Philippines hopes proposal will persuade MILF to sign accord
Manila The Philippines has offered southern Muslim separatists “enhanced autonomy” in the hope of sealing a peace accord to end 40 years of rebellion, the government’s chief negotiator said yesterday.
Annabelle Abaya said the government hoped the fresh offer would convince the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to sign a peace accord before a new Philippine president is sworn in on June 30. “ In enhanced autonomy, the president is offering to share powers,” Ms Abaya told reporters.
Power-sharing with the large Muslim minority would cover such areas as tax collection and the control of natural resources in areas of the south that Filipino Muslims claim as their ancestral domain.
The offer was made in Malaysia last week when MILF and government panels met in Kuala Lumpur in the first formal peace talks since fighting broke out in 2008 over a failed draft peace accord.
The earlier draft was struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled it unconstitutional.
Ms Abaya stressed that the fresh government offer did not seek to “ fractionalise” the country and would not require amendments to the constitution.
The MILF, in a statement issued last weekend, said the government “had nothing new to offer”, and as a result, they had decided last week to discontinue the latest round of negotiations.
However, Ms Abaya said after the exchange of draft agreements that both sides had agreed to consult with their constituencies before continuing talks. The MILF confirmed that peace talks were to resume in Kuala Lumpur on February 18.
The president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo opened peace talks with the 12,000-strong MILF in 2001 in an effort to end the war on the restive but mineral-rich island of Mindanao.
But talks collapsed after the Supreme Court ruling in August 2008. The outlawed proposed deal would have given the MILF control over large areas of the south that it claimed.
More than 700,000 people were displaced at the height of the fighting and nearly 400 were killed.
A new ceasefire was signed in September, paving the way for the resumption of peace talks.