Current panels of GRP, MILF peace negotiations formally end talks in KL

June 4, 2010 8:02 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, June 4 — The negotiating panels of the Mindanao peace process formally terminated on Wednesday their Malaysia-facilitated talks, signing a Declaration of commitment described as a "significant peace infrastructure" that "honors our past… gives hope to the future."

”As the peace talks between the Government and the MILF came to a close today (June 2), both sides signed a Declaration where they committed to work on previous gains as foundation for future negotiations under the new administration,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Thursday.

The current panels hope that post-June 30 negotiations will capitalize on achievements already gained and groundwork laid, noting that the previous talks entailed very hard work, went through a lot of ups-and-downs and turns and even impasse.

The term of the current panel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), chaired by DFA Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis, and its composition are co-terminus with that of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on June 30.

Seguis was appointed in early 2009 to the GRP panel when the talks resumed after collapsing in the aftermath of the August 2008 Supreme Court junking of an anti-constitutional proviso for an ancestral domain in a failed GRP-MILF document known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Seguis himself is long retired as a career DFA officer but his services were extended because of the breadth and depth of his experience in negotiations and his network of contacts involving the Middle East, Islam and Muslims.

It is not known if the panel of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will retain its current composition, chaired by Mohagher Iqbal. But it is expected that he remains the MILF’s chief negotiator.

In what was titled a “Closure and Transition Statement” in Kuala Lumpur to the panels and international observers, Seguis underscored that “throughout the negotiations, both sides have been successful in keeping the peace.”

He said that the road to peace has been "characterized by alternating chapters of talks and impasse” but peace “has been a constant policy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo since she assumed office in 2001.”

”Against all doubts and cynicism, the GRP and MILF Panels were able to pick up the talks from the unfortunate consequences of the MOA-AD decision and the violence that erupted thereafter. What ensued are months of serious and extensive negotiations.

”From the start, the GRP Panel declared its intention to respect the fundamental law of the land while opening the possibility for a negotiated solution that may require Constitutional change. It is of course guided by the Supreme Court’s pronouncement on the MOA-AD case,” he reminded.

”For me, only one path, one choice is in clear sight – and that is to preserve our past gains and to ensure that the negotiations continue on with the next administration,” Seguis said in what could also be his farewell foray in international diplomacy.

According to Seguis, MILF statements indicating the group would drop demands for autonomy, “opened up an entire spectrum of possibility that a negotiated peace agreement maybe forged” at the start of his GRP role, clarifying that this is his personal estimation. <p”And it continues to be so. Armed with that hope, the GRP Panel negotiated with utmost good faith, and in a manner that would positively and constructively contribute to the process and move the negotiations forward.”

He proceeded to list the main achievements of the peace process during his overlapping tenure at DFA and GRP, including the Tripoli Agreement on Peace, June 22, 2001, and Operational Guidelines of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), December 21, 2004.

”Indeed, we have tried to negotiate and conclude a final peace agreement, but it is a Herculean task that requires more give-and-take, and most of all, patience, understanding and time.

”We tried to bargain an interim agreement. This too proved to be similarly difficult as the concepts and principles involved are delicate and complex, as they affect numerous communities, sectors and stakeholders,” he stressed.

”Both Panels bargained hard because we would like to ensure that the agreement would be acceptable to all concerned, notably to those in Mindanao,” he added.

GRP “considers this Declaration a document to preserve the past gains and provide a smooth transition to the next administration. It is a retrospective affirmation of our accomplishments, and a recapitulation of our past discussions as we toiled to come up with an agreement.”

The farewell message was peppered not only with the chronological history of the peace process, but also the gamut of emotions experienced as the talks went on, even amid suspicions and hostility.

“We give honor to our past, and anticipate the future with great hope,” Seguis said.

He described the Declaration as one providing "a smooth transition" to the next administration, a “retrospective affirmation of our accomplishments and a recapitulation of our past discussions as we toiled to come up with an agreement.” (PNA)

scs/GJB

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