GPH, MILF hope to end peace talks this week

By Jorge Carino, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2014 04:35 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2014 12:35 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - The negotiating panels of Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) met Tuesday morning for the 43rd Formal Exploratory Talks of the peace process with the separatist group.

Both panels are set to discuss until weekend the issues of Bangsamoro waters and normalization.

The GPH panel is headed by Government Chief Negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and her counterpart on the MILF side is Mohagher Iqbal.

According to Ferrer, the topic of normalization itself is a very contentious issue because of its diverse components: socio-economic, transitional justice, reconciliation, and security.

"The security aspect alone is made up of several elements: disbandment of private armed groups, decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, redeployment of the AFP from or within the Bangsamoro as the security situation improves, halt to the proliferation of loose firearms and transitional security arrangements that will see the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces collaboratively keeping the peace on the ground," said Ferrer.

She acknowledged the fact that Filipinos' expectation back home is the end to violence, not only in the Bangsamoro areas, but in other parts of Mindanao.

"Certainly this is an expectation not only for those that will fall inside the Bangsamoro but those areas which will co-exist side by side the Bangsamoro such as Zamboanga City and the rest of the Zamboanga Peninsula, North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte," she said.

In her opening statement before the Malaysian Facilitator and MILF panel, Ferrer cited the need to be realistic.

"We need to be realistic enough to know we will also make mistakes, that we will not be able to bring everybody on board, that we will suffer delays, that there will be naysayers, recalcitrants and breakaways, as well as corrupt and abusive members of our respective organizations, that some will feel left behind, while others will abuse and take more than their just share," she said.

Her counterpart in the MILF shared his optimism about the talks.

In his opening statement, Iqbal asked the people in the room not to be distracted by words or actions of critics and cynics of the MILF peace process.

"I ask everyone not to stay on the way of these dreamers. Many find solace on dreaming and therefore let them continue to dream of that final peace in Mindanao while we in the MILF and government continue to strive to overcome all that stand in our way leading to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," said Iqbal, MILF's Chief Negotiator.

Iqbal reiterated that for him, it is better to see droves of people supporting the MILF and declaring oneness with it, rather than people joining the spoilers and demolishing their undertaking.

He also reported before the negotiating table that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is now busy meeting stakeholders, doing courtesy calls on local government leaders such as Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu.

Iqbal said the local government of Maguindanao has pledged support for the peace process with the MILF.

"The crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has already commenced. The BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) has set April this year as the deadline for the finalization of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and by May it will submitted to the Office of the President, who will transmit it to Congress as an urgent bill. I trust that the collective wisdom of Congress will ensure the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law very smoothly" said Iqbal.

Aside from the negotiators of both panels, there were also observers present in the talks, including Tuan Hajji Datu Hussayin A. Arpa, the President of Philippine Council for Sama and Bajau.

Sama and Bajaus live in the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, part of the Bangsamoro. But the Bajaus, to which Arpa belongs, is a minority among the ethnic groups of the Bangsamoro.

Arpa is proud of the fact that he was invited to represent his tribe. "Parang walang nasasagasaan eh, inclusive eh. Imagine the lowest tribe, to the eyes of other tribe, which is the Bajau, which I belong, invited. So this is a sign of living democracy," said Arpa.

The 43rd Formal Exploratory Talks is set until Sunday, January 26, 2014.