Indonesia

‘We can’t allow peace process to fail’

The government and the MILF say they're committed to negotiating an agreement that they hope will establish an 'inclusive' Bangsamoro

HOPEFUL. The government and the MILF resume talks. File photo by OPAPP

MANILA, Philippines – “Will aborting this negotiation make other groups happy and stop their violent acts? Will preventing ourselves from finishing our work enable peace to prevail?”

The government peace panel nearly missed their flight to Kuala Lumpur on Monday, September 9, after President Benigno Aquino III called for an emergency meeting following the siege of Zamboanga City by members of the Nur Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The siege, which enters its third day on Wednesday, September 11, has killed 4, wounded 24 and shut down Zamboanga City.

Members of the government panel managed to take their Monday night flight to Kuala Lumpur in the nick of time.

And with those words from government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) opened the 40th round of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, September 10, with a firm resolve to thresh out the remaining details of the final agreement for the proposed Bangsamoro political entity.

“Those behind the continued acts of violence in Mindanao do not want the current peace process between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to succeed. Their actions intend to derail the process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos in Mindanao,” their joint statement said.

The MILF is a breakaway group  of the MNLF, which signed a peace agreement with the Ramos government in 1996. 

This round of talks is scheduled to run for 10 days, longer than usual. Both parties aim to ink a deal on how power will be shared between the Bangsamoro political entity and the central government, as well as how the normalization process for Muslim Mindanao will proceed, including terms for the decommissioning of firearms. 

READ: Gov’t, MILF gear up for ‘final’ round of talks

To assist in the process, members of the Independent Commission on Policing, a body tasked to submit recommendations on the appropriate form, structure and relationship of the police force for the proposed Bangsamoro region, joined this round of talks. 

Only two annexes need to be completed before both sides can sign the comprehensive peace agreement. In July, the panels signed a crucial wealth-sharing deal that gave 75% of revenues from taxes and metallic minerals to the Bangsamoro. 

COUNSEL. Some members of the Independent Commission on Policing, a body tasked to provide recommendations for the future Bangsamoro police force, join the peace talks. Photo by OPAPP

‘Feast on our perceived failures’

Amid criticism that the ongoing negotiations between the government and the MILF would not bring lasting peace in Mindanao given the presence of other armed groups, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal acknowledged that the situation is getting more complicated.

“The longer the peace negotiations drag on, the better they believe… for them. They merrily feast on our perceived failures,” Iqbal said. 

Iqbal said the MNLF is not doing itself any favor by resorting to violence even after pledging not to use force when Misuari purportedly declared the independence of the so-called “Bangsamoro Republik.”  

“However, the noise that they are creating nowadays does not mean they are getting stronger. Their very nature and the message they are espousing are not appealing or attractive to the vast majority of the people, especially their view that civilian casualties are a given in war. This is the reason they attack government forces and installations even in the middle of civilian populations. They don’t care about them,” he said. 

Ferrer had strong words for the perceived spoilers of the peace process. 

“We regret that what some leaders cannot get through reason, they twist through misinformation. What they cannot achieve with circumspect and consistency, they attempt to wrestle through force and endless demands. Positions that they cannot win in elections, they coerce on the table, or on the streets, taking with them hostages.”

The MNLF wants to reopen talks with the government over the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 peace pact. Misuari’s frustrations reached fever pitch when news spread that the government had sought the “termination” of the MNLF peace pact, which turned out to be just the termination of the tripartite review with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 

READ: The MNLF, MILF and two peace agreements

‘Issues complicated but conjoined’ 

Saying that the “best” of the GRP-MNLF agreement is already contained in the Framework Agreement on the Bangamoro signed in October 2012Iqbal also appealed to the OIC, an influential group of Muslim countries, to “revisit” its usual approach to the tripartite review. 

“Besides, ‘convergence’ of the two peace processes is simply not attainable or practical because both in forms and developments… are not congruent. The MNLF track has been virtually consummated, while the MILF’s is still a work in progress,” Iqbal said. 

The OIC wants to reconcile the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 peace pact with the yet-to-be completed comprehensive peace pact between the government and the MILF. 

Meanwhile, the government has maintained that the “issues” being raised by MNLF can also be addressed by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

For instance, Ferrer said the power-sharing annex, which will be discussed this round, can address Misuari’s concerns on the matter of expanding shariah courts, as well as the management of ‘strategic minerals.’ 

“This is what we mean when we said the issues are conjoined. The tables may be separate, and the processes multiple, layered and parallel, but the issues are conjoined.  The subject matters and the territorial application overlap. The constituency – the Bangsamoro – are the same.” – Rappler.com

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