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Philippine gov't, Muslim rebels sign wealth-sharing deal

By Alito L. Malinao (Xinhua)

14:30, July 14, 2013

MANILA, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Last-ditch efforts by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III have paid off after negotiators from the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ( MILF) ended their stalemate late Saturday night and signed a wealth-sharing deal during their 38th formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process ( OPAPP) said that the peace panels completed the wealth-sharing annex at 10:30 p.m. Saturday in Malaysia where the 38th round of formal exploratory talks were held.

The two sides cut the wealth-sharing deal on the sixth day of the talks, two days after the formal talks were extended.

The framework agreement, which serves as the blueprint for the final peace accord, was signed last October.

The breakthrough in the negotiations is expected to be included in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) that President Aquino will deliver before the Philippine Congress on July 22.

After three days of talks, which would have ended Thursday, the two sides failed to agree on the sharing of revenues from taxes and income from the development of natural resources of the proposed semi-independent Bangsamoro (Moro nation) juridical entity to be created in the predominantly-Muslim areas in Southern Philippines.

The two panels had reached an agreement on three of four annexes to the framework deal but the annex on wealth-sharing proved to be the most contentious.

On Friday, Aquino dispatched Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles to Kuala Lumpur to boost the morale of peace negotiators, a day after talks to end four decades of Moro insurgency in Mindanao adjourned without an agreement.

At the request of the government panel, the MILF panel agreed to extend the talks for two days.

The disagreement centered on the division between the government and the MILF of revenues from "energy sources" and tax collection in the proposed Bangsamoro territory.

The MILF has proposed a 75-25 percent sharing, with the larger share going to Bangsamoro. The government, on the other hand, wants a bigger share.

Malacanang, the seat of the Philippine government, said it did not want to enter into an agreement with the MILF that could not be implemented and would just be considered unconstitutional when questioned at the Supreme Court.

It said it did not want a repeat of the memorandum agreement signed between the government of then President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo and the MILF in 2008 which was later nullified by the Supreme Court for being illegal and unconstitutional.

The report from Kuala Lumpur did not specify on whether the 75- 25 percent wealth-sharing in favor of the MILF was retained in the framework agreement.

In the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the government splits profits from natural resources 50-50. For other local government units, the ratio is 60-40, in favor of the national government.

Even before the start of the latest round of talks in Kuala Lumpur, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal had lamented that the issue of wealth-sharing had already been agreed previously by both panels and the government seemed to backtrack.

"Truth is that the official explanation coming from government that they needed time to conduct a due diligence study on wealth- sharing is less discernible because, first, the annex on wealth- sharing, alongside annex on power-sharing, has been on the agenda since July 2012," Iqbal said in his opening statement.

Iqbal added that the two peace panels have actually already initialed the annex on wealth-sharing on Feb. 27 "after no less than two from each peace panel led by their respective chairs had agreed on the final text of this annex during several rounds of executive sessions."

He also warned that the "historic injustice" that has been committed against the Bangsamoro people "must be corrected once and for all in order to put to rest all future legitimate struggles against the Manila government."

"Any solution requires a major shake-up of the status quo. A mere resort to legal remedies not founded on negotiated political settlement will not hold water," Iqbal said.

But chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the document containing the wealth-sharing provisions initialed by the technical working group in February had to undergo a review by President Aquino and his Cabinet as part of "due diligence" by the government.

Meanwhile, the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), which is mandated to review, assess, evaluate, and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its annexes, has convened for the first time during the formal talks in Kuala Lumpur.

The TPMT is headed by Alistair MacDonald, European Union ambassador to the Philippines from 2007 to 2011, who joins in his personal capacity and serves as chairman.

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