Leonen: Gov’t, MILF at ‘door of an agreement’

Rappler.com
A peace settlement may be near after decades of conflict, say both sides

Chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now at the “door of an agreement” after decades of conflict in Mindanao, government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen said on Tuesday, July 17.

During the opening of the 29th Formal Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal agreed that the “momentum for a peace settlement is at hand.”

“This administration is prepared to fully invest in a harmonious working relationship between the national government and the new autonomous political entity to enable an autonomy that is truly viable and workable,” noted Leonen in a statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

The government chief negotiator also assured the MILF that Manila will assist in the establishment of a new autonomous political entity for Muslim Mindanao, and provide funds until the entity is able to generate its own sources of revenues.

“Never again should it be possible for rights or powers granted under any law or norm be rendered inutile without corresponding increase in the ability of the autonomous government to mobilize and/or capacitate leaders who will not only have the competence to govern but who will also approach leadership as positions of trust and stewardship,” said Leonen.

At the same time, Malaysian facilitator Ghafar Tengku Mohamed told both parties that they pray “that the elusive lasting peace will one day emerge from this table.”

The Aquino government earlier expressed confidence that a peace agreement with the MILF will be signed soon. The process got a boost last year when President Benigno Aquino III met with MILF leaders in Tokyo.

Challenge to the peace process

But also on Tuesday and despite the optimism regarding the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, a Rappler investigation uncovered a development that poses a new challenge to the peace process. (Read: 2 JI leaders now in MILF territory – reports)

Classified documents and maps show that the terrorist targets of the first smart bomb attack in the Philippines early this year are still alive and have found sanctuary in MILF-controlled territory in central Mindanao.

The targets of the attack were the two most senior Jemaah Islamiyah leaders in the Philippines: Malysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, aka Marwan and with a US$-5M bounty on his head, and Singaporean Mohammad Abdullah Ali, more known as Muawiyah, who has a $500,000 reward for his capture or death. – Rappler.com