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Palace not yet looking for new facilitator in peace talks

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang believes it is not yet time to discuss whether the Philippines should look for another facilitator in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after hostilities broke out in Sabah.

Malaysia, which has launched an offensive against the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III holed up in Lahad Datu, has been brokering the peace talks between the Philippines and the MILF despite the question on Sabah ownership.

Last year, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak himself attended the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the MILF. The agreement did not mention the claim over Sabah.

The two parties are now working on the annexes of the agreement and had earlier expressed hope that a final accord would be ready by April. 

“So far, that has not been discussed. As you know, while there are some sectors that say that this may affect (the ongoing peace talks), the government’s primary concern has been to still find the peaceful resolution to what has happened,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday when asked if it was time to drop Malaysia and look for other countries to facilitate the talks.

Valte said she could not assess how and whether the Sabah incident could affect the peace talks. 

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“Perhaps (it is) better for me not to judge, but those who are sitting as part of the panel,” she said.

Officials said the Kirams felt left out in the peace talks with the MILF and wanted the Aquino administration to help them press their claim over Sabah against Malaysia.

Sources earlier said President Aquino was furious over the Sabah incident as he felt it was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace talks and derail the gains of his administration.

There is an ongoing investigation into those who conspired with the Kirams to carry out the standoff and compel both Malaysia and the Philippines to negotiate with them regarding their demands.

But Malaysia, which has been the preferred facilitator of the MILF, responded with force and attacked Kiram’s followers in Lahad Datu after initial negotiations to end it peacefully failed.

Valte and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang denied allegations that the conspiracy theory was a mere figment of imagination, as claimed by Pastor Saycon of the Council for Philippine Affairs. Saycon was invited by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to shed light on allegations that he was among those who instigated the standoff. Saycon denied the accusation but admitted serving as adviser to the Kirams regarding their Sabah claim.

Valte said there was no reason to single out Carandang because he was not the only one who questioned the presence of Saycon in the house of the Kirams in Taguig City.

“In fact, if we’re not mistaken, we are not the first ones who asked that question. There are many others asking what he is doing there, it seems he’s there everyday and he’s very visible,” Valte said.

Valte added she could not recall Carandang inviting members of the international media to Malacañang to broach the conspiracy theory. – John Unson

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