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MILF negotiator: Don’t let framework agreement become a piece of paper

Iqbal calls for results on the ground, ‘framework pact won’t implement itself’
By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 07:00 AM October 16, 2012

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, right, receives a gong from Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad, center, and MILF Peace Panel chief Mohagher Iqbal, left, before the historic signing of the framework agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, on Monday Oct. 15, 2012. AP Photo/Rouelle Umali, Pool

MANILA, Philippines—The chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Monday conceded that the framework agreement forged by the Philippine government and the MILF for peace in Mindanao would turn out to be mere piece of paper unless fully implemented at the grassroots.

Both panels from the government and the MILF are holding formal exploratory talks in November in Kuala Lumpur to tackle the annexes on wealth, power-sharing and normalization of the agreement, and the touchy issue of decommissioning MILF’s forces.

“Let me tell you that no doubt the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro is the best possible peace pact that can be signed by the parties. Pushing them too far will be like asking them to tread the pathways of independence or send them to the brink of war,’’ Mohagher Iqbal told reporters after signing the agreement with government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen in Malacañang.

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Iqbal said that if this “seed sown on the ground’’ were to be nurtured “wholeheartedly and creatively’’ by the government and the MILF, it would “grow and grow until real peace, justice, and development in Mindanao happen.’’

While it was historic and substantive, the framework agreement that would serve as a blueprint for a final agreement to set up an autonomous Moro homeland would remain a “piece of paper’’ without the results on the ground, Iqbal said in the joint briefing with Leonen at the New Executive Building.

“It will not implement itself. It requires the sincere intervention of the parties to the negotiation and the all-out support and proper leverage of the friends of the peace process — both local and international –and, without saying, members of the media before we can ensure that this agreement will be fully implemented,’’ he said.

Leonen, responding to this, agreed that it was only a framework agreement but it contained the roadmap to the final peace agreement.

“It is a paper that enumerates the political commitments of the Government of the Republic (of the Philippines) to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and what it creates is not something that is exclusive to the MILF. It will create a new Bangsamoro Basic Law that will create the Bangsamoro which is the regional arrangement that we will have down south,’’ he said.

Leonen said both panels would begin exploratory talks on the annexes in November in the hope of crafting a final agreement “before the end of the year.’’

“The President wanted an agreement early enough so that it can be implemented, so that it can be assessed, so that in the next administration, it is a legacy that can be improved,’’ Leonen said.

Iqbal declined to discuss his expectations of the future discussion on the annexes of power and wealth-sharing and normalization. He said on Monday that these were still being “negotiated.’’

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“You know, I do not want to preempt the result of the technical working groups who are negotiating on the details of power and wealth sharing,’’ he said, when further pressed on the details.

The issue of decommissioning MILF forces would also be tackled at the exploratory talks, Iqbal said.

“We have to discuss that. We will present our position. The government will have to present their counter position and let us see what will happen,’’ he said.

Relatedly, under the agreement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines would turn over its law enforcement functions to a reformed police force, Leonen said.

“There is something in the agreement, which might assist in terms of determining the form and the function and the relationships of the policing in the area and that is called the Independent Review Commission,’’ he said.

The commission, composed of  representatives and experts, would examine best practices in reforming the police,  Leonen said.

“I hope that there is no doubt, there is no security vacuum that is going to be left. That is not the intention of the GPH (government of the Philippines) and I would like to believe that the MILF, too, does not intend that the agreement will cause any security vacuum in that particular area,’’ he said.

Now that the engagement with the government has reached a more complex level, Iqbal admitted that it would be difficult for the Moro rebels to proceed.

“They are used to fighting; they are not used to governance. So it would be very difficult for us. But with the help of the friends from the the peace process, and international community, we have to empower our people,’’ he said.

On the government side, Leonen said the challenge lay with bringing the matter to Congress and the local government units every step of the way, and explaining it before the international community.

Iqbal confirmed that the MILF was reaching out to various leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front after its chairman Nur Misuari ranted about the agreement.

“We are negotiating for the entire Bangsamoro people not just for the MILF. And, if you look at the Framework Agreement, the direct role of the MILF is only in the transition and after that it’s free for all,’’ he said.

Leonen said the Transition Commission would include members of the MNLF. Iqbal said it had a shortlist of the eight-man team to the commission, but declined to identify those in the shortlist.

“He’s not joining,” Iqbal said when asked if it was wise to include Misuari in the list. “He denounced the agreement.’’

Iqbal said the toughest part of the negotiations pertained to “policing.’’ Leonen said all aspects of the negotiations were tough.

“In the whole day of Oct. 6, there was no plenary session except the opening and maybe the third reading of the whole document. It was all — the most contentious is about policing. We were about to give up if not for the perseverance of both parties and the creativity of the Malaysian facilitator. It was 10:40 in the evening when we had a deal,” Iqbal said.

Both parties said neither the breakaway faction of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), nor Misuari would be a cause for worry.

“You know, when we finally find the real solution or the real medicine, all the sufferings will fade away,” Iqbal said. He said the BIFF problem could be addressed with available mechanisms.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, Benigno Aquino, Government, Insurgency, MILF, Mindanao, Mohagher Iqbal, Murad Ebrahim, peace process, rebellion, Transition Commission
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