OZAMIZ CITY, Philippines—After toiling some 12 hours on their sixth day of talks, negotiators of government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finally hammered a wealth-sharing arrangement between the central government and the future Bangsamoro political entity.
The deal covers taxation powers for the Bangsamoro government; assured fund transfers from the central government to the Bangsamoro government through block grants; and sharing of revenues from the use of natural wealth, like energy sources and metallic minerals.
The breakthrough comes after a four-month lull in the peace process, and could move the partiescloser to crafting a comprehensive agreement that contains the totality of measures that address the four-decade Moro rebellion in Mindanao.
Wealth-sharing is one of the four Annexes to the preliminary Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the parties inked October last year.
The others are power-sharing, normalization, and transitional modalities. The latter has been done since February.
The parties came to consensus on the wealth-sharing annex around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, according to an advisory of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp).
As of 12 midnight, the peace panel secretariats, joined by some ICG members, were still finalizing the text based on the agreed points.
“We are still here,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal texted the Inquirer around 10 p.m. Saturday when asked how the negotiations were going.
Several minutes later, Iqbal changed tone and texted that “most likely there would be a breakthrough, insha Allah.”
Earlier, chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told cable news service ANC that either side was not willing to leave the negotiating table.
After Opapp announced the breakthrough via its Twitter account, accolades poured for the two peace panels.
“Congratulations! Thank you all for not giving up,” said singer Leah Navarro, convenor of the Black and White Movement.
The negotiators convened around 9:40 a.m. Saturday, hoping to firm up the deal before they set out for home where there are high expectations, especially among civil society and community leaders in Mindanao, for them to bring back a breakthrough.
The 38th round of talks was originally scheduled for four days, beginning Monday.
Within that time, there were three sessions: two among the technical working groups for normalization and power-sharing, and a panel-level one for wealth-sharing.
On Thursday afternoon, the technical working groups on normalization have inked their joint report, which means the document will be elevated to the consideration of the panels.
Barring a wealth-sharing consensus, government asked for an extension until Friday.
And then on Saturday
An Opapp photo release showed Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles in a huddle with government negotiators Saturday.
She arrived in Kuala Lumpur Thursday afternoon with presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda to impress on the panels the strong commitment of President Aquino on the negotiations.
The six-day talks have been the longest exploratory meeting of the parties in the history of the already 16-year negotiations.
The exploratory meeting that produced the 13-page text of the landmark preliminary accord, the FAB, took five days to complete.
It also closely resembled the length of the session that led to the firming up of the FAB.
“Meeting just ended, to resume tomorrow. Tired and no sleep; and the other side, fasting, too. If this isn’t commitment, what is?” Iona Jalijali, chief of the government peace panel secretariat, twitted Friday evening.
This is the third Ramadan when the peace panels had to work on the substantive issues of the negotiations.
The first, in 2011, was marked by a near breakdown of the talks as the MILF outrightly rejected the government’s 3-for-1 proposal and then government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen (now Supreme Court associate justice) “rejecting the rejection.”
By Ramadan 2012, the panels were already working on details of wealth-sharing and power-sharing, following through the landmark 10 Decision Points on Principles earlier agreed in April.
“It is now Ramadan 2013: About time indeed we resolve the sticky issues after completing two years of the Hijrah (Islamic) calendar,” Coronel-Ferrer said on Monday.
Government is fueled by a self-imposed expectation of making a headway in the negotiations in time for President Benigno Aquino III’s State-of-the-Nation Address on July 22.
For the MILF, its negotiators are driven by the need to catch up on time already lost for carrying out work on a transition roadmap that was originally set for seven years but had to be curtailed so that it happens within the term of Aquino that ends June 30, 2016.
The MILF also need to show its constituents, some of whom started to be restive, that the negotiations will still be the principal form of achieving its political aims and not the battlefield.
In a July 10 piece on The Asia Foundation’s blog, Dr. Steven Rood, a member of the International Contact Group of the peace process, expressed confidence an agreement will be formulated soon, even as he observed that “there has been long, and sometimes slow, negotiation over details.”
“For me, knowing the dedication and sincerity of the people inside the negotiating room, I am confident that a comprehensive agreement will be reached in the near future,” Rood said.
“The seriousness with which both panels and their respective secretariats take this process is heartening to an observer,” he added.
Both parties have acknowledged that the issues facing them now have been there since August last year and have escaped their consensus.
But they both acknowledged that the wealth-sharing arrangement is crucial so that the future Bangsamoro government attain real fiscal autonomy.
Earlier, civil society leaders in Mindanao asked them not just to bargain hard but also “be willing to offer and accept a workable and dignified compromise.”
Originally, the MILF asked for a 75-25 across-the-board sharing scheme. It also stood that any new arrangement must be better than what the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) enjoys.
At present, the ARMM has no say over the use of strategic minerals within its territory as this is a power reserved only to the national government.
Its annual budget also has to pass through line-item scrutiny by Congress.
An INQUIRER source said that the initialed wealth-sharing deal embodied the 75-25 sharing scheme in favor of the Bangsamoro government.
Government sought it to be refined to only 50-50 for revenues from the exploitation energy sources, the source added.
The MILF has decried this as a form of “backtracking” from the earlier consensus.
Oil and gas blocks are found to be abundant in the offshore of Sulu Sea, potentially part of the Bangsamoro territory if the entity is granted internal waters.