Peace Talk in Mindanao Philippines

By Ben Cal

The government’s peace czar on Sunday expressed confidence that formal peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would push through next month even after the MILF said no negotiations would take place unless the issue of facilitator is resolved.

“We are confident that the facilitator issue has been resolved and that the resumption (of talks) will happen soon,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Q. Deles said in a text message when reached for comment on her reaction to the statement of Mohagher Iqbal, head of the MILF peace panel.

Earlier, Iqbal was quoted as saying that no negotiations would take place anytime soon unless the issue of facilitator is first settled.

“Without a facilitator, how would the talks resume?” Iqbal said on Saturday.

“We have requested the Malaysian government to retain Datuk Othman bin Abd’ Razak as facilitator and this still stands. It is not in the MILF mind to meet in January if the facilitator’s issue is not settled,” Iqbal said.

Last week, Deles said the government peace panel, headed by Prof. Marvin Leonen, is ready for the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the MILF after a long delay.

At the same time, another issue that has cropped up is the demand by the MILF for the government to release all MILF detainees, particularly Edward Guerra, an engineer, and Commander Aguilar Saligan “without delay.”

Iqbal cited as example the recent release of the so-called “Morong 43”, tagged as members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

“The release is a good confidence-building measure for the Aquino administration,” Iqbal said.

Formal talks bogged down in August 2008 after the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Heavy fighting between government forces and MILF erupted that resulted in the displacement of some 500,000 people in Central Mindanao.

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