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PH gov’t, MILF open 39th round of talks for peace pact, unfazed by bombings

/ 04:16 PM August 22, 2013

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government peace panel chair, listens to Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace Panel Chair during the ceremonial opening of the first meeting of the transition commission which is tasked to draft the basic law of the Bangsamoro entity in Crowne Plaza,Ortigas, Pasig. INQUIRER PHOTO/RAFFY LERMA

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines – The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front began their 39th round of talks Thursday, confident they could leap towards completing a comprehensive agreement within the year and overcome the threats of peace spoilers.

In her opening statement, chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer noted that amid the breakthrough on wealth-sharing last July 13, there have been forces trying to bring the peace process down.

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“…We know that the path we have painstakingly taken to get us to the second, third and then the final Annex is strewn with various types of landmines,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

She said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been on “a rampage, attacking soldiers and setting off grenades and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in several parts of Central Mindanao, in their bid to derail our negotiations.”

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The incidents happened as the 38th meeting was going on in Kuala Lumpur for the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharing.

“On July 26 – a week after our return from Kuala Lumpur – in Cagayan de Oro, insidious forces detonated a bomb that killed six and injured more than 40 civilians. Then on August 5, a car bomb set off on a busy road in Cotabato killed eight and injured scores of people, among them young children,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

“In this round, we will prove that we have not been waylaid by these groups’ destructive, desperate ways,” Coronel-Ferrer stressed.

Earlier, she called on the peoples of Mindanao to “rage against the violence.”

Coronel-Ferrer’s determined words was complemented by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s optimism for yet another breakthrough in the current round of talks.

“Frankly speaking, I am seeing a ray of hope that the Annex on Power-sharing will be settled and signed by the parties during this meeting. I see no clear reasons why this should be delayed any longer since it has been the subject of negotiation more than a year ago,” Iqbal said in his opening address.

“Once this annex is settled, we can pour all our remaining stamina on normalization, an issue that is not too difficult to overcome by willing and committed peace partners. After all, the end state that we all desire in this peace process is for peace, justice, and development to reign in our lands,” he added.

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Many residents feel unsafe in public places in Mindanao weeks after the bombings.

After the series of blasts, police and military personnel have been manning busy ports, malls, and strategic street corners in the island’s major cities.

“Bombings, sniping, and various forms of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and objects such as bridges have no place in the moral order that we are instituting in our country and our communities,” said Coronel-Ferrer.

She assured that the various mechanisms and institutions of the peace process like the ceasefire committees and the International Monitoring Team, the police and military, as well as local officials “are working hard to address the continuing threats to our people’s collective security.”

The recent declaration of independence by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari has added to worries that Mindanao’s security situation is bound to worsen and could imperil the upcoming Bangsamoro transition.

“We know that there will be more challenges ahead, that in fact, things might still get worse before things get better. Such has been the experience in most post-conflict settings,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

“This is my objective view, not a pessimistic stance. But it is an appraisal that is imbued with the determination that we shall overcome,” she added.

Iqbal said the apparent “conspiracy of all these anti-peace forces” could be “nipped in the bud” through the completion of a comprehensive peace agreement.

“Once the agreement is sealed, it would be very difficult for them to destroy it,” Iqbal added.

Once the Bangsamoro government is fully entrenched and functional, “the problems that we are encountering now will gradually be eased out and those still opposing or fighting the government will be deprived of legitimacy and of popular support,” according to Iqbal.

“Take away the water, the fish will die,” Iqbal pointed out, quoting a Chinese verse.

“On our end, we do our share of reaching the goal of completing the last two remaining annexes. Let us show that we are ready to put to sleep the infamous devil in the details and awaken the angel of creativity and compromise,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

She emphasized that even as the government has been dealing with the MILF in the negotiating table, “we are insuring that the process and the outcome will be for all stakeholders, so long as they choose peace and commit to meaningful reform beyond one’s personal or group interest.”

“We aim for an agreement that leaves no one in the prospective Bangsamoro political entity left behind as far as protection of rights and access to power and wealth are concerned,” she said.

“To be sustained, our agreement must redound to the well-being of not just one but of all the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro; not of one political or socio-cultural or religious group but of everyone; not just of men but also of women; not just of the elites but most especially of the poor and dispossessed across the spectrum,” she added.

During the opening rites, the peace panels welcomed observers from Congress, namely, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong. North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan was expected to join them.

Members of the Transition Commission (TransCom) who have been drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law also came for the opening ceremonies.

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TAGS: Acts of terror, Armed conflict, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front, News, normalization, Nur Misuari, peace negotiations, peace process, Peace Talks, Philippine Government, Power Sharing, Regions, Secession, transitional modalities, Wealth Sharing
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