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MILF: Govt flip-flops

Wealth-sharing major problem in peace talks The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Monday accused the Aquino administration of flip-flopping on its decisions on the three remaining annexes that need to be signed to pave the way for a final peace agreement in Mindanao. MILF peace panel member Antonio Kinoc said the government’s penchant for changing positions on the three remaining annexes was the “real cause of the delays.” “I do not know where the problem lies—in the negotiating team or in their principal,” Kinoc said. The government and the MILF concluded the 37th round of formal negotiations in Kuala Lumpur last week without signing the annex on wealth-sharing. Maulana Alonto, senior MILF panel member, said they were “taken aback” by the failure of the government to sign the wealth-sharing annex since its text was “already agreed on and initialed by the two parties” in February. “Before we flew to Kuala Lumpur for the 37th exploratory talks, expectations were high that the panels would be able to put closure to further discussions on the annex on wealth-sharing,” Alonto said. “Of course, the panels have the right to bring it back to their respective principals for a cursory review, but we were thinking this was merely routine because the panels had already concurred on the language of the initialed text and that consultations were made with their principals before the initialing took place. We were not prepared for the sudden announcement by the government panel that they needed more time to revisit and review the wealth-sharing annex despite the fact that more than a month is an ample time to make such a review,” she added. Alonto said “something is wrong” with the government panel. “A very serious problem now on the question of credibility has come to the fore. We are racing against time but the way things are turning out, time might outrun us,” she said. But government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the MILF was aware that the annex on wealth-sharing still had to be reviewed by President Benigno Aquino III. Ferrer, however, did not say what is taking the government long to review the wealth-sharing annex that was initialed as early as February. “We clarified to them that our principal had to review the initialed document. That is where we are right now. We are looking at all political, legal and financial implications of the annex,” Ferrer said in a phone interview. “They have to understand that MILF processes are different from government processes. On our part, we have a wider range of obligations and there are technical and financial considerations. The President will have to view specific commitments in the annex in relation to his commitment to the whole country,” she added. Ferrer said it was understandable that the MILF was unhappy over the non-signing of the annex last week. “We understand their concern and fears. The time being taken by the government to review the three annexes in their current forms can create some insecurities and fears,” she said. “The MILF panel members were not very happy. It was not pleasant for them that the annex on wealth-sharing was not signed. But it is very clear that the President is very committed to this process,” Ferrer added. She said the government panel also relayed “certain concerns” raised by the President on the draft wealth-sharing annex. “We are trying to reconcile these concerns,” she said without elaborating. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda attributed the delays in the negotiations to Mr. Aquino’s desire to have a peace agreement “that everyone can live with.” “We’re still discussing the issues so nobody has walked away from the negotiating table. We’re very confident that we will come to an agreement on those annexes,” Lacierda said. “What do we want? We want a Basic Law that is doable -- that is something that everybody can live with,” he added. The panels agreed to meet again after the May 13 elections. The government and the MILF originally aimed to conclude the four annexes in December but the schedule was moved to March. Except for a provision for transitional arrangements, the annexes remain unsigned. The President earlier said he wants the Basic Law enacted by 2015, with an interim authority in place a year before the 2016 national elections. Earlier, the MILF reported suffering “scores of casualties” in a raid by Army troopers in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. Abbas Salung, a member of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, said they will be filing the necessary complaint for ceasefire violations. “Firefight ensued for nearly 30 minutes between the MILF forces under Hamzah Sapanton, MILF provincial committee chairman, and the raiding government forces numbering more or less 40 men,” he said. “The encounter had already ceased but actions must be undertaken by the government to avoid recurrence of the firefight between the government and MILF forces and to prove that the government forces are indeed upholding the policy of the Aquino government for the primacy of the peace process,” he added. Sapanton said he viewed the raid as “a deliberate act to undermine the ceasefire and the peace talks between the government and MILF.” “This only compounds the increasing doubts of the public over the sincerity of the government in the peace process,” Sapanton said.
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