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Gov’t, MILF panels OK deal on wealth-sharing

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Gov’t, MILF panels OK deal on wealth-sharing

The Aquino administration has moved closer to ending four decades of Moro insurgency in Mindanao with the signing of a wealth-sharing deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, late Saturday.

Government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said Sunday the government was cautiously optimistic of a final peace pact within weeks after the signing the wealth-sharing deal with the MILF.

Ferrer said a final peace agreement with the 12,000-strong MILF could be signed after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which officially ends at the end of July.

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Early Sunday, President Aquino congratulated government negotiators for the achievement after Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles informed him of the resolution of the key hurdle to a final peace agreement with the MILF.

“Congratulations. Thank you,” Aquino texted Deles, whom he had ordered to Kuala Lumpur together with his spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Thursday, when the negotiations on the revenue-sharing annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by the two sides last October appeared to be headed toward a stalemate.

On instructions from Aquino, Deles and Lacierda reiterated to the government and the MILF negotiators the administration’s commitment to the framework agreement, boosting morale at the talks, which were extended twice in a make-or-break bid for a deal.

The government had initially bargained for a bigger share of the wealth, arguing that it wanted an agreement that could withstand legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

The MILF drove for the bigger share, adamantly standing by the sharing annex to the framework agreement that the two sides initialed in February.

Finally, toward midnight on Saturday, the sixth day of the 38th round of peace talks, the two panels reached an agreement on how to divide up income from taxes and natural resources in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.

Sharing formula

Deles said the two panels signed a deal for 100 percent of revenue from the exploration, development and utilization of nonmetallic minerals to go to Bangsamoro.

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Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair, said by phone from Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat province that the government and the MILF agreed to split equally earnings from fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, and the government agreed to let Bangsamoro have a 75 percent share of revenue from metallic minerals.

Deles confirmed Jaafar’s information.

“It was a close call. But both parties’ persistence and goodwill bore fruit,” Ferrer said in a statement. “We have a good package, one that we believe will make fiscal autonomy in the Bangsamoro a reality.”

She said the government agreed to have Bangsamoro take 75 percent of national taxes to be collected from the territory, up from the current 70 percent in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the Bangsamoro would replace.

Jaafar said he was glad the two sides signed the deal “because it’s important that we sign the comprehensive agreement so we can organize our own government.”

The comprehensive peace agreement will be the basis for the proposed Bangsamoro law that Congress will pass to authorize the establishment of a new autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

A Transition Commission will draft the basic law and submit it to Congress for approval.

Bigger share

Despite his gladness about the signing of the income-sharing deal, Jaafar said he was “not very happy” with the 50-50 splitting of revenue from fossil fuels.

He said he would have been happier if Bangsamoro got 60 percent.

“You know, the Bangsamoro homeland is very rich, but it’s ironic that the Bangsamoro people are poor, almost paupers, because our resources are controlled by the central government apart from the fact that we are politically marginalized,” Jaafar said.

Since it has been left behind for 50 years, the Bangsamoro homeland needs a bigger share in the revenue “to catch up,” he said.

Deles said: “One needs to look at the big picture, at what we’ve agreed on in the framework agreement, including political autonomy and governance, and that they will be operating in a ministerial form of government. It’s difficult to make this the be-all and end-all.”

She added: “We’re confident that given the fact they agreed to sign, this is the best arrangement at this time.”

Jaafar said he hoped that a provision for review in the Bangsamoro basic law would tilt the sharing in fossil fuel revenue in the Bangsamoro people’s favor.

Deles acknowledged that the annex contains such a provision.

Disarming MILF

Ferrer said both sides still had to agree on a formula over how to disarm the MILF, as well as the extent of the powers of the proposed Bangsamoro region.

Jaafar said the MILF expected a “more contentious” round of negotiations ahead.

“The MILF fighters will not disarm unless clear conditions and terms for their safety are met,” Jaafar said.

“There must also be an assurance the fighters will be free from harassment from troops once they are disarmed, if ever,” he added.

The MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

At the close of talks on Saturday night, both the government and the MILF panels thanked President Aquino for his commitment to a “just and lasting peace” that brought the Moro insurgency this close to a peaceful resolution.

They also thanked Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for facilitating the talks, and the members of the MILF Central Committee chaired by Murad Ebrahim for their commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict.

Welcome to military

The military welcomed the latest development in peace talks to end the conflict.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said he was optimistic that the signing of the wealth-sharing deal would help end the violence perpetrated by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter of the MILF, in some parts of Mindanao last week.

“We welcome… any progress in the peace process, which would… spur development [in Mindanao],” Zagala told the Inquirer by phone.

Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the Kuala Lumpur deal “really showed the strong commitment of both the government and the MILF to find a lasting peace in Mindanao despite the odds and spoilers.”

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman lauded the two peace panels for “another breakthrough that will keep us moving toward achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, said that with the signing of the wealth-sharing deal, her group was confident that “a peace agreement is finally at hand.”—With reports from Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP

Originally posted: 4:43 pm | Sunday, July 14th, 2013

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TAGS: Bangsamoro entity, Benigno Aquino III, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, News, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, peace negotiations, peace process, Peace Talks, Philippine Government, Philippine president, Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, Wealth Sharing
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