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Philippines government, Moros plan peace talks in Malaysia

Look to iron out difficult aspects of a proposed political settlement

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) plan to hold peace talks in Malaysia on October 2-5 to iron out difficult aspects of a proposed political settlement, but representatives of both parties said they have already reached a “peace deal”, sources said.

“Some aspects of the proposed agreement will be discussed and clarified further in Kuala Lumpur from October 2 to 5 to avoid misunderstanding in the future,” said a MILF source.

Both the Philippines government and the MILF have “already agreed in principle” to identify the proposed new autonomous region for Filipino Muslims in the south as the New Autonomous Political Entity (NPE), and not as Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (or BJE), the term used during negotiations during the time of former President Gloria Arroyo, explained Teresita Quinto Deles, head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Deles did not say if the proposed agreement has stated that NPE would also be an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), whose members in the south include five provinces and one city.

She did not clarify if the proposed NPE would include the cherished enhanced self governance of Filipino-Muslims in their autonomous region, including power and economic sharing between NPE and the national government.

Despite broad statements coming from government and MILF negotiators regarding these contentious issues, their actions speak louder than their proposed agreement, said political analysts.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and two members of the MILF peace panel, Atty. Datu Michael Mastura and Abdulla Camlian, and Jun Mantawil, secretly attended for the first time a peace forum in Manila.

It was held at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Research Complex of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on September 2, 2012, Luwaran, the MILF’s website, revealed in a belated report.

The three objectives of the forum were to raise awareness on the aspirations and struggles of the Bangsa Moro people and the state of pace process to UST’s Catholic community and other peace holders; to engage UST’s Catholic community in dialogue; and to explore possibilities of common action on deeply held and widely accepted principles that Muslims and Christians share, said Luwaran.

No less than Reverend Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, UST Rector and other Catholic priests participated in the round table discussion which touched on the proposed peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF, Luwaran said.

Earlier, Marvic Leonen, the government’s chief negotiator, said that representatives of the government and MILF negotiating panels have been meeting with congressmen and senators, to get their approval of the proposed government-MILF peace settlement.

Leoned did not say who represented the MILF in those meetings.

But the most important thing was for the lawmakers “possible agreement to amend laws for the implementation of the proposed peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF, Leonen hinted.

Also important was MILF’s agreement to the two parties’ “roadmap to peace,” which Leonen described as “broad plans (for peace in the south)”.

Both Leonen and Deles predicted that the proposed peace deal, to be signed end of 2012 or earlier, will be implemented only in 2016, the end of President Benigno Aquino’s term.

The MILF gave up its secessionist stance when it responded to the pro-autonomy peace initiative of the government in 1997.

That was after the Philippine government and the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a pro-autonomy peace settlement in 1996, after talks that began in 1992.

The 1996 peace settlement resulted in the amendment of a law that allowed autonomy by referendum, which paved the way for another referendum that resulted in the expansion of the ARMM in 2001

The MILF has been asking for ARMM’s expansion with 800 Muslim-dominated villages near the ARMM.

Both the MNLF and the MILF were one group that waged a separatist war that killed 150, 000 in the south in the early 70s.

Member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference have brokered the Philippine government’s peace talks with the MNLF and the MILF.

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