MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
COTABATO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2012) – The secluded leader of the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, praised peace negotiators for the signing of an agreement that would grant them a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao.
“This is a breakthrough in the almost two-year draught in talks under the Aquino administration,” Murad Ebrahim told his commanders and political leaders.
Ebrahim was referring to the 10 Decision Points on Principles signed by the Philippines and MILF peace panels in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, ending a long deadlock in the negotiations for a rebel demand of a Muslim sub-state.
Ebrahim also urged Muslims to pray for “more success” of the peace talks “so that the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao would be finally settled and in order for the whole country to embrace just peace and prosperity.”
He said the MILF is committed to the peace process and wanted to see a political deal with President Benigno Aquino. “A farsighted shift from the “three-for-one” formula to put back on track the continuity of the negotiation process is a leap forward,” Ebrahim said, referring to the 10 Decision Points on Principles, but he was quick to caution the Muslims not to be carried away by the “initial breakthrough” in the peace talks, saying “the road ahead is more rugged and tricky than what has been achieved so far.”
“The real test of the success of the talks hinges on the conclusion of agreements on the substantive issues like power-sharing, wealth-sharing, extent of territory of the new Moro entity,” he said.
Ebrahim said the transition mechanism of the new autonomous political entity will translate the MILF’s political aspirations into pragmatism and how these would lead to the actual empowerment of the Muslims to exercise self-governance is part of the larger agenda.
The MILF has previously said it would not sign a peace deal unless the Aquino government agrees to its demand for a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao.
Marvic Leonen, the chief government peace negotiator, said the signing of the decision points marks a significant and concrete step forward by both sides in their discussions of substantive issues.
He said included in the agreement is the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which is comprised of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao and Maguindanao.
“The autonomous political entity envisioned is a secular political unit, existing within the Republic of the Philippines, located within its territory and subject to its sovereignty as a State,” Leonen said.
Maulana Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel, earlier said that the document is vital to the success of the negotiation for a new political entity in the form of a Moro sub-state that would replace the ARMM.
“This new sub-state political entity requires transitional or interim mechanisms that would ensure the success of the ministerial form of Bangsamoro government to be established,” he said.
Alonto called on the former Muslim rebel group Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, to close ranks with the MILF in view of the recent developments in the peace negotiations.
“We reiterate the appeal to our MNLF brethren to unite with us as we approach the threshold of this new stage in the peace process. Again, we are reminding them that the MILF is not negotiating for the MILF alone but for the entire Bangsamoro people and that would certainly include our brethren in the MNLF.”
“The immediate gain in this new stage of the peace process is the empowerment of the Bangsamoro people. This empowerment opens wide the door for us to end colonialism in our homeland,” he said.
Bangsamoro people refer to Muslims in the Philippines.
The MILF said the signing of the agreement broke what it called was a stalemate in the almost two years of negotiations with the Aquino government.
The breakthrough, it said, allowed the peace panels to proceed to the discussions on power sharing, wealth sharing, and territory among others as important elements of the sub-state proposal of the MILF.
Lawyer Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel who presented an overview of the group’s position paper on wealth sharing and alternative choices for wealth creation during the talks, clarified that the substantive issues in the negotiations is the bulk of works in progress now.
“The road map is very much part of our preparatory work. The decisions of principle may even involve a paradigm shift to provide the transition process a function,” he said.
In February, the Oman Tribune quoted Iqbal as saying that President Benigno Aquino agreed to a Muslim sub-state proposed by the MILF. The proposal calls for the direct election by the people of the leaders of the autonomous region to be headed by a chief minister similar to the parliamentary government in the federal states of Malaysia, according to Iqbal.
“No less than His Excellency President Benigno Aquino 3rd agreed to the MILF proposal,” Oman Tribune quoted Iqbal as saying. He said in the interview that the proposed government is to replace the ARMM which is now part of the agreement signed by the Philippines with the MILF on Tuesday.
But it was not immediately known how many more provinces would be included in the proposed expanded Muslim autonomy.
The agreement also said that both sides agreed that the new autonomous political entity shall have a ministerial form of government. They also agreed for a transition period and the institution of transitional mechanisms in order to implement the provisions of the accord.
Both the Philippines and the MILF agreed that there will be power sharing and wealth sharing between the government and the new political entity. It said in the matter of power sharing, the government will have its reserved powers and the new political entity will have its exclusive powers, and there will be concurrent powers shared by both sides.
In the agreement, the Philippines and the MILF agreed that the following are reserved for the competence of the government: Defense and external security; Foreign policy, Common market and global trade, but the power to enter into economic agreements already allowed under Republic Act 9054 shall be transferred to the new political entity; Coinage and monetary policy; Citizenship and naturalization and Postal service.
The Philippines and the MILF also agreed that wealth creation or revenue generation and sourcing is important and that both sides acknowledge the power of the new political entity to create its own sources of revenue, subject to limitations as may be mutually agreed upon, and to have a just share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development or utilization of natural resources.
The agreement also recognizes the need to strengthen the Shari’ah courts and to expand its jurisdiction over cases. The new political entity shall also have competence over the Islamic justice system. In addition to basic rights already enjoyed, the following rights of all citizens residing in the new political entity bind the legislature, executive and judiciary as directly enforceable law and are guaranteed, according to the 10 Decision Points on Principles. (Mindanao Examiner)