Friday, August 05, 2011

Philippine President, Moro rebel leader hold talks in Japan

Government photo shows President Benigno Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad Ebrahim at a meeting in Japan on August 4, 2011. The two discussed possible approaches in moving the peace process forward.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 5, 2011) – Filipino leader Benigno Aquino and Muslim rebel leader Murad Ebrahim held informal talks in a Narita hotel in Japan ahead of peace negotiations this month in Malaysia.

The talks held at the Ana Crown Hotel late Thursday lasted about two hours with both sides agreeing to pursue the peace talks aimed at forging an accord that would end to decades of bloody fighting in the southern Philippines.

Marvic Leonen, the chief government peace negotiator, who was at the meeting, said the talks between Aquino and Murad was “cordial but consisted of a frank and candid exchange of their views about the frames of the continuing peace talks and some possible approaches that the parties can take to bring about a peaceful settlement.”

“Both agreed that the implementation of any agreement should happen within the current administration. Both agreed to fast track the negotiations,” he said, adding it was Aquino who sought the meeting with Murad, the leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for self-determination in Mindanao.

“It was the President himself who sought the meeting prior to the government's submission of its own agenda for the talks,” Leonen said, noting that the meeting would facilitate progress in the 14-year old peace talks.

He said they discussed the possibility for the meeting between Aquino and Murad during their peace talks on June 27 in Kuala Lumpur. He said MILF viewed the government’s offer for a meeting as a “grand gesture,” adding that the rebel group was honored that this historical meeting was going to take place.

Leonen also praised Japan, a member of the international group monitoring the cease-fire between the Philippines and the MILF for its commitment to the peace process.

Among those in Aquino’s official group were Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Murad’s party included members of his peace panel headed by Mohagher Iqbal.

The MILF branded the historic meeting as “very cordial, frank, honest and intimate.”

“The meeting between President Aquino and Chairman Murad was very cordial, frank, honest and intimate. The Narita one-plus-one conversation in the suburb of Tokyo covered a wide range of issues and concerns related to the negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro Question,” an MILF statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner said.

“Furthermore, there was consensus that all substantive and outstanding issues discussed by both leaders will be taken up by the peace panels for deliberation on the negotiating table. The meeting between the two leaders gives a tremendous boost to the peace negotiations and in rekindling public expectation to fast tract the peace settlement,” it added.

The MILF lauded the meeting for “drawing the minds of the parties towards a common point leading to the political resolution of the Bangsamoro question before the end of the term of the incumbent president.”

A separate statement from Aquino’s peace adviser said the meeting coincided with the failed signing of the Muslim ancestral domain that led to a series of rebel attacks in Mindanao.

“History will always remember August 4, 2008 when a homeland deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was issued a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court. Thus, the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain did not push through the following day, leading to a series of attacks by rogue MILF units in some parts of Central Mindanao and Sarangani province where hundreds of thousands had been displaced. The MOA-AD was later ruled unconstitutional by the high court.”

“Exactly three years after, President Benigno Aquino III marked this historical date with much hope and positivity as he met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ibrahim and discussed possible approaches in moving the peace process forward,” the statement said.

Deles did not give details of the talks and said only Aquino and Murad and their note takers were inside the meeting room.

The MILF has recently accused Manila of exploiting natural resources in areas under the Muslim ancestral domain after the government said it would pursue off-shore and in-shore oil and gas explorations in Mindanao. It demanded the government to stop all explorations, particularly in Sulu Sea, and other parts of Mindanao, including the 220,000-hectare Liguasan Marsh, the basin of the Mindanao River in south-central Mindanao, North Cotabato and South Cotabato Provinces.

Previous research papers about Liguasan Marsh said it is rich in oil and natural gas deposits estimated to be over 1.7 trillion cubic feet. Manila has rejected the MILF demand and said it would continue with the explorations in Muslim areas. It was unknown whether these issues were discussed or not. (Mindanao Examiner)

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