Due to Sabah? PH-MILF talks postponed

MANILA, Philippines (2nd Update) - The 37th round of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia did not push through Monday, March 25. 

It would have been the 1st round of talks after hostilities erupted in Sabah between armed followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian authorities. Both the government and the MILF had wanted to sign a final peace deal by April.

Stressing the "urgency of concluding the peace talks," the MILF earlier hinted on plans to change the venue and postpone the negotiations. In an editorial published on luwaran.net on Saturday, March 23, the MILF revealed that its peace panel "refused to agree to postpone the peace negotiation in Kuala Lumpur, as set by the parties, and much more to change the venue."

Instead of discussing the remaining issues in the annexes that will complete the comprehensive agreement, the government and the MILF peace panel members instead discussed other aspects of the process towards creating the Bangsamoro political identity. 

These include: the composition of the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) and the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), the convening of the Transition Commission, as well as the Terms of Reference of the Task Force Sajahatra Bangsamoro.  

Aquino's review

President Benigno Aquino III said he wants to review the content of the annexes first before both sides proceed with the talks.  

Aquino did not give a direct answer early Monday, at the 5th anniversary celebration of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, when asked whether the talks would push through. 

"Well, klaro naman, ano (I think it's clear). I think we’ve been very transparent. They haven’t changed, ano. We want to finish all of the annexes. But we also have to be able to parang come to an understanding on these annexes, so that the crafting of the new organic act will be something that all stakeholders can agree to and rally behind to," Aquino said. 

Aquino however maintained the tension in Sabah should not have an impact on the talks. 

"The Sabah issue should not affect the ongoing talks with the MILF," he said. 

The last round of talks between the government and the MILF ended on February 25, a week before the firefight between the Sabah claimants and Malaysian police. Since the March 1 hostilities, at least 63 people have died from the clashes, according to reports, and at least 2,631 Filipinos have fled Sabah as of March 13

Political observers have criticized Malaysia's role as a facilitator of the peace talks, saying it faced a conflict-of-interest situation over the Sabah ownership issue.  

In the March 23 editorial, the MILF expressed a desire to finish the peace talks as soon as possible. The editorial said:

"The urgency of concluding the peace talks is in the minds of the MILF leadership. We know that the momentum is there but any dilly-dallying is bringing us closer to the other path. The truth is that if we cannot close this negotiation successfully during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, we do not know what lies ahead in 2016. And more seriously, it can be a menu for more violence and fighting in Mindanao." 

The MILF has not taken a stand on the ongoing Sabah conflict. Many of the armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III are former members of a rival organization, the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace deal with the Ramos government brokered by Indonesia. Rappler.com