Govt postpones peace talks with MILF

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE government wants to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in September, but it wants no more than 300 villages included in the rebel group’s ancestral domain, an official said yesterday.

Government chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia said he had unilaterally informed the Malaysian brokers that the talks scheduled today had been postponed to give the government more time to prepare.

“I apologize for whatever inconvenience that decision caused the MILF, but I believe this is for the better good,” Garcia said.

“The government panel needs to refine its position on the topics, especially on the ancestral domain issue which is very high on the agenda,” he said.

A ranking MILF official saw nothing wrong with the postponement.

“It’s the government’s call and we’ve to respect it,” said Jaafar Gazali, vice chairman of the MILF’s Central Committee.

“Perhaps they ran short of time in the preparation and they need some more time to prepare for everything,” he said, but added they hoped the government would not prolong the postponement.

Garcia made his apology after MILF peace panel secretariat head Jun Mantawil said members of their panel were already on their way to Kuala Lumpur when they were informed of the cancellation.

“It was so sudden,” Mantawil said.

“This is the second time the government postponed at the last hour after Malacañang unilaterally announced the resumption on Aug. 22,” he said.

Garcia said the postponement would benefit both panels as it would buy them more time to come up with a clear set of proposals.

“Rather than go to Malaysia with a half-baked proposal, I think it would be better to have a complete government position to prevent any more impasse in the future,” Garcia said.

“I think what we have to offer is something more enticing and they would approve of it,” he said.

Garcia said the number of villages that the government would agree to add to the Bangsamoro Judicial Territory would be lower than the 600 it had offered originally.

The MILF had originally asked that 1,200 villages be appended to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Around 300 to 400 maybe, but definitely lower than 600,” Garcia said.

“This time we agreed that the areas should be contiguous to the ARMM and no longer demographic. I believe that is also what the MILF wants, and it is what we are willing to offer,” he said.