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MILF calls Aquino-Murad meeting 'a great leap forward'


The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Friday said the secret meeting between its leader and President Benigno Aquino III in Tokyo was a "great leap forward" in efforts to end the decades-old conflict in southern Philippines. In a statement, the MILF said the one-on-one meeting between President Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim is expected to give a boost and fast track fresh peace talks, currently being facilitated by Malaysia. "It is viewed as a great leap forward for both leaders, indicating a determined as well as decisive move for President Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad to put closure to the conflict in Mindanao," the MILF statement said. During the meeting, Aquino and Murad reached a consensus that all "substantive and outstanding issues" will be taken up for deliberation on the negotiating table. The Moro rebel group described the meeting as "very cordial, frank, honest, and intimate." The Philippine government and the MILF will hold another round of negotiations on Aug. 15 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The government is due to issue a counter-proposal to the rebels' demand to set up a "state within a state" structure in Muslim provinces in Mindanao.
Secessionist no more Former UP Law dean Marvic Leonen, who heads the government panel talking peace with the MILF, said they are no longer considering the MILF as a secessionist group. In May, the MILF that said it was dropping its plan to seek secession after Malaysia threatened to stop facilitating the negotiations. On Friday, the MILF stressed that the group will continue on invoking its right to self-determination. "This historic and unprecedented meeting... is a significant political milestone in the MILF’s quest for Bangsamoro right to self-determination," he said. The MILF said it was Aquino who "initiated" last June having a "personal meeting" with Murad anywhere in the Philippines. The MILF accepted the President's invitation on the condition that the meeting be held in an International Contact Group (ICG) member-state. Japan was utimately chosen as the venue of the meeting because of its proximity to the Philippines. Late last year, Japan, which has been actively contributing to the Mindanao peace process for the last four years, urged the Philippine government and the MILF to return to the negotiating table. The MILF stressed that Malaysian facilitator in the GRP-MILF peace talks were informed about the planned meeting, and was even allowed to have representation during the meet-up. The MILF described Aquino's invitation as a "grand gesture," while Murad's acceptance meanwhile showed the MILF leader's "political maturity and pragmatism of leadership." "His acceptance of the invitation illustrates a high level of statesmanship that necessitates resolution peacefully and politically at the negotiating table," the MILF said. The group also stressed that the secret meeting in Japan does not "supplant or replace in any way the current peace negotiation being conducted by the GPH and the MILF and facilitated by Malaysia." Delegation Those who were with Aquino during the meeting were:
  • Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad
  • Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima
  • Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin
  • Presidential spokesman Jose Lacierda
  • Secretary Teresita ‘Ging’ Quintos-Deles of the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process
  • Leonen, and
  • retired general Cesar Garcia, who now heads the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). Murad, for his part, took with him the following MILF officials and panel members:
  • Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF information committee and the MILF negotiating panel
  • Atty. Datu Michael Mastura, a senior panel member
  • Maulana Alonto, another panel member
  • Datu Antonio Kinoc, representative of the indigenous peoples (IPs) and alternate panel member. — RSJ, GMA News
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