2 Cabinet members sent to KL as Moro peace talks hit impasse

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President Benigno Aquino. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Government and Moro rebel negotiators resumed talks in Kuala Lumpur Friday on the touchy issue of wealth sharing after President Benigno Aquino dispatched Secretaries Teresita Deles and Edwin Lacierda to help break an impasse and get the negotiations moving forward.

At the government panel’s request, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front panel agreed to go back to the negotiating table Friday after adjourning Thursday without any major agreement on the annex on wealth sharing.

This has dashed any hope that a comprehensive peace agreement, including the annexes, would be signed before Aquino delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 22.

“We received word from Kuala Lumpur that the talks are still ongoing between the government and the MILF,” Malacañang spokesperson Abigail Valte told a news briefing.  “We have no other update. They are talking as we speak.”

In a statement to reporters in Manila, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said both panels extended the talks up to Friday as they needed “to find good compromises on key issues like taxation and revenue share.”

“We seem to be caught up in the trees and missing the forest. Hopefully today we will find solutions, but we need flexibility on both sides. Government remains invested in the process,” she said.

After weeks of delay, both panels resumed negotiations this week amid hopes that the annex on wealth sharing would be concluded.

The crux of the negotiations was the ratio of sharing between the national government and the regional government of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous setup with respect to revenues from “energy sources” and tax collections, officials said.

Contrary to reports that the MILF panel members had walked out of the talks on Thursday, Valte said that the meeting adjourned “properly.”

As both panels failed to come to an agreement, the President on Thursday sent Deles, his adviser on the peace process, and Lacierda, his main spokesman, to Kuala Lumpur to affirm the government’s commitment to the preliminary peace agreement.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said both panels were headed for an “impasse.”

“The presence of both secretaries is a manifestation of the continuing commitment of the President as well as the support of the Cabinet for both panels and for us to fulfill the aspirations of the Framework Agreement,” Valte said.

Their presence was an “affirmation of support” from the President and his Cabinet for the ongoing negotiations, she added.

Valte could not say how the government panel would be flexible to the MILF reply to the government draft on the wealth sharing. She said the negotiators were working within the parameters set by the government.

“The panel is aware of the metes and bounds of their mandate,” she said.

Valte could not say if a comprehensive peace agreement would be signed before the President’s State of the Nation Address, but the fact that the negotiations had resumed was a “good thing.”

“Let’s see what the outcome will be,” she said. “I don’t want to preempt talks that are ongoing.”

Valte also expressed confidence that outbreaks of violence allegedly instigated by an MILF breakaway group would not derail the peace talks.

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