The Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had reached a preliminary consensus on the issue of ancestral land.
The two sides began the formal negotiations on Tuesday in Malaysia.
According to the joint statement, the consensus included a committee that would conduct advocacy drives on the ancestral domain, which they expect to be signed by late march 2006.
Ancestral domain is the territory that the MILF proposed as a Muslim homeland, as well as resources and governance. Although Muslims claim the region ofMindanao in the Southern Philippines as their ancestral home, much of the area came under the control of Christian settlers, predominantly Roman Catholic in the past century, leading to conflicts which has killed more than 100,000 people.
The MILF is the largest of the four Muslim separatist groups in Mindanao. The 12,000 strong MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic State for more than two decades. A ceasefire has been signed in 2001 but the issue of the Islamic settlement remains to be negotiated.
The two sides are nevertheless confident that the latest talks might help them overcome long-standing differences and to move closer to a peace accord. “I have experience across the negotiating table that there is a very good spirit of give-and-take, we are dealing with a very reasonable group who share certain aspirations with our government to have permanent peace in Mindanao and to finally end this conflict” said the government’s head negotiator, Silvestre Afable.
President Arroyo stressed the importance of peace and reconciliation in ensuring national security, regional stability and prosperity. “Domestic, regional and global confidence has been driven in large part by our determination to silence the guns, open the gates of enterprise at all levels, isolate terrorist cells and negotiate a comprehensive political settlement,” she said.
Mr Afable also added that international support, particularly Southeast Asia nations, the United States and European Union is very strong. With the optimism, a peace deal could be signed as early as September.
The joint committee, as agreed in the preliminary consensus is tasked to draw up guidelines, plan the advocacy campaign, and seek participation of non-government organizations, people’s organizations, and civil society groups in its advocacy activities.
An overall framework including an inventory of crucial issues to be tackled; the general procedures; parameters; and indicative timeline will be forged by both panels soon for the signing of a comprehensive agreement before the end of the year.
* Philippines and Muslim rebels resume talks in Malaysia (The Star, 7 Feb 2006)
* Big hopes for peace as talks start (AP-Wire, 8 Feb 2006)
* Philippine government, Muslim rebels reach deal on ancestral lands (AFP, 8 Feb 2006)
* MILF pact signed as early as March (Manila Times, 9 Feb 2006)
* Philippines hopes for peace deal with Muslim rebels by September (Voanews, 8 Feb 2006)
* Philippines peace deal hopes rise (BBC News, 8 Feb 2006)
* Peace accord with MILF is crucial for regional stability (Inq7 net, 7 Feb 2006)
* GRP, MILF form joint committee on guidelines (Balita news, 8 Feb 2006)