[PHOTO - A member of the 6th Marine Battalion glances backward while his comrades stand at attention during their send-off ceremony at the Philippine Navy headquarters in Manila on Tuesday. They are set to be deployed to the West Mindanao Command in Mindanao, replacing those killed in a recent clash with the Abu Sayyaf. PHOTO BY MIGUEL DE GUZMAN]

MANILA, AUGUST 11, 2011, (MANILA TIMES) FILIPINOS raising their hopes too high for peace to reign at last in southern Philippines would be premature.

The dampener came on Tuesday from a top official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with which President Benigno Aquino 3rd met in Tokyo last week in a bid to stop more than three decades of fighting between government troops and MILF rebels.

“We cannot say for sure. We would not know,” Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator, replied when asked if the landmark meeting in Japan between President Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim automatically spelled peace in Mindanao.

“But what is important was that the MILF’s concept was clearly and directly relayed to the President,” Iqbal said of the “sub-state” government that Murad supposedly presented to Mr. Aquino during their clandestine meeting in Tokyo.

Three days after the breakthrough dialogue between the Philippine government and the MILF, it was still unclear if the President and the MILF chairman did talk at least about the concept mentioned by Iqbal.

Mr. Aquino still refused to be transparent about what he and Murad arrived at in Japan.

“I’m really hard-pressed to put details here at this point in time. Wala pang pinagkasunduan (There was nothing that was agreed on),” the President told reporters during an ambush interview late Monday.

“Ayaw ko naman maging para sabihin ng iba pa na kinakahon ko dito. Para ano pa ang pag-uusap kung ikakahon na natin lahat (I don’t want people to be saying that I am putting everything in a box. What are talks for if we will just put everything inside a box). The details (about the Tokyo meeting) have to be with the negotiating panels (of both sides) as agreed upon by the (MILF) chairman and myself,” he said.

When asked if Congress would have to take action if the proposal for the sub-state government pushed through, Mr. Aquino replied, “You’re asking me to comment on something that is about to happen. (But) probably it will take congressional action also.”

Iqbal seemed willing to supply what apparently passed for details about the Aquino-Murad talks.

He said that that a proposed comprehensive compact agreement, which includes creation of a fully autonomous sub-state under the government of the Republic of the Philippines, was lengthily explained by the MILF chairman to the President

“It [the creation of the sub-state] was the center of discussion and (so was) the need to really fast-track the (peace) negotiations,” Iqbal added.

The proposed creation of the sub-state government immediately raised howls from various sectors, especially from lawmakers, saying that the move was “unconstitutional.”

Iqbal reiterated that the proposed sub-state would still be under the central government and would have three layers of power and authority.

“Reserved for the central government would be foreign relations, national defense, currency, postal service, then the residual power of the sub-state and there would joint jurisdiction of power, exercised jointly by the central government and the sub-state government,” he explained.

Mr. Aquino, Iqbal said, intently listened to the explanation of Murad but raised concern on “how the MILF would conceptualize the sub-state.”

According to him, the MILF peace panel was expecting to receive the government panel’s counter-proposal when formal peace talks resumed later this month in Kuala Lumpur.

During the reportedly two-hour dialogue in Japan, Iqbal said, the President also briefed Murad on the program of the government on Mindanao and the rest of the country.

The MILF chief peace negotiator added that the MILF chairman was fully satisfied with the outcome of the meeting because for the first time the President personally heard straight from the “horse’s mouth” the MILF’s views on peace in southern Philippines. WITH REPORT FROM MARIA NIKKA U. GARRIGA

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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