MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group rejected a government proposal for autonomy in the country's south as inadequate but said Tuesday they will continue talks.
Representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front insisted on a substate for minority Muslims, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen told reporters in a video conference from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the talks were held.
The government position omitted the word "substate" because that would require a change in the Philippine Constitution, Leonen said.
He said the government proposal contained autonomy but the rebels believed it did not go far enough.
Rebel vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar told ABS-CBN television that the government proposal "does not address the real issues."
"We want to first address the political issue," he said. "This is a political problem, not an economic problem. We are not talking here about economic reforms, which are nothing if they are not given a political solution."
The rebels earlier gave up their demand for a separate state and said they are willing to work with the government on protecting Muslims' rights in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Leonen said the government's 20-page peace proposal included "three components for one single solution."
"It seeks to not only provide just and lasting peace to the troubled south but more so to improve and uplift the lives of the people who have long suffered from the brutality of decades-long armed conflict," he said, adding it was "principled, realistic, and practical proposal."
He said the three components include massive social services and economic development to break the "cycle of poverty" in areas already under an existing autonomous Muslim region.
It also included a political settlement under a peace accord with the Moro rebel group that would create a commission to push Congress to pass a legislation to strengthen the Muslim region, and an acknowledgment of Muslim contributions to the Filipinos' historical struggles to facilitate the "healing of the wounds created by war."
He said he could not yet disclose the details of the government proposal. However, any proposal would require "the consent of the governed and is within the bounds of our national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the Philippine Constitution," he said.
The rebel negotiators received a copy of the draft proposal when talks opened in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and informed the government panel Tuesday that they will advise the front's central committee to reject it.
"It is not unusual in negotiations that one of the parties take a hard-line position on the contents of the initial document of another party," Leonen said.
He said that his panel will go around the country to explain the contents of the government position and get further feedback.
He said the rebels' proposed substate "has some attributes of autonomy in it" which could be addressed by existing laws and without changing the current constitution.
"We think that the gap is very workable, and it's not too far apart," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Jaafar said the rebel negotiators wanted the government to comment on a proposal they had submitted earlier this year and "not to submit a framework or an entirely different proposal."
"However, the rejection ... does not mean the collapse of the negotiations," he said.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.