Gov’t, MILF end KL meeting on a ‘positive note’

Angela Casauay
Gov’t, MILF end KL meeting on a ‘positive note’
Discussions in Kuala Lumpur on 'specific concerns' pertaining to a proposed law that creates an autonomous government in Mindanao are to continue in Manila

MANILA, Philippines – As what government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer said at the start of the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the panels are “not throwing in the towel.”

The 4-day special meeting between the peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) meant to iron out concerns on the proposed law creating an enhanced autonomous government in Mindanao ended on a “positive note,” their joint statement issued Friday, July 11, said. 

The panels said they “achieved modest progress and identified consensus language” in the draft Bangsamoro basic law, a product of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in March. 

The parties agreed to continue “working together” to arrive at a “mutually acceptable draft Bangsamoro basic law,” the statement said. 

“The meeting provided the panels the opportunity to clarify misperceptions and affirm the intent and sincerity of the parties to abide by the signed agreements. They agreed to continue discussions on specific concerns in Manila within the next few days. They recognize the importance of these discussions in order to ensure that the draft law would be submitted to Congress at the soonest possible time,” it added. 

The meeting came after MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who also serves as the chairperson of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) accused Malacañang of “heavily” diluting the basic law.

Earlier, he said the Office of the President produced a version that was worse than the law governing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which President Benigno Aquino III himself had called a “failed experiment.” (READ: Peace panels in KL to resolve draft issues in draft Bangsamoro law)

Specific details on what aspects of the proposed law, a copy of which has yet to be released to the public, were discussed during the meeting were not mentioned in the statement. 

Issues

Under the peace deal, the MILF-dominated BTC was tasked to craft the draft law, which was turned over to Malacañang for review before its submission as an urgent bill to Congress. 

The envisioned Bangsamoro government is designed to have a unique form of autonomous government with greater fiscal powers. 

It took two months before Malacañang was able to return the reviewed version of the measure to the BTC, spurring speculations that the draft law is riddled with unconstitutional provisions. 

Since the start of the negotiations, the government has maintained its position that the comprehensive peace deal can be implemented within the flexibilities of the Constitution. The MILF, meanwhile, is of the position that amending the Constitution is needed to bring about real autonomy in Mindanao. 

In an indication of how sensitive the issues surrounding the Malacañang review of the draft law are, President Benigno Aquino III himself sought a meeting with Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on the sidelines of a peace forum in Hiroshima, Japan in June. 

The meeting did not stop Iqbal, who wears two hats as MILF chief negotiator and BTC chair, from using strong words against the Office of the President days after the Japan meeting for “virtually overhauling” the BTC draft of the basic law. 

Soon after Palace reviewers returned their version of the proposed law to the BTC, Iqbal called for a meeting with the BTC. The body issued a resolution elevating the “clarification and resolution of the outstanding issues” on the draft basic law to the panels. Hence, the Kuala Lumpur meeting was held. 

In an earlier statement, Ferrer did not label the meeting as “talks” but rather a “workshop” to address concerns. 

Members of the BTC also attended the Kuala Lumpur meeting. At least one member, however, chose not to attend, Mindanews reported. 

BTC commissioner and MILF negotiating panel member Roberto Maulana Alonto described the proposed law as “mongrelized” and “an absurdity” in a Facebook post republished in Mindanews.  

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed hosted the talks. Members of the International Contact Group were also present. 

Deadline looming

The parties have 3 weeks to arrive at a consensus on the draft law to beat Aquino’s target deadline of passing on the measure to Congress after his State of the Nation Address on July 28. 

The President wants Congress to pass the measure by 2015 to give the MILF-led “transition authority” at least one year to lead the shift from the ARMM toward the Bangsamoro. 

Once the law hurdles Congress, people will then vote to accept or reject the law, as well as vote in a plebiscite to either be included or excluded in the envisioned Bangsamoro entity. 

Once passed, an MILF-led “transition authority” will take over until the election of new officers in the 2016 general elections. 

Under the peace deal, the MILF also agreed to decommission rebel firearms and troops in “gradual phases” as each stage in the peace process is achieved. 

The current peace process in Mindanao hopes to end 4 decades of war that has killed over 120,000 people. – Rappler.com

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