THE Malaysia-brokered talks between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will resume on March 4 in Kuala Lumpur.

This is amid the continuing optimism of both sides that they can work out a peace pact before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bows out of office on June 30.

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According to Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, the meeting would be largely devoted to clarifying the contents of its draft agreement.

“We expect to be grilled by the GRP (government) panel during this one-day session,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said the rebel group had received feedback the government negotiators wanted to be clarified about the language of the MILF proposal.

Both panels exchanged draft agreements last January but prospects of achieving headway in the negotiations dimmed after these were widely divergent in perspective.

Talks were supposedly scheduled to resume mid-February but had to be postponed in favor of back-channel negotiations that were personally overseen by Malaysian facilitator Datuk Othman Abdul Razak. It was aimed to find a point of convergence between the government and MILF proposals.

Abdul Razak, a ranking official in the Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, was in the country last month, shuttling between the MILF and government panels.

The MILF had submitted a 38-page draft peace agreement, which it said primarily outlines the setup of a Bangsamoro substate that will be the principal political instrument for self-governance.

Meanwhile, the government panel had offered to work out a political accommodation of Moro self-governance demands along what can be done legally.

Iqbal has admitted the MILF proposal will require changes to the country’s existing legal framework, especially several amendments to provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

“It has already been widely admitted that the present Philippine Constitution does not embody the arrangement suitable to accommodating the self-governance aspirations of the Moro people,” Iqbal explained.

He said the rebel group is expecting that in the process of clarifying its position, “new ideas crop up and hopefully we can craft a new way of moving the peace process forward.” (Ryan D. Rosauro)