GPH, MILF start 34th round of peace talks

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) - The government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), along with their respective Technical Working Groups, reconvened for the 34th Round for Formal Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday morning, December 12, to draft the annexes that will complement the recently-signed Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. 

The first day of the 34th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks started at 9:45 am today. #peacetalks — OPAPP (@OPAPP_peace) December 12, 2012

This marks the first time that University of the Philippines Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer is taking the helm as the government peace panel chair after being appointed to replace now Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. 

"We have returned confident of the wide public support back home for a process that has concluded one phase and began another," Ferrer said in her opening statement

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Igbal for his part expressed confidence on Ferrer's capacity to lead the government peace panel. 

National Commission on Muslim Filipinos chair Mehol Sadain joined the team for this round of talks while the appointment of the 5th member of the panel is still awaiting the go signal from Malacañang. 

Annexes

Both sides will continue working on the three annexes -- normalization, power-sharing and wealth-sharing -- that will comprise the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The annexes are expected to be completed before the end of the year as indicated in the Framework Agreement signed in October.

Igbal earlier said this round of negotiations will cover a "substantial part" of the normalization annex, which is seen to be the most difficult part of negotiations as it covers the issues of policing, decommissioning, and gradual redeployment of government forces

Despite fears and uncertainties surrounding the issue of normalization, Ferrer lauded the MILF for having the "courage and maturity" to  understand what it takes to achieve peace. 

"This courage and maturity, government will meet with reciprocity. Our processes may be bogged down sometimes by the bureaucratic maze that involves any paper work or the system of check-and-balance that are imposed on us and with due diligence, that we also impose on ourselves," Ferrer said. 

"But we should not be discouraged by seeming insurmountables," she added. "Among Tausugs, there is a saying: “In maksud mahunit,  makawa landu in halga.” As translated by [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] Undersectary Joe Lorena, “Ang bagay na kinuha ng mahirap, marami ang makikinabang.” In English, from something achieved the hard way, many will benefit." 

'Special gift'

Before the peace panel flew to Kuala Lumpur, Ferrer said they were asked to pick up a package from Malacañang. 

They "were not aware what this gift was all about" at first, Ferrer said. It turned out to be a framed and autographed photo of the President's celebrity sister Kris Aquino with an entourage of MILF women.

Aquino requested that the photo be given as a gift for the wife of MILF chair Ebrahim Murad. 

"Ms. Aquino had thoughtfully remembered her charming encounter with the MILF ladies at the signing of the Framework Agreement in Malacanang last October 15," Ferrer said. "We have also added other photos as souvenir for chairman Murad."

Murad acknowledged the presence of Aquino at the start of his speech during the signing of the Framework Agreement, a gesture that elicited laughter from the crowd. -Rappler.com