Philippines' President Benigno Aquino III delivers a speech during the Annual Presidential Forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at a hotel in Manila, Philippines, 23 October 2013. EPA/FRANCIS R. MALASIG
MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Wednesday he was confident of ending a decades-old Muslim insurgency before he stepped down in 2016, despite slow progress at peace talks.
The government had hoped to secure a final peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) this year but negotiations have become bogged down, raising concerns about whether all other steps can be completed before Aquino's term ends.
Asked at a foreign correspondents' forum whether he remained confident of completing the peace process by mid-2016, Aquino replied: "yes", and said he preferred delays in the negotiations to a hastily arranged pact with flaws.
"Crafting the correct agreement that is liveable and doable by all (feasible) will necessarily take time," Aquino said.
"And (it's) better to have a good deal rather than to have any deal that is not liveable by all parties."
Aquino also insisted the talks were making progress, citing key agreements on sensitive issues this year.
Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an autonomous or independent homeland in the southern Philippines, with the conflict having claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.
The MILF is the largest remaining rebel group yet to sign a peace accord.
The peace talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million people.
A preliminary accord signed in October last year outlined the broad terms for a peace treaty, but did not focus on the toughest issues such as power sharing in the autonomous region and disarming the 12,000 MILF guerrillas.
After the treaty is signed, the Philippine parliament would still need to pass a "basic law" for the Muslim self-rule area, and people in the planned autonomous region would need to ratify it via a regional plebiscite.
The 2016 timetable is important because Aquino is limited by the constitution to a single term as president of six years, and there is no guarantee his successor would have the political strength or enthusiasm to push ahead with the peace process. (AFP)