MILF gave up claim to Palawan—Aquino

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04:35 AM October 18th, 2012

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By: Michael Lim Ubac, October 18th, 2012 04:35 AM

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III answers questions from the foreign correspondents based in the country during its annual forum Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 at a Manila hotel in the Philippines. Aquino disclosed that giving up its claim to have Palawan included in the so-called Bangsamoro autonomous region was one of the “significant concessions” that the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front gave during negotiations for a framework peace agreement. AP PHOTO/BULLIT MARQUEZ

MANILA, Philippines—Giving up its claim to have Palawan included in their so-called Bangsamoro autonomous region was one of the “significant concessions” that the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gave during negotiations for a framework peace agreement, President Aquino said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Club of the Philippines, Aquino disclosed the decision of the MILF negotiating panel to give up the inclusion of Palawan’s southern municipalities to the soon-to-be-expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“I think it is a significant concession on the part of the MILF,” he said.

The President noted the MILF claim that there were people in Palawan who could trace their ancestry to the areas they claimed as belonging to the Bangsamoro, the rebels’ preferred term for the Muslims of Mindanao.

Significant concessions

Aquino said the significant concessions by the Muslim rebels included, besides the “limited area to be covered by the new Bangsamoro territory,” the agreement for the population in the region covered to give their consent through a plebiscite.

“So it is indicative of their desire to really achieve a just settlement to the lingering issues which have taken almost two generations already of our countrymen. I think it should be pointed out that it is a very mature perspective and it is a very doable perspective in terms of delineating the territory that they would want to be part of the new political entity,” Aquino said.

The issue of the substate status for the Bangsamoro region was also dropped in favor of autonomy, he said.

“That has been translated into an asymmetrical relationship. Initially, they wanted an expansion of their territory. They now recognize that perhaps it would be best to afford that opportunity to opt in, but not to demand so many, great addition to their territory,” he said.

“It makes me therefore optimistic. I will not say that we guarantee that we finish all of the details soon, but we are more focused on achieving a consensus rather than be caught in a dogmatic ideological battle where nobody wins,” Aquino said.

After signing on Monday the framework agreement that will serve as a road map to ending the 40-year Muslim rebellion,   the MILF and government panels will meet again in Kuala Lumpur next month to negotiate the annexes of the comprehensive peace agreement.

The governor of Palawan, Abraham Mitra, said yesterday he “shared the nation’s hopes and prayers for a final peace settlement” in Mindanao following a preliminary framework agreement signed last Monday that sets the road map to peace.

Final drive

“The final drive towards ending the Mindanao conflict has just begun,” said Mitra in a press statement in the wake of the President’s speech. “We commend the panels of both the government and the MILF for recognizing that peace is an imperative in our time.”

Although the framework agreement will not immediately yield peace dividends, Mitra said it represents a “historic breakthrough in our generation” for a final Mindanao peace deal to emerge.

On wealth and power-sharing between the national government and Bangsamoro region, the President said “there will be a balance between their needs,” on wealth sharing, without giving details.

The power-sharing was “clearly defined already,” he said.

The creation of a regional police force of Bangsamoro has yet to be resolved by both sides.

This touchy issue was discussed when Mr. Aquino met with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim before Monday’s signing.

The President said the government has largely resisted the continued existence of a Bangsamoro armed force.

“But that will be contingent also on their ability to defend themselves, the trust that will be engendered, the policing and so on and so forth. I think it would be unfair at this point to (agree) to specific timelines given that there is still (the question) as to who takes over the internal security,” he said.

Eventually, Muslim rebels would become “farmers, fisherfolk, efficient farmers,” he said.

The President also denied discussing the Philippine claim to Malaysia’s Sabah state when he met with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday.

He said the territorial dispute with Malaysia over Sabah was “dormant at this point in time unless you can claim it.”

Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, the military adviser to the government negotiating panel, yesterday said that the government and the MILF should find “closure” after fighting each other for years.

Finding justice for all the victims of the war, both from the Armed Forces and the MILF, as well as the civilians caught in the crossfire, has yet to be discussed by the peace panels, he said. With a report from Nikko Dizon

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