An MILF fighter reads the Koran in a jungle encampment in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
COTABATO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 27, 2012) – British Foreign Secretary William Hague praised the Philippines and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, following the signing this week of the 10-point agreement between the two groups, that would hasten the peace process in Mindanao.
“I welcome the progress which the latest round of peace talks made earlier this week in Kuala Lumpur,” he said during the second International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on Thursday.
“We are working in support of President Aquino’s efforts to resolve tensions in the Philippines through the Mindanao peace process, along with Malaysia, Brunei and other international partners,” he said.
In Manila, British Ambassador Stephen Lillie also echoed Hague's words, saying: “There is still a lot of hard work to be done to reach a final agreement in Mindanao. But this week's developments give a boost to confidence. They demonstrate that progress towards a just and lasting peace in Mindanao remains possible.”
Britain, along with Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and international nongovernmental organizations The Asia Foundation, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, and Muhammadiyah, is a member of the International Contact Group on the Mindanao Peace Process, which has been created to complement the work of the Malaysian facilitator, particularly to aid in maintaining a level of comfort and mutual trust between the Philippines and the MILF.
The MILF has acknowledged the support of ICG and Malaysia to the peace process and said it is also committed to a long and lasting peace in Mindanao.
“No actor can claim sole credit, but to me the main factor is the intercession of the Malaysian Facilitator and members of the International Group. Of course, the direct roles of the two parties, and their reasonableness and pragmatism, and indirectly of the supportive hands all friends of peace process, including civil society groups are part of the success,” MILF chief peace negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, speaking Friday to the Mindanao Examiner from Malaysia, said.
Iqbal said the detail of how the Muslim sub-state would be governed is yet to be defined by proposed comprehensive compact, but he described the “10 Decision Points on Principle” signed by the Philippines and MILF peace panels on Tuesday in Malaysia as “breakthrough” in the peace talks.
Included in the agreement is the creation of a “new autonomous political entity” or a Muslim sub-state, according to Iqbal that would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which is comprised of the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao.
“(Just like) the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, (the) sub-state, New Autonomous Political entity” (as termed by Philippine government) are descriptions, not specific names. In the end, the two (Philippines and the MILF peace negotiators) parties will have to agree what specific name they call the new entity. Personally, these are choices - Moro state, Moro sub-state, Moroland, Moro country, or simply Bangsamoro,” Iqbal said, adding “the Muslim sub-state in essence is a form of federal state.”
Iqbal said “let them provide their thesis in graphic details, but the MILF believes otherwise. It is not time to go into details; we understand the hardship of our counterparts,” when asked if the Philippine government would amend the Constitution to allow the shift from the current Presidential form of government to Parliamentary, or pass a law similar to Republic Act No. 6734, also known as the Organic Act, that created the ARMM in 1989.
Iqbal said peace talks would resume next month and among in the agenda is the power sharing, wealth sharing between the Philippine government and the new Muslim sub-state, among other issues.
“The open agenda for the next meeting is power-sharing, wealth-sharing, et cetera,” he said, adding they also proposed a more comprehensive alternative to the government’s disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs for the MILF.
The programs are commonly implemented for post-conflict disposition of rebel forces and their weapons.
“DDR is not an obnoxious term. Our proposal is ‘Normalization,’ which is comprehensive; there must be clear arrangements on MILF firearms, combatants, AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) soldiers in the proposed sub-state. More importantly, this phase involves the process of making people come to terms with each other, settling internal conflicts, et cetera,” Iqbal said.
Murad Ebrahim, the secluded chieftain of the MILF, said the signing of the 10 Decision Points on Principles by the peace negotiators, is a breakthrough in the peace process.
“This is a breakthrough in the almost two-year draught in talks under the Aquino administration,” Ebrahim told his commanders and political leaders in Mindanao, and also urged Muslims in the Philippines 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,”
Murad 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.
Iqbal said he is happy over the new development in the peace talks.
“I will be one of the first to have appreciated it, because I have invested in it much. I understand the feelings of others. It is a relief after almost two years of draught in the talks with the Aquino administration. But the 10 point Decision Point, while it sets the direction of the talks, is still a minor victory for the parties; the real test in the offing,” he said.
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.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Teresita Deles, said the agreement will pave the way for the eventual signing of a final peace accord. “The negotiation may be tough and serious, but its goals and direction is not vague,” she said.
“I hope the signed document - which lays out the common standpoints between the government peace panel and the MILF panel - explains where we are and what we want to establish to politically resolve the decades-old armed conflict in the south.”
Deles said that the Aquino government is bent on signing a peace agreement with the MILF because the President wants it during his term.
“For us, it would be better if the signing of the agreement can be done sooner. After all, a peace accord is just the first step towards lasting peace. Its faithful implementation is what will bring us to our final destination,” she said.
Marvic Leonen, chief government peace negotiator, said they hope to sign a peace deal with the rebel group “with due and deliberate speed.”
“Due time means we will sign as soon as possible because we need to address the roots of armed conflict so the development in the region and the entire country can be aided by this peace process,” Leonen said. (Mindanao Examiner)