrer said the discussions are now down to “a few sets of provisions” of the wealth-sharing annex. Protocols prohibit peace panels from divulging the specifics of the negotiations. 

“We are now discussing how everything comes together,” Ferrer said. “There are still some languaging issues, some issues on how to formulate, as well as operationalize some components of the annex. Otherwise, we are really down to the few sets of provisions,” she said. 

Despite the difficulties, Ferrer said both sides remain committed at trying to arrive at an agreement. 

In an interview with ANC, Ferrer said she doesn’t think either side is willing to leave the negotiating table. 

Asked whether there was still a chance for an agreement, Iqbal said it was still “50-50.” Coronel, for her part, said it could go either way.

On the ground, meanwhile, suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway MILF group, attacked another army truck in Maguidanao on Saturday. 

The talks are aimed at ending a 40-year insurgency in Mindanao. – Rappler.com

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