THE government admitted that it is impossible to ink a final peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under the outgoing Arroyo administration.

"We are aiming not necessarily for a final peace agreement because we cannot make commitments for the next government. We cannot make guarantees because some proposals require constitutional change,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Annabelle Abaya said in a statement on Friday.

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Abaya said the government peace negotiating panel led by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and the MILF are trying to thresh out differences on the peace draft to be presented to the next government.

For his part, MILF civil-military affairs chief Eid Kabalu said election fever is the prime reason for another delay in forging a final peace agreement.

“Should that be the case, it is not surprising knowing that everybody is pre-occupied by the upcoming election,” Kabalu told Sun.Star in a text message.

Former government peace panel Vice Chairman and Mindanao State University professor Rodolfo Rodil, meanwhile, said the observation “sounds realistic.”

Securing a peace accord with the separatist group is one of the legacies President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to leave before she bows out from power on June 30.

Experts say the peace pact would eventually end decades of fighting in southern Mindanao. More than 120,000 people have died in repeated clashes with government troops that stalled economic progress.

The 11,000 MILF has been fighting for self-rule in the Muslim-dominated region. The Malaysian-brokered talks hit a constitutional snag in 2008 after the failed signing of an expanded Muslim homeland agreement or the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

The Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the MOA-AD drove some MILF commanders like Umbra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar, who is better known as Commander Bravo, to launch deadly attacks on mostly Christian communities in the region.

Both camps, however, resumed talks this January after a year-long impasse.

Interim peace deal on

Last Thursday, the government met anew in Malaysia for a question and answer session, with both sides claiming different takes on the result.

The government is optimistic on the clarificatory talks but the MILF thought otherwise.

“The questions were direct and we got clarification on matters we wanted to know more about," Seguis said in a statement.

The MILF, however, said the talks are at a standstill and that its panel was “grilled for day-long.”

"After the traditional opening remarks from the parties especially by Datuk Othman bin Abdurazak, the Malaysian country facilitator, the two parties remained poles apart in their positions contained in their respective draft on the comprehensive compact, which embodies the negotiated political solution to the centuries-old Moro question in

Mindanao," the MILF said.

Seguis, meanwhile, is hopeful that sealing an interim peace agreement would be a good start for the next administration.

"Whatever differences we may have, we are of one mind that we need to preserve our gains, and to agree on a clear roadmap on how to move ahead. We are committed to finding creative ways and alternatives towards forging a peace agreement, whether in the present administration or in the next," he said.

Kabalu also reiterated that the MILF’s “commitment for the peaceful resolution of the problem remain strong.”

Seguis furthered that the MILF presented its draft of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Governance Arrangements, an 11-page extract of its proposed Comprehensive Compact.

The MILF is proposing a transition arrangement that will convert the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) into a "self-governance set up".

He said the government panel has agreed to submit its counterproposal to the MILF draft.

Present in the meeting were Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel; Datuk Othman bin Abd Razak, Chief Facilitator; members of the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and former Congressman Roger Adamat; members of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel; and members of the International Contact

Group (ICG) representing states and international non-government organizations (INGOs).

The government peace panel included Seguis, Pangandaman, Dr. Ronald Adamat, lawyers Mariano Sarmiento and James Kho, Ryan Mark Sullivan, Zoilo Velasco, and Jennie Laruan.

The MILF five-man delegation, led by Iqbal, includes lawyer Michael Mastura, Maulana Alonto, Antonio Kinoc, and Jun Mantawil.

Prior to the meeting, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) was formally redeployed last Sunday after more than a year of absence. The Malaysian-led team had Japan, Brunei and Libya as members.

Seguis said both sides will hold next round of talks in the coming weeks. The next meeting will involve clarification this time on the government’s proposed draft.(Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)