DAVAO CITY -- Government negotiators have started putting the Mindanao peace process back on track despite failure to forge a new agreement with Moro rebels in Malaysia earlier this week.

Negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will resume in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on February 18.

Chief government negotiator Rafael Seguis said both the government and MILF hope to study each other’s draft peace agreements closely when they return to Kuala Lumpur.

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Presidential peace process adviser Annabelle Abaya, however, said the government will remain open as to the possible outcome of the peace process, admitting that she does not know if a pact can be reached before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term ends.

“I cannot say that,” she said on government-run dzRB radio Saturday, when asked if an agreement can be forged before June 30.

In the recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the government peace panel received a proposed draft of formula from the Moro rebels that would help solve the decades-old Mindanao problem.

Seguis said they also received resolutions and documents from officials of North Cotabato that would help the government peace panel stand by its position on the “enhanced autonomy” proposed by the MILF.

The “enhanced autonomy” will reportedly include parts of North Cotabato province, to which Vice Governor Manny Piñol and several other local leaders opposed.

Seguis said the government panel will base its proposals solely on what is allowed by the Constitution.

He said the concept of the "enhanced autonomy" would only entail the original political area of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) for its territory but with greater or enhanced autonomous powers.

Seguis is expected to present to President Arroyo the MILF’s proposal of a new formula for Mindanao since the Supreme Court nullified the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

On the other hand, the MILF peace panel led by its chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal is expected to present the draft of the government counter proposal to the Moro rebel group’s central committee in its main base in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao.

Both Seguis and Iqbal have agreed to discuss the draft texts on their next meeting in Kuala Lumpur and take the next steps toward achieving a comprehensive, just and acceptable solution to the Mindanao problem.

But while both sides are positively looking into signing a comprehensive peace agreement, Speaker Prospero Nograles said Saturday that Congress might need to amend the existing Organic Act of the Armm, or create an entirely new law on Muslim Mindanao, to ensure the success of the peace talks.

Nograles said there might be a need to sync the existing Armm Organic Act with the conditions provided under an era of permanent peace between the government and MILF.

"In view of the ongoing peace-talk between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and of the various proposals on Muslim Mindanao, such as the bill filed by Congressman (Nur) Jaafar, I will get the House of Representatives to start working on a possible amendment of the Organic Act for Autonomous Muslim Mindanao or for the crafting of an entirely new law on Muslim Mindanao," he said.

Nograles said Jaafar’s measure -- House Bill (HB) 1769 -- could be expanded to address all other concerns that might arise out of the peace talks.

HB 1769 seeks to amend the Armm Organic Act to decentralize the system of appointments for teachers and other officers and employees of the Armm bureaucracy.

Abaya, however, said that both the government and MILF peace panels have just exchanged respective expectations and they will continue discussing based on what both camps can offer.

“We decided to resume in two weeks after MILF shall have consulted with their principals and stakeholders,” she said.

Abaya also said that for as long as both parties are willing to talk, “there is reason to continue the negotiations.”

The recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur was the first formal talks of the government and MILF peace panels after the High Court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional in 2008.

In a press statement released by Malaysian secretariat head Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak, it was stated that the meeting was very cordial and fruitful.

Abd Razak said both sides traded documents in the presence of Malaysian facilitator and members of the International Contact Group. (BOT/JMR/With PNA/Sunnex)