GPH-MILF peace pact: ‘So near, yet so far’

ILIGAN CITY -- So near, yet so far.

One year after government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) forged the landmark Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the parties are still to muster consensus on two substantive issues that form part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

Although negotiators admit they are really closing in toward a deal, continuing to maintain an upbeat mood the full peace pact could be hammered before the year ends.

The FAB, which was inked October 15 last year, is a preliminary accord that provides the “overarching architecture” for the process of addressing the so-called Bangsamoro question, and defines the powers and structures of a new self-governance entity that will replace and have far greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

It also lays down the principles, processes, and mechanisms “that will shape the new relations between the central government and the Bangsamoro,” with the rebel group committing to decommission its army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines transferring, “in a phased and gradual manner, all law enforcement functions… to the police force for the Bangsamoro.”

The FAB plus the four Annexes on transitional modalities, wealth-sharing, power-sharing, and normalization will comprise the comprehensive agreement. The parties are now down to achieving consensus on power-sharing and normalization.

During the recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the parties failed to come up with an agreement on either issue. However, they assured that they “made substantial progress on the remaining Annexes on power-sharing and normalization.”

Best formulations

“They have proceeded in exhaustive, honest discussions in order to identify the best formulations for an agreement that would respond to the aspirations of both Parties,” their joint statement read.

“The remaining challenges and the time constraints demand that the panels remain focused on completing the annexes following a break for Eid'Ul'Adha. Both sides have a full understanding of their responsibility as they strive toward a sustainable and inclusive solution for the benefit of all people in the Bangsamoro,” they added.

The four-day 41st exploratory talks kicked off October 8. It was extended until Saturday in a bid to clinch consensus on a power-sharing deal. Including breaks, the peace panels clocked a record of 18 hours -- from 10 a.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday -- of session, beating the 12-hour time they spent to hammer out the wealth-sharing deal.

Since the talks began, the parties have to put up daily overtime sessions, a statement said by government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

Coronel-Ferrer said the Eid'l Adha holiday prevented another day’s extension of the talks.

“But very good progress has been achieved in the power-sharing annex including on the possible structure of the new Bangsamoro political entity, and the intergovernmental mechanism that can be instituted to ensure coordination and cooperation between the Central and Bangsamoro governments in the exercise of various powers,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

Under the FAB, the parties have agreed to define various governance powers into reserved, which are exercised only by the central government; devolved, which are conceded to the Bangsamoro; and concurrent, which are shared by both entities.

During the recent talks, Coronel-Ferrer said the MILF presented for discussion the features of the autonomous government it envisioned for the Bangsamoro.

“There is understanding now on the level of detail that would go into the Annex on Power Sharing but some disagreements still on specific features,” Coronel-Ferrer added.

“Discussions are also ongoing on the extent of territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro political entity over waters and on the protection of fishing rights of subsistence fisherfolk in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf,” she said.

Core of negotiations

Earlier, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal described the power-sharing discussions as “the core of the entire negotiations.”

Coronel-Ferrer said the technical working groups on normalization also “achieved working consensus on the mechanisms that will address the different security aspects of normalization, such as the private armed groups, and disposition of weapons and combatants, and land conflicts; the provision of socio-economic programs; and reconciliation.”

She said members of the International Contact Group (ICG) helped the parties “sort out some of the difficult issues.”

Before the parties ended the talks, they also “agreed on a process that will facilitate the settlement of the unsettled issues.”

The parties have been tackling the power-sharing issue since Aug. 2012 when they agreed on a new strategy of incrementally building up consensus toward a comprehensive agreement which was originally set for completion end of 2012 as reflected in the FAB.

More than 10 months have elapsed since then.

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