KORONADAL, PHILIPPINES – JULY 18: Filipino natives wait for their turn to perform at the 2009 T�nalak Festival, showcasing South Cotabato Province tribal cultures on July 18, 2009 in the southern city of Koronadal, Philippines. T�nalak is an indigenous term for colorful cloth woven by women of the T�boli tribe that has brought recognition to the province in the national and international scene. US-trained Filipino security forces were placed on heightened alert over fears the country’s homegrown Islamists could try to emulate the Jakarta hotel bombings. Early this month, twelve people died and more than 100 others were wounded in separate attacks carried out by local militants in the region. (Photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images)
DATU BLAH SINSUAT, PHILIPPINES – JUNE 30: Filipino Muslim children evacuees look as volunteers unload sacks of rice to for them on June 30, 2009 in the coastal township of Datu Blah Sinsuat in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, 960km south of Manila. UN officers from the World Food Programme distributes food and relief to people displaced in the ongoing fighting between Philippine troops and Muslim separatist rebels. The province has seen ongoing fighting between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Muslim rebels and Philippine military troops since August 2008 when the rebels launched a series of attacks across several villages, killing almost 300 people but displacing over half a million more in the initial attacks and fighting which has followed. The MILF Muslim separatist rebel group are fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The World Food Programme (WFP) has supplied over 11,200MT of emergency food aid to Displaced people (IDPs) in the 127 official camps since August 2009, but some of it is being sold to illegal traders. Others do not live in official camps and so have to rely on subsistence of handouts. (Photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images)
MANILA, Philippines – The government and the country’s largest Moro separatist group are preparing to sign a peace deal after years of tortuous negotiations, but that may be the easy part.
Implementing an agreement to end a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in resource-rich Mindanao will be much more difficult, both sides say.
After decades of rebellion, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed on a ceasefire in 2003 that has by and large held despite occasional flare-ups of violence.
They have also negotiated on setting up an ancestral homeland for 3 million Muslims that will have a large amount of autonomy but not independence.
Even the rebels say signing the deal is only a step forward.
“The problem is not as easy as some people would like to see it,” Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator, told Reuters in a recent interview at a rebel camp in Mindanao.
“There are still a lot of humps and bumps in the road to peace. Granting that the two parties would be able to sign an agreement next year, there’s still a very big problem on how to implement that deal.”
The government has claimed an end to the rebellion on the southern third of the archipelago once—in 1996, when it signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the group from which the MILF was born.
A decade later, the head of the MNLF is in jail and the group is bitterly criticizing the government for not keeping to its promises. Many MNLF members have taken up the gun again.
Iqbal criticized MNLF leaders for getting co-opted by the government, saying they weakened the struggle for self-determination by accepting official positions.
“We are not applying for any job in the government,” he said. “We want to be masters of ourselves. We want to swim or drown among ourselves. We want self-governance whether it’s a substate or a state within the Philippines.”
Talks between the MILF and the government were expected to resume middle of this month, according to Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process who carries a Cabinet rank.
Dureza said the postponement of the talks, which was scheduled to start yesterday in Kuala Lumpur, was aimed at giving both sides ample time to prepare.
He denied reports that the cancellation of this week’s meeting in Malaysia was due to the Manila Peninsula caper in Makati City last week.
Dureza said, before the caper, chief government negotiator Rodolfo Garcia, a retired general, and MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal had already discussed and agreed in principle to move the talks middle of this month.
“It is a slow but sure process of attaining peace in Mindanao,” he said. Edwin O. Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao with Reuters
CAMP DARAPANAN, SHARIFF Kabunsuan, Philippines — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday said it was expecting to sign a memorandum of agreement on territory with the government in December.
The issue was the biggest stumbling block to the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro rebels, and had caused a deadlock in the talks.
But last week, Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant on the peace process, announced that the deadlock had been broken.
But Dureza declined to elaborate.
“We expect the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain by December this year,” Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, told reporters here on Wednesday.
Iqbal said the government had agreed to include more villages in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, the future Moro territory.
With the government agreeing to the MILF proposal for the inclusion of more villages into the territory, many of the problems hounding the peace talks had already been resolved, he said.
“Seventy percent of our demand in the territorial aspect of the ancestral domain was granted by the government,” Iqbal said.
But he declined to state what was actually agreed upon or how large the proposed Moro territory would be.
“It is confidential. What’s important now is that the negotiations are moving forward and we will just tackle some remaining issues,” Iqbal said.
He said the remaining “30 percent of unresolved issues” would be tackled when the exploratory talks resumes on November 14-17 in Kuala Lumpur.
“Right now, we still do not know when we will sign the peace agreement or what we call the political settlement. However, we and the government are still working on it,” Iqbal said.
Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, told reporters in a separate briefing that even with the signing of a final peace agreement, the Moro group will not lay down its firearms.
“We will create our own security force within the proposed homeland,” Kabalu said. Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao