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MILF rejects autonomy offer; Leonen, Deles see opening


(Updated 11:59 p.m.) Malacañang revealed Tuesday that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) initially rejected the autonomy framework proposed to them to get the exploratory talks started, but chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen said the current divide allows for ample room for agreement on issues as the talks progress. Leonen cautioned against quick judgment on government’s sincerity based on comparisons between its autonomy offer and the overtly declared sub-state aspirations of the MILF. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said their chairman, Al Haj Murad explained their sub-state proposal when they met in Tokyo last August 4. “Basically, the sub-state is still under the Philippines and it has layers of power and authority reserved for the central government, which are foreign relations, national defense, currency and postal services and there is residual power for the sub-state," Iqbal said a few days after the Tokyo meeting. Elbow room for negotiations Leonen explained in the Palace briefing by video conferencing Tuesday, “it is better for the proposals to be honestly different in order to be able to provide more space at the negotiating table to discuss the issues that truly matter to both parties and find an agreeable middle ground." “It is not unusual in negotiations that one of the parties take a hardline position on the contents of the initial documents of another party," Leonen clarified. The former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law said the MILF panel chose to keep the proposal document they presented, so they could show it to the MILF Central Committee for their decision. “Suffice it to say that to them they had expected something more than that. They have already said that they are expecting the word substate, we did not have the word substate in our proposal," Leonen said.
For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles said the MILF “conveyed very serious problems with the proposal that we had given. It is important to note that they did not walk out, they did not return the paper." Leonen said he saw the decision of their counterparts to let the MILF Central Committee to decide and respond is a “positive indication." Deles added that based on what they were hearing from MILF officers in the country, she expects that the process “will continue… in solving problems… in a search… for common ground." New leaders, rogue commander To keep its November 2007 commitment to help develop a new generation of Bangsamoro leaders, the government panel turned over to the MILF, a P5-million check for the continuous establishment of the Bangsamoro Leadership Management Institute (BLMI). Leonen said the government panel “raised the issue of Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, as well as the 17 rido incidents involving at least a commander of the MILF base command in Mindanao." The MILF side asked for 10 days after Eid’l Fitr (The End of Ramadan) on August 30 so they can deal with the Umbra Kato matter. “To this date, therefore, government is considering Kato as not within the MILF and that, of course, because he is no longer covered by the ceasefire arrangements then, therefore, the usual legal mechanisms will apply in his stead," Leonen revealed. “They [MILF panel] are also informed that this is also the pulsation of some of the leaders of the MILF," Leonen said. Three-for-one proposal At the formal peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the Philippine government's peace negotiators submitted to the MILF what they called a "three-for-one" peace proposal. Leonen said government's proposal involves three key components of one solution to the Bangsamoro problem including economic programs the Aquino administration has committed to implement to “break the cycle of poverty in the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao]." “We offered to the MILF to partner in conflict-affected areas to deliver, implement, and monitor social services and economic development in their areas. Their partnership will contribute immensely to the growth of the area as well as build confidence and trust between the parties," Leonen declared. The chief government negotiator said the Aquino administration will seek political settlement with the MILF through a peace accord that “focuses more on the doables in the short-term rather than dwell on the contentious and divisive issues whose solutions may take a longer time to address." Government proposed the creation of a Bangsamoro Commission “established on the principles of inclusivity" and made up of officials of the MILF, government and Mindanao peace process stakeholders. “The Commission is expected to supervise the implementation of the components of this peace agreement which will include or may include the lobby in Congress of a new organic act that will contain a strengthened autonomy on the part of that area," Leonen explained. The government also offered to the MILF a third component through which historical narratives will be corrected and the Bangsamoro identity and contributions will be “acknowledged and appreciated." “We are going to report to the President, await his instructions and his mandate. But, in the meantime, we will go around the country to explain the contents of our proposal and get further feedback on this particular approach," Leonen said. — With Earl Victor Rosero/VS, GMA News
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