MANILA -- Malacañang said Wednesday that the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and Moro rebels is unlikely to happen before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leaves office in June.

This came after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rejected the government’s latest autonomy offer that allows both parties to share power in areas the Moro rebel group considers as its “ancestral domain” in the south.

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Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s negotiator, said the government’s proposal, which was made when peace talks resumed in Malaysia last month, was “unacceptable,” citing there was nothing in the draft comprehensive agreement that is worth considering.

Iqbal dismissed the proposal as a resurrection of two previous offers under which the “government will continue to rule the lives of the Muslims.”

"They will continue to be the king and we will be their subjects under their offer," Iqbal told The Associated Press. "There's going to be an impasse if they will not move from their position."

He said a hindrance may further agitate rebel commanders who have been skeptical of negotiating with the government and want to pursue the rebellion.

But Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the government could not grant the MILF’s proposal of having a federal state “because it’s not in our Constitution.”

“So you have to amend the Constitution, it cannot happen now or in June because Congress is not in session and to be able to amend the Constitution, Congress would have to be involved in such an exercise. So definitely, it cannot happen before the term of the President ends in June,” Ermita said.

Government negotiator Rafael Seguis, for his part, said the offer he handed to the rebels was a "conservative opening move," because the government position has to abide by Philippine laws.

Many rebel demands would require passage of new laws, he said.

"We're a government. We cannot propose anything outside of the constitution," Seguis said, adding that he wanted to continue talking to the rebels to resolve differences.

Ermita also stressed that the negotiations are still ongoing despite the decision to postpone formal talks until March on the request of the MILF.

The two panels were supposed to meet in Kuala Lumpur from February 17 to 18 but the MILF requested a postponement, Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza said.

Ermita said both parties were probably still discussing and firming up their respective stands following draft final peace agreements submitted by the two panels when they met in Kuala Lumpur early this month.

“If it was reset, it will still happen. Each party probably will just try to be sure with their positions, but nothing has been set aside,” he said.

He added that the government panel could not simply agree to the proposals or demand of the MILF without first consulting the government’s national leadership.

He said aside from the amendment of the Constitution, the MILF proposal also entails a revisiting of Republic Act 9054 that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

“So that is where it stands now, there is no deadlock but there is an understanding that the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) panel will have to inform home office of its draft and then see how they can move forward but it’s not necessarily a deal breaker as of this time,” he added.

Ermita said while studying the MILF proposal, the government is also looking at the “doables” or the easiest provision in the proposed agreement to implement.

President Arroyo, in a media night she hosted at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City, declined to talk about the ongoing negotiations for fear of revealing something that she should not talk about.

“Many times telegraphing discussions are the ones that derail talks. But it's (talks) ongoing,” she assured.

Presidential adviser on the peace process Annabelle Abaya expressed confidence that a common ground would eventually be reached by the two panels and the two drafts from the government and the MILF would eventually be merged and possibly signed.

“We continue to be optimistic that we can harmonize our proposals and arrive at an agreement before the end of the term of President Arroyo,” she said.

Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Jesus Dureza, for his part, acknowledged possibilities that a final agreement may not be signed soon, but said the important thing is that the talks had started and “building blocks” to continue the talks even beyond the present administration have been made.

He said the government had done its best in the peace negotiations and had even come close to signing a final peace pact when a proposed agreement on ancestral domain had been drafted “but it did not pass constitutional scrutiny.”

The government signed a ceasefire with the MILF in 2003 to pave the way for peace talks to end an insurgency that began in 1978 and has killed over 150,000 people.

The talks, however, collapsed in 2008 when the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a preliminary peace pact, leading to fierce fighting that killed hundreds and displaced about 750,000 people. Clashes subsided last July but about 100,000 people remain displaced, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A 60-member peacekeeping contingent, meanwhile, will return to Mindanao next week to help safeguard a cease-fire and prevent new clashes.

The contingent consists of truce monitors from Brunei, Libya, and Malaysia, Iqbal said.

The monitors left when peace talks bogged down. (JMR/AP/Sunnex)