Mindanao peace process 'in great peril'
Advocates strongly advise against Aquino and rebel chief meeting
President Benigno Aquino (left) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief Murad Ebrahim (center) at the signing of the peace agreement in March.
The Philippine government is "putting the whole peace process [in Mindanao] in great peril" with a scheduled meeting between President Benigno Aquino and rebel chief Murad Ebrahim this week, peace advocates say.
Jesus Dureza, a former government peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said it is "futile to expect the two principals to negotiate with each other and expect a magical result from that meeting".
The presidential palace has announced that Aquino is meeting Murad prior to the president's State of the Nation address on Monday.
"Such a no-result meeting is dangerous because it will give wrong signals to the stakeholders. And it will deprive negotiators the flexibility they need to continue seeking mutually acceptable arrangements," Dureza said.
Representative Silvestre Bello, a former government negotiator in peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front, also warned that the peace process will be "jeopardized".
"The president and Murad should find ways of breaking the impasse, otherwise the talks, which have moved smoothly, will be derailed," said Bello in an interview.
The rebels, however, said in a statement that the meeting "is necessary in threshing out issues confronting both sides on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law".
The law is an enabling act that must be passed by congress for the establishment of a Bangsamoro autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.
"The purpose of the proposed meeting is to save the peace process in the light of major alterations made by [the presidential palace] team on the draft law," the rebel statement said.
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chief government peace negotiator, last week said the government remains "consistent in its commitment for a Bangsamoro Basic Law that conforms to what has been agreed upon in the signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro".
She admitted, however, that "significant points of differences" between government and rebel negotiators have been encountered.
Ferrer said the draft law will be scrutinized by congress and the review seeks to make sure that it "must fall within the parameters of the constitution".
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr said in an interview that he anticipates the president's meeting with Murad will settle the differing issues hounding the draft peace measure.
"I hope that they can find common ground for the sake of all of us. I am confident that the deadlock would be solved," Belmonte said.
Aquino met with Murad in Japan last month to discuss the delay in the submission of the draft basic law to congress.
The rebels have been battling for independence or autonomy in the southern islands of the mainly Catholic Philippines since the 1970s, with the conflict claiming tens of thousands of lives.
The MILF, with 10,000 armed followers, is the biggest rebel group and its signing of the accord early this year has raised hopes of an enduring peace in the south, despite other breakaway groups still vowing to fight on.
The pact made the rebels and the government partners in a plan to create the autonomous region by mid-2016, when Aquino is required by the constitution to step down.
A commission composed of rebel and government nominees drafted a "basic law" for the autonomous region, and it was submitted to Aquino in April as part of a timeframe to have congress pass it supposedly last month.
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