MILF sees signing of final peace accord in 2016

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said it could sign a peace deal with Manila either this year or before President Benigno Aquino 3rd finishes his term in 2016.

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Peace negotiators have signed the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement and several annexes over the years and both sides expressed optimism that a political accord is near. But chief MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal cautioned that the final destination of the journey of peace is not within immediate reach yet.

“We may be able to sign the comprehensive peace agreement soon as we wish, but that is not the end of the odyssey,” he said during the resumption of the peace talks in Malaysia. He added that the exit agreement will formally terminate the peace negotiations if both sides complied with their part of the deal and after it is certified by Malaysia and the Third Party Monitoring Team. “Ideally that day of reckoning will come our way on or before 2016.”

In his speech, Iqbal said almost everybody back home smells impending success in the peace talks, especially this 43rd round of negotiation.

“They say the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement is just in the corner. They have diverse reasons to entertain such belief and I cannot blame them for it. In fact, I sympathize with them but not necessarily taking their view at face value. But truth is that anyone like me who has been part of the peace journey since the beginning will exactly wish and long for the day of reckoning to come soon.”

“I ask everyone not to stay on the way of these dreamers. Many find solace in dreaming and, therefore, let them continue to dream of that final peace in Mindanao while we in the MILF and government continue to strive to overcome all those that stand on our way leading to the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement,” Iqbal said.

He said the impending success of the peace talks is gaining wide public support. He welcomed this development saying it is far better to see droves of people supporting the MILF and declare oneness with it, rather than join the spoilers and demolish the undertaking.

“After all, the fruits of the negotiation will redound to the benefit of everybody. This can include even the spoilers and all those who have never shown even a speck of support to the MILF in its four decades of armed struggle and 16 years of hard bargaining on the negotiating table.

Truly, it is the nature of a popular struggle, nay jihadic, that except for few hardened outcastes of society everybody is part of the victory party,” Iqbal said.

He also praised the government peace panel headed by Miriam Ferrer, and Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations, for the progress in the talks.

“We have covered a lot of ground during our last executive session.

Thanks to the openness and spirit of accommodation of the parties, the superb handling of the Facilitator, and the absence of rigidity as in formal negotiations,” Iqbal said.

With this, Iqbal said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has been conducting public hearings and consultations in Mindanao and that the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, whose deadline is set in April this year, has resumed and would be submitted to the President in May and transmit it to Congress as an urgent bill.

“I trust that the collective wisdom of Congress will ensure the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law very smoothly,” he said.

Iqbal said the BTC has visited North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza and Maguindanao Governor Esmail Mangudadatu. He said both officials received the commissioners “exceptionally well” and they promised to support the peace process as well as pushing for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law once the referendum takes place.

The BTC will also visit in February Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan II, Tawi-Tawi Gov. Nurbert Sahali and Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar, and is also considering Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabella Salazar. “I do not know how she (Salazar) would react and treat this gesture of goodwill from our side, knowing well how she felt bitter, as anybody else of good sense, in relation to the Zamboanga siege last November.” Iqbal said.

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