Manila, Philippins – The 41st round of talks between peace negotiating panels of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended yesterday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but both parties failed to agree on power-sharing and normalization, the last two annexes to be added to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.

The four-day exploratory talks kicked off October 8 and was extended until Saturday in a bid to clinch consensus on a power-sharing deal with a record of 18 hours, from 10 a.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday of session.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal had hoped to sign at least the power-sharing annex but the talks adjourned at 4 a.m. with no signed annexes.

According to Iqbal, the power-sharing annex was the more difficult one to negotiate as it overlaps with the wealth-sharing deal.

The two remaining annexes along with the annexes on wealth-sharing and transitional arrangements and modalities will complete the comprehensive peace agreement with the MILF once signed.

However, government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that some of the issues in the power-sharing annex include jurisdiction over the so-called Bangsamoro waters “that will pull together the territories,” including the scope of the envisioned government’s jurisdiction.

Ferrer added that the parties were able to agree on intergovernmental relations but there was still a long list of powers that have to be negotiated.

Assymetrical ‘power-sharing’ relationship

During the last round of talks, the MILF insisted on upholding the asymmetrical relations for the annex on power-sharing, which defines the powers that will be devolved to the Bangsamoro.

MILF peace panel member Maulana Alonto earlier said that anything that diminished the asymmetrical relationship of the Bangsamoro government with the central government is “unacceptable.”

Under an asymmetric relation, the Bangsamoro will have a ministerial form of government—unlike the presidential form for the rest of the country—which will also have powers over the Shariah justice system.

On the other hand, the framework agreement includes the powers reserved for the central government such as foreign affairs; national defense and external security; coinage and monetary policy;citizenship and naturalization; and postage.

Moreover, both panels are aiming to sign a comprehensive peace agreement within the year, or in less than three months.

Once a final peace pact is signed, a draft Basic Law creating the Bangsamoro will be submitted to the Congress and will be certified as urgent by President Benigno Aquino III.

Aquino said the target was to have the law passed by mid-2015 at the latest, after which a plebiscite would be held in the areas that will form part of the Bangsamoro.

He said that an interim authority must be in place for the Bangsamoro a year before the 2016 national elections.

Under the wealth-sharing annex, the future Bangsamoro region will enjoy an automatic annual block grant appropriation of not less than P13 billion in a bid to insulate it from partisan politics in the budget deliberation as well as to lessen its dependence on the national government.

The block grant will not be less than the current budget of the ARMM, which stands at P13.1 billion this year.

The revenues that the Bangsamoro earns from their additional taxes as well as the income from the revenues from natural resources shall be deducted from the annual block grant.

However, present set up for the ARMM is almost totally dependent on revenues or the financial assistance coming from the central government.

Substantial progress

Despite failure to ink the agreement, substantial progress has been achieved in the power-sharing annex including on the possible structure of the new Bangsamoro political entity, and the intergovernmental mechanism that can be instituted to ensure coordination and cooperation between the Central and Bangsamoro governments in the exercise of various powers.

Ferrer said that the technical working groups on normalization also achieved working consensus on the mechanisms that will address the different security aspects of normalization such as the private armed groups, disposition of weapons and combatants and land conflicts; the provision of socio-economic programs; and reconciliation.

She also said that members of the International Contact Group (ICG) helped the parties “sort out some of the difficult issues.”

Under the FAB, the parties have agreed to define various governance powers into reserved which are exercised only by the central government; devolved, which are conceded to the Bangsamoro; and concurrent, which are shared by both entities.

Before the parties ended the talks, they also agreed on a process that will facilitate the settlement of the unsettled issues.

Moreover, both parties expressed willingness to “complete the annexes following a break for Eid’Ul’Adha”, Islam’s feast of the holy sacrifice will be observed on October 15.

“Definitely we will go back,” Ferrer said.

However, the date has not been set yet for the next round of talks.

Princess Alexis Siguan
ABCom/Leyte Normal University