Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The struggle will not end”

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CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/30 August) – While Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was discussing scenarios on the peace process late afternoon of August 25, the sound of a little girl crying outside the conference room of the Central Committee Convention Hall, would make him occasionally look for a familiar face behind the curtained entrance.

Immediately after the interview, four-year old Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim, Murad’s granddaughter, entered the room to greet her Baba. She had cried because her Baba’s security personnel would not allow her in while the interview was in progress.

But Zareenah managed to get past the security cordon on July 25 at the convention hall beside the conference room, when her Baba met with some 50 journalists from Mindanao and Manila, in a dialogue moderated by Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI.

Murad’s photographs have always been as the military chief of the MILF and later as MILF chair. It was the first time he was photographed with a grandchild.

The 67-year old Murad is a doting grandfather to nine grandchildren aged 2 to 17, with Zareenah the eighth, as “very close to me.”

BABA AND ZAREENAH. Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim joins her grandfather, Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim after an interview at the conference room of the Central Committee Convention Hall in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on August 25, 2015. Murad is known as "Baba" to his nine grandchildren. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO BABA AND ZAREENAH. Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim joins her grandfather, Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim after an interview at the conference room of the Central Committee Convention Hall in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on August 25, 2015. Murad is known as “Baba” to his nine grandchildren. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

It is Zareenah who keeps referring to Murad as “artista” (actor), thinking that when her Baba appears on TV, he is an “artista.”

Murad recalls that after Zareenah’s photos and video of the media dialogue came out, “she said ‘artista na rin ako.’”

Murad says the elder ones among his grandchildren ask him what they are negotiating for.

He said he would explain to them “in a very simple way”  that “we have to do this struggle not for us but for them, for their future.”

He said his dreams for his grandchildren and “for the entire next generation” is that they will not experience what his generation experienced, that they will “live normally and enjoy the fruits of the peace process. But this is also very dependent on the outcome of the peace process.”

Murad was one semester short of completing his civil engineering degree at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City when he joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF’s) “Batch 300” at age 22. He later became vice chair for military affairs of the MILF under Salamat Hashim, chief of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and MILF peace panel chair from early 2001 until he took over as MILF chair in July 2003 following the death of Hashim.

Murad talks about “the struggle” in this interview by MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas.

Q. The Senate now has its substitute bill (SB 2894) to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) What can you say about the Senate version?
A. It’s good that the Senate Committee on the BBL has already passed its report. As far as the draft BBL’s substitute bill in the Senate, we see that there are so many violations of the peace agreement. It clearly violated the peace agreement.

Q. More than the House version?
A.  More than the House version because one thing is, basically, it is not an autonomy at all. It is a local government unit similar to the province. Let’s say a complete violation of the agreement itself because the (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) is intended to provide an autonomous government for the Bangsamoro (but) this is not an autonomous government.

Q. Have you aired your concerns with government?
A,  Yeah. We transmitted our concerns to the Office of the President.

Q. What was the answer?
A.  Ang initial na sagot ng Malacanang is “there is no finality yet in the BBL because that would still be subject for interpellation in the Senate.” So magkaroon pa ng bicameral session (and) they will try their best that this could be corrected in the final version.

Q. Do you think this can still be corrected given that both houses of Congress will go on recess from October 10 to November 2 and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said September 28 wala nang pag-uusapang BBL because budget na ang pag-uusapan? Last Sunday (Aug. 23), he said the House will pass their version on September 15. Daw.
A. If Senate also can immediately pass their own final version then they can have the bicam maybe before the end of September? So there is still a chance if they really want to correct.

Q. There is still a chance?
A. It depends on the will of both the Houses of Congress and the government also in general to deliver the agreement because they still can deliver. But then if there is no will on their part, that is a problem. So that’s why we are we are looking at: the possibility that the BBL will not be passed within the tem of the President and we are looking also at the worst scenario.

Q. You mentioned three scenarios the last time.
A.  Yeah. Scenario 1, if the BBl is passed in compliance with the FAB and CAB and acceptable to the parties, the roadmap of the peace process will proceed as scheduled; Scenario 2, BBL will not be passed anymore (under the Aquino administration) so we have Plan B because that can happen, that is a possibility; and Scenario 3, the BBL is passed but not compliant with the FAB and CAB and not acceptable to the MILF. We also have our own plan if this happens

Q. Pero ang sagot ng mga critics, ‘who are you MILF to say that it’s not acceptable to you, bakit kayo ang nagdidikta?’ Yun yung tanong.
A. Because there is a peace agreement. Ang BBL hindi lang amin yan. It is a BBL drafted by the government commissioners and the MILF commissioners so ang pinanghahawakan namin, it has to comply with the agreement. Yun lang ang acceptable sa amin, yung BBL that will comply with the peace agreement kasi yung ang batayan sa pag-gawa ng BBL, hindi naman ito ordinary bill na they can just .. meron itong foundation, may peace process.

Q. May nadagdag ba doon sa three scenarios?
A. Yun pa rin ang general but we are still hoping for the first scenario… so we will wait until the final process.

Q. Saan galing ang optimism ninyo given that, as you said, LGU na lang ang Senate version and yung sa House naman, less than ARMM. Tapos mag ba-bicam sila but they will still be deciding on the basis of the substitute bills.
A. It will be in the plenary so it’s not only in the committee level.. It will be the entire House and the entire Senate so we are hoping … Anyway, kung titingnan natin, majority pa rin ang administration in both Houses.

Q. But as you said, the scenario already involves the possibility that you will really have to pass this on to the next administration…
A.  Nakikita natin na kasi if you look at the present administration, sila yung (kasamang) author nitong peace process especially the peace agreement. So .. mas paborable pa rin sa peace process na maipasa ito within the administration because at least the interpretation of the agreement is finalized within the administration.

Q. If the two Houses pass their respective versions but these versions are still not acceptable to the MILF, pag nag-bicameral conference sila, unacceptable pa rin sa inyo yung result noong bicameral, di ba?
A. Yes.

Q. So when are you going to tell the government that you cannot accept this BBL?
A. Actually, in both House and the Senate, and the Office of the President, malinaw ang position namin. We will accept the BBL that is in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Framework Agreement (FAB). We keep on repeating to them, reiterating to them that we really cannot accept a BBL that is not in compliance with the peace agreement…We have transmitted to him (President Aquino) our concerns.

Q. And what was his answer?
A.  Well, he said “it’s not yet final,” that the final will come after the bicam.

Q. So you’re willing to wait until end of September?
A. We are willing to wait after the bicam.

Q. But even before reaching the bicam, if on Sept. 15 the House passes its versiowithout addressing the 28 concerns raised by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, then Senate passes a version where the Bangsamoro is like a province, then isn’t that the time to say already that you cannot accept this?
A. No. Titingnan namin kung anong resulta ng plenary in both House and Senate, and then we will see. Then we will officially declare our position after that.

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the peace process. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the peace process. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Q. Have you prepared your people on the ground on this? Are they aware that there is a possibility the BBL won’t be passed under this administration? Naka-explain ba sa kanila kung bakit ganon?
A. Actually we are open. We have been continuously holding series of meetings with our people.. Kailangan maiintindihan nila what is the real situation. Inexplain namin sa kanila, gaya ng sabi ko, na there are three possible scenarios, na posibleng mangyari

Q. Mapasa ang BBL.
A.  Mapasa ang BBL na acceptable sa atin. Second, hindi na maipasa during this administration and third a BBL that is not acceptable to us. So lahat nang ito naintindihan nila and we are continuously educating…

Q. Meanwhile, ano ang status ng political party ninyo? Malapit na ang filing ng certificates of candidacy. October 12 to 16.
A.  We have complied with all the requirements. We are hoping that before October, mailabas yung approval ng political party.

Q, Before the filing of the certificates of candidacy… Are you going to field candidates in the ARMM? Kasi it looks like mag-ARMM election.
A,  As far as the MILF is concerned, we will not participate unless an acceptable BBL will be passed. If the acceptable BBL will be passed, only then will we participate in the election.

Q, Are you fielding candidates at the local level now? In December 2014, when the scenario was that the BBL would be passed in early 2015, you said your political party will only participate in the regional elections and hindi ninyo pakikialaman ang sa local elections
A. Yes.

Q. Sa regional lang kayo. But given the situation now, with the BBL in limbo, it looks like magkaka-election pa rin sa ARMM. Are you going to field candidates na doon sa local or support candidates..
A. I think ganon pa rin. We will not participate in the local elections

Q. Did the President offer you, ask you if you would field candidates for the ARMM election?
A.  No. We already officially pronounced to him we will not field candidates to the ARMM. Alam nila yan.

Q. Oo nga, pero baka naman ngayon, kasi iba na ang sitwasyon.
A. Hindi pa namin napag-usapan tungkol sa ARMM kasi we are focused on the BBL… We also want the President.. importante na as partners (dapat) alam niya kung ano ang nasa loob namin at alam din namin ang nasa loob niya… Tinanggap naman niya ito ng maluwag and then .. sabi siya the process is not yet final and we are still working out

Q. Pero di ba he told you during your first meeting in Tokyo (in August 2011) that in the second half of his term lame duck na siya?
A. Yes. Pero ang nakikita rin namin his influence is still there. Nandoon pa rin.

Q. Looking back, was it a mistake to rely on the popularity of a Philippine President in the negotiations kasi yun ang tingin ng iba, that the MILF relied too much on the popularity of the President.
A. Actually we did not. Not exactly the popularity, but we relied much on his strong commitment na na-express sa amin na he is really committed to solve the problem kasi nakikita namin noon, during the past Philippine administrations.. the President will just go for peace process and then just try to solve the problem within his administration.

Q. Tapos i-dribble, pasa naman sa next?
Dribble tapos pasa sa next administration. This time, we sense the strong commitment of the President especially after our talk in Tokyo. So nakita namin na very strong ang kanyang political will, so doon kami nag-rely. It’s not really on his popularity but we were hoping na .. with his strong political will, he can influence the process kasi alam namin na there will be an internal process within the government after signing the agreement.

Q. Nabasa niyo siguro na sinabi ni Senador Marcos peace agreements only bind the executive not the legislative…
A. Contrary to that, we always reiterate na we negotiated with the Philippine government (not just) the Executive Branch… When the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) was composed, there was a resolution passed by Congress affirming the composition of the BTC so in the negotiations also, there were senators and there were members of the House who were present and there was consultation with them with the GPH panel. We don’t focus only on the executive although we engage directly with the executive. (We) negotiate with the Philippine government. In all past negotiations, it was the same process: the executive but the agreement is binding to the government of the Philippines.

Q. What major lesson has the MILF learned from this negotiation under the Aquino administration… What is the major achievement in the peace process under Aquino?
A.  The main achievement is the signing of the CAB. That is the main agreement because in all past negotiations, we had some agreement but it’s not the totality of the solution to the problem. It is only through this comprehensive agreement. Now as always… the bigger challenge is in the implementation process kaya nga on our part, we have built different structures. Andyan yung IMT (International Monitoring Team), TPMT (Third Party Monitoring Team). Nandiyan ang ICG (International Contact Group) kasi nakikita namin na always, the challenge is bigger in the implementation. Nangyari din ito sa 1976 agreement, sa 1996 agreement ng MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) so ganoon din ang mangyari now, kaya we put up structures to help in the implementation. And that is why in the agreement itself, the MILF installed safety measures tulad ng no unilateral implementation of the agreement. Kasi nakita namin na ganon ang nangyari sa MNLF after na hindi nangkaroon ng kasunduan ang Mixed Committee, the government proceeded by drafting RA 9054. Despite the opposition of the MNLF, they continued to have an ARMM…ARMM was already there then they offered it to Nur Misuari and Nur Misuari accepted the leadership of the ARMM. Sa panig namin, definitely we will not accept the ARMM even if the BBL will not be passed. We will not accept the ARMM.

Q. So you will not field candidates in the ARMM elections?
A. We will not field candidates.

Q. Did you raise with President Aquino this concern about the transition period?
A.  Yeah. We also raised this because it is already less than one year before 2016.

Q. What did he say?
A. Actually his comment is, “we will see the final details” so there’s nothing definite. Kasi ang tingin namin it all depends on Congress also, because Congress can pass a resolution to possibly extend, kasi even in the draft of Bongbong (Marcos), he was alluding to a 180-day transition period.

Q. Six months.
A. Six months and the draft of the Ad Hoc Committee (in the House) is silent on the transition but there are also some congressman voicing out their suggestion to postpone the election until 2019.

Q. Postpone the ARMM election you mean
A.  The Bangsamoro government. If there is a Bangsamoro government, so they will be postponing the election. Parang ganon.

Q. They can only postpone it if there is a law that says so. Meanwhile, kung wala, the ARMM election will proceed as scheduled.
A. Yes, yes. The ARMM will continue.

Q. So did he mention a possibility of still meeting that commitment for a transition period?
A. It all depends on what is in the law. That’s the key. Kasi the passage of the law will also include the arrangement on what will happen to the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority).

Q. Definitely there were still be a BTA, kasi nasa agreement yan, di ba? You cannot just proceed
A. Yeah. We cannot just proceed to regular government. There will be a BTA.

Q. What’s happening to your decommissioning?
A.  The normalization process can continue but the decommissioning process is dependent on the ratification of the BBL so if there is no BBL, there is no decommissioning.

Q. Have the commitments to the first batch of decommissioned MILF been implemented?A.  Meron na. There are some commitment na na-deliver sa kanila. Cash assistance was already delivered to them.

Q. Cash assistance na P25,000? Baka ubos na yan. Yung livelihood component?
A. They’re processing now.

Q. June pa yun. August na. Almost September.
A.  Wala pa rin.. kasi there are variations on that. Merong selected to continue studying then there will be… depende yun sa kung anong choice nila so kung yung (elder ones) they will not study anymore, they will be given livelihood.

Q. You are facing a situation where it is election season already… How will you navigate the waters during the election?
A. Actually what will happen is, if no acceptable BBL is passed, then we will go back to our original position as far as the democratic process is concerned, na hindi kami mag-participate. We will not participate.

Q. Politicians are pragmatists. And I heard some of them say the MILF should be practical. Like they would say ‘you need our support for the passage of a good BBL, but can you deliver votes?’
A. Well we have the control (over) our people kaya nga yung mga nakaraan na mga election, we had not manifested kung gaano kalakas yung MILF because we never participated officially. But this time if there is really a BBL that would be passed na acceptable sa amin, then officially the organization will go on all-out participation in the democratic process. That’s why we have the political party.

Q. Na-mention ba ang possible scenario that Congress will postpone the ARMM election?
A. So far wala. Hindi namin napag usapan.

Q. Dean Tony Laviña says there should be enough time for the debates on the BBL and that it would be better that the next President owns the process in the same manner that President Aquino also owned the process that led to the signing of the peace agreement. Meron na bang lumapit sa inyo na mga Presidential wannabes or vice presidential or even senatorial wannabes?
A. Officially wala pang lumapit sa amin kasi sa ngayon we are still looking forward that the BBL would be passed within this administration.

Q. Do you consider the BBL an election issue?
A. Actually ang nakikita natin ngayon, the politicians are already using the BBL for different reasons. There are those using it kasi nakikita nila na they will get votes by supporting the BBL. Meron namang they will get more votes when they oppose the BBL. Kaya nga unfortunate that the BBL came at a time na yung environment is already polluted with the political exercise ng election, na ginagamit ito noong mga politician.

Q. Sinabi ninyo kay Presidente ang three scenarios ninyo?
A. Yeah.

Q. Yung details ng three scenario sinabi ninyo?
A. Hindi namin napag-usapan kasi … we focused on raising our concern involving the draft of the substitute bill of the house (HB 5811) and the Senate (SB 2894). It is really not acceptable to the MILF kasi gaya ng nasabi ko, it violates the agreement. Yun lang basically ang pinarating namin … (The President said) the process is not over so they will still work on it. Yan ang general na message niya.

Q. So would you really wait until the bicameral or will you only give yourself a deadline until the House passes its version and Senate passes its version kasi by then alam na kung talagang walang nagbago?
A. Oo, pero officially we will declare our position when the process ends. Kung anong mangyayari, only then will we officially declare our position.

Q. Okay, if that happens, and the BBL is passed and it is not acceptable to you, then we are going to see another repeat of history here. The BBL that will be passed is not in accordance with the FAB/CAB. But since it was passed by Congress, it will go through the process of plebiscite. So it will be like 2001 when the MNLF boycotted and campaigned for boycott of the ratification or RA 9054. Ganon din gagawin nyo?
A. We will not participate in the plebiscite.. So it’s a repeat (of history), it’s not solving the problem at all. We will go back to zero again. Ganon pa rin ang mangyayari if they will pass (their) BBL.

Q. You will not participate in the ARMM election, you will not also participate in a plebiscite where the BBL passed is not acceptable to you. That means if this happens, you will have to return to the negotiating table di ba? Kasi hindi dismantled yung panels di ba? And the TPMT.
A. Yes, andyan pa rin ang TPMT. But then if the BBL is passed na hindi acceptable sa amin, I think it really complicates the process kasi kahit na magbalik pa, anong pag-usapan when the government will continue to implement the BBL that is not acceptable?

Q. Ang mangyayari, parang nangyari noong 2001 di ba, when RA 9054 lapsed into law? Hindi pinirmahan ni GMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo). So it lapsed into law and then they implemented it because there’s a law pero hindi din na-solve ang problema kaya nag tripartite review. Nagyon, in your case, you don’t need a tripartite review because you have built in mechanisms. So papasok ang TPMT, ICG etc. So babalik pa rin kayo sa table?
A. Well it depends on the next administration kung ano ang magiging response nila. But then if we go back to the negotiation, then they have to do something with the passed BBL kasi hindi maaring negotiating and then they are also (implementing) because it’s a violation of the agreement. It’s a unilateral implementation sa side nila.

Q. So kung ang mangyari nyan ay magkaroon talaga ng Bangsamoro government, under the agreement, ang BTA is supposed to be composed of MILF etc.. Hindi na kayo mag participate din?
A. Hindi na. And then of course, we will never recognize the implementation (of the FAB/CAB). We will continue with the struggle. We will continue and then we can capitalize on the structures of the peace process to move forward kung ano ang nararapat.

Q. So babalik tayo sa TPMT if it’s a question of implementation di ba?
A. Yeah so the TPMT can officially… we will demand that it officially declare that there is no implementation .. and then there will be no exit agreement and then there will be no decommissioning. So it goes back to the same situation before we started the negotiation.

Q. Given na you said worse ang Senate version dahil para na lang siyang probinsya and given only a few session days are left until the budget debates begin on September 28, are we expecting a miracle here?
A. No. The thing is, we will have to wait for the whole process kasi ano ang gagawin namin ngayon even if we declare no more because nothing will happen? So we just wait and see and then meantime we have to see what are our options are. So that’s why ang nakikita namin is worst case scenario talaga — a BBL will be passed that does not comply with the FAB and CAB and also it’s not acceptable to the MILF. That’s the worst case scenario because it will complicate..

Q. If that is the worst case scenario, what is the ideal scenario at this stage given the complications and given the time constraints and quorum problems.
A. The ideal scenario na nakikita namin is still the original na Basic :aw will be passed.

Q. Pero hindi na nga. Impossible na nga yan to pass the original, right?
A. There is still a possibility.

Q. Talaga? Ano yan? Never say die?
A. Kasi nandyan ang bill eh. Intact yung original bill so when it comes to the plenary, they can still do it pero it depends.

Q. Wala ngang quorum Sir.
A. Yun na nga. Quorum can be created… Kasi yun nga, ang sabi ko, we have to wait for the final outcome. We cannot decide at this point in time or we will (just) speculate. (We wait) and then we decide. We have to wait for the process to end.

Q. Sinabi nyo na kanina na after the bicam, yung talagang nakita na talgang hindi ito acceptable then lalabas kayo ng posisyon ninyo?
A. Yeah lalabas kami ng posisyon namin na its not acceptable for us. Now meron pang remaining process. It will be passed to the President.

Q. For veto?
A. It’s either because there are three options for a President.

Q. So ano yan, is it going to be sign it into law, let it lapse into law or veto it?
A. We do not know kung ano.

Q. Hindi niyo ba natanong bakit hindi niya na certify na urgent yung bill?
A. We have been reiterating to him. Sabi niya, anyway the process is already going on

Q. Hindi pa rin sine-certify kasi baka mas masaklap kung sine-certify niya
A. Yun nga.

Q. We know we’re facing a very uncertain future, uncertain in the sense that between now and June 30, 2016, kasi yun ang target supposedly na naset-up yung Bangsamoro, sinabi nyo rin na process siya, so even if hindi matuloy under this administration, sa next administration naman. Do you see the implementation of the CAB/FAB within your lifetime?
A. We are hoping pero it’s not a grand plan. Ibig sabihin what is important is nandyan yung agreement, we protect that agreement because if it cannot be implemented within our lifetime, then the struggle will continue and the next generation will always demand for the implementation of this agreement.

In this photo taken August 25, 2015, four-year old Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim whispers to her grandfather, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim her dream to become a "dalaga" (lady) so she can carry her two-year old brother. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO.

In this photo taken August 25, 2015, four-year old Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim whispers to her grandfather, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim her dream to become a “dalaga” (lady) so she can carry her two-year old brother. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO.

Q. Never ending?
A. Yeah. Because the struggle is there. This is a protracted struggle. Hindi mo talaga, you cannot dictate kung hanggang saan but what is important is you keep on, keep on hold on to the struggle until the final objective is (realized).

Q. Pero yung final outcome ngayon, kung hindi mapasa ang BBL…
A. We will go on with this struggle. We will continue the struggle – it could mean a further political struggle or an armed struggle. If there is no more chance of political struggle… what we tell our people is, it’s not the end of the struggle.

Q. It’s not the end.
A. It’s not the end of the struggle. We will continue with the struggle and that is the only thing we can promise to our people if the BBL will not pass. The struggle will not end. Hindi ibig sabihin na nawala na because all the factors in the struggle are still there.

Q. In August last year you said armed struggle will be the last option.
A. Ahhh. You cannot eliminate the armed struggle as an option but we have already invested so much in political struggle and we will continue to see if there is still a chance to move forward. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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