Peace agreement soon? Gov't, MILF optimistic
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Thursday, January 23, they are close to hammering out a final deal aimed at ending 4 decades of rebellion in Mindanao.
Both smiling, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer granted a rare joint interview to the media as the second day of the 43rd round of peace talks here ended Thursday.
If their mood was any indication, it appears a final peace agreement is in sight.
Iqbal is optimistic that both sides can "overcome all obstacles" and close a deal by Sunday, January 26. "That is our hope and we are trying really to achieve that," Iqbal said.
Ferrer shared the same sentiment. "If it's just up to us, with the support of everyone, I think we will find closure to the formal exploratory process very very soon, so, we can really focus on implementation."
The pending issues, including the decomissioning of firearms, may be considered the most sensitive part of the talks, but Ferrer said the mood inside the closed-door negotiating room was "light."
"The mood is light because I think we're finding good and comprehensive compromises here," Ferrer said.
Both sides are down to the last two issues of the talks. For this round, they hope to sign the annex on normalization – which includes details on disposition of forces and the creation of a Bangsamoro police force, as well as the addendum on Bangsamoro waters – which will complement the annex on power-sharing signed in December 2013. (READ: Gov't, MILF hope to sign firearms deal)
MILF alternate peace panel member Antonio Kinoc said only one item on the "co-management" of Bangsamoro waters has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, discussions on the annex on normalization is moving forward.
There are noticeably fewers staff members joining both panels in Kuala Lumpur in this round as they signed agreements on wealth-sharing, power-sharing – and soon, normalization, removing the need for technical working groups.
However, in the coming days, a record number of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress are expected to observe the talks. These include Senators TG Guingona and Koko Pimentel, as well as Representatives Lilia Nuño, Jim Hataman-Saliman, Jesus Sacdalan, Pangalian Balindong, Zajid Mangudadatu and Teddy Baguilat Jr.
Compared to the time when the talks almost broke down over the issue of wealth-sharing back in July 2013, the mood in Kuala Lumpur has visibly changed.
In previous rounds, both the MILF and the government were cautious about granting interviews in the middle of the negotiations.
Asked how the final peace agreement can ensure that the new Bangsamoro government will be inclusive – especially in light of recent incidents involving Mindanao such as the siege of Sabah and Zamboanga City in 2013, Iqbal said: "The two documents will speak for themselves and they are for the people, especially those residing in the Bangsamoro.
He added: "The benefits would also redound to people outside the Bangsamoro, especially the government, because there will be peace in Mindanao. War is the mother of poverty."
Ferrer, for her part, said: "I have nothing more to add. I agree completely with what Chair Iqbal has said."
In their opening statements, both talked about moving forward, with Ferrer reminding panels that there is no more time to lose and Iqbal, who also heads the Transition Commission, setting the agenda for the next phase of the process.
"We are always ready to move forward," Ferrer said. To which Iqbal could only respond: "Yes, I vouch for her statement."
Under the power-sharing deal signed in December, the new Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be ministerial in form, with members elected by the people electing a chief minister from among themselves.
At least 4 decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao has hampered development in key provinces in the region and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In 1996, the Ramos government signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari (MNLF). The MILF is a breakaway group of the MNLF.
MNLF rebels used the ongoing peace process with the MILF as justification for their bloody siege of Zamboanga City in September 2013, saying the government has yet to fulfill its commitment to them as stated in the 1996 deal. - Rappler.com