Home » Peace Process » Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process”

Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process”

by: January 29, 2016 5:49 pm Category: Peace Process, Top Stories A+ / A-

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 January) – Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, 67-year old grandfather of nine, has been chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003, days after the death of founding chair Salamat Hashim.

Before assuming the post, Murad had served as MILF vice chair for military affairs and from 2001 to 2003, was also chair of the MILF peace panel.

It was under his watch as MILF chair that the peace process between government (GPH) and the MILF which started in 1997 under Salamat, produced an initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008. Its formal signing, however, was aborted, triggering a war that took 11 months to forge a ceasefire and get the peace process back on track.

Eventually, the protracted peace process culminated in the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in March 2014 which promised to finally put an end to the decades-old protracted armed struggle.

As it turned out, implementation of the peace pacts would also be protracted.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) talks about the challenges facing the Bangsamoro peace process in an interview with MindaNews at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao on January 26, 2016. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) talks about the challenges facing the Bangsamoro peace process in an interview with MindaNews at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao on January 26, 2016. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

On August 25, 2015, when uncertainty over the passing the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) under the Aquino administration was already evident, Murad told MindaNews that “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.”

“This is a protracted struggle. .. 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),” he said.

On January 26, 2016, a day after the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy, Murad continued to be hopeful that the draft BBL, already considered dead by the Congress committees that filed substitute bills HB 5811 and SB 2894 (both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” or BLBAR), can still pass.

Where was that hope coming from when all the signs were already pointing to the impossibility of passing the law given the limited number of session days and the chronic absenteeism in the House and inaction by the Senate?

That hope came from assurances from the government peace panel, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the President himself that there would be no Plan B because the law will be passed.

Murad explained they were looking forward to the passage of the BBL, not the BLBAR as passing the latter would throw away the gains of the now 18-year old peace process.

The substitute bills, both titled BLBAR, had been criticized as envisioning a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.”

By Wednesday night, Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong delivered a privilege speech declaring that with a “grieving heart,” he was going to “close the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

The next day, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said they can’t pass the law before February 3, the last session day before Congress adjourns for the election campaign.

The new developments notwithstanding, MindaNews presents excerpts from an interview with Murad in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 26 as it shows the frame of mind of the MILF leadership and the prospects of the peace process beyond the Aquino administration.

Q.  As the days progress, the chances of passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) are getting smaller. Have you actually accepted the fact that it may not be passed under the Aquino administration?
A. As a revolutionary we have to accept whatever is forthcoming, kahit anong mangyari we are ready.. we are still hopeful na ma-push ng Presidente ang original na BBL na maipasa but then at the back of our heads, we are thinking already that if this will not happen then we have to do something. So we are also preparing for that.

Q. What are your preparations
A. We are preparing for whatever eventuality. But we are sticking to the commitment of the President. We are holding on to it.

Q. When was the last time you met with the President
A. Last January 12.

Q. How long did the conversation take and was this in his office?
A. Oo. It took us more than one hour. Almost two hours. Basically, walang pagbabago sa commitment niya and persistent assurance na maipasa ang BBL.

Q. Which BBL?
A. The original BBL. I have clarified to him very clearly na hindi natin matatanggap yung BLBAR (Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) ng House at saka yung version version ng Senate.

Q. Kinlaro nyo? What did he say?
A. Klaro yan sa kanya. He said ‘we are trying to pass what has been agreed na BBL.’

Q. You are referring to the agreed version
A. When we say BBL, we are referring to the original version

Q. Let’s clarify that. The original was the BTC draft but there were changes done with the Office of the President before it was submitted to Congress. This is what you refer to as the ‘agreed version’?
A. Yes

Q. But of course Congress will always say ‘we have the mandate to pass the law so we can accept or reject your draft.’ I know you’ve been asked this before, what is the MILF’s bottomline?
A. Wala tayong bottomline because the agreed version is already the bottomline. The President can also decide which bill ang gusto niyang tanggapin o hindi niya tanggapin

Q. Meaning? Was he hinting he might veto if the bill passed is
A. Well, that is one option he has. Kasi alam niya if a the bill passed is not acceptable to the MILF, it will mean throwing out the peace process.

Q. And history will repeat itself? Parang nangyari doon sa MNLF
A. Yes. Mangyayari naman sa… hindi natin yan gusto

Q. You think that if Congress passes (BLBAR), the President will sign it into law or ive-veto niya nga as he was hinting?
A. Until now we are maintaining our partnership with the Office of the President so whatever action he will take, we are hoping na kokonsultahan kami because we are partners.

Q.   What is an “acceptable” law? Is  “more than ARMM” acceptable?
A.   It should not just be more than ARMM … it should comply with the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). Because that is the bottomline. That it should comply with the CAB.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Q. During the almost two hours conversation did you talk about the what ifs? What if the law won’t pass under his administration?
A.   Palaging sinasabi niya ‘we have no Plan B.’ Sa amin din we don’t explore Plan B, because gagawin na lang natin kung anong Plan B when time dictates. Sa kanila wala rin because ang tingin niya (President) maipapasa pa rin.

Q. But you have to be realistic. There are only five session days from now. Tomorrow (January 27) is the deadline supposedly of the House (to pass the law). The Senate has not even resumed interpellation and tomorrow is Mamasapano re-investigation. Realistically, there’s very little time and it might really be that it won’t pass under the Aquino administration so shouldn’t you be planning ahead?
A.   Once it is conclusive that there’s no more way to pass it then the two panels should sit down and then pagplanohan what will happen to the peace process

Q, This is the meeting in KL next month?
A. Yeah. Most likely.. they can take up what will be the next step in the peace process.

Q. But even if by some miracle, an acceptable BBL will be passed before Congress adjourns on February 5, that can no longer be implemented by the Aquino administration because there is no more time.
A. Ang importante maipasa ang agreed BBL and then siguro mas madali na sa susunod na administration na i-push forward yung process because if the BBL is not passed, the next Congress will tackle it.. so mas maganda rin maipasa na ngayon so that there will be no more process in Congress (in the next administration). Ang mangyari, the executive branch will just appoint the BTA and then move forward to other processes

Q. But that is assuming that the basic law is acceptable, not BLBAR.
A. Yes. 

Q. But Rep Rufus Rodriquez (chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL) already said there is no more chance for the 28 provisions (of the BBL) to be restored (into the BLBAR) so practically you’ll have a basic law that you had actually rejected earlier because it’s less than ARMM.
A. It’s just the opinion of Rufus. 

Q. But Rufus is chair.
A.   Yeah but the final decision is by the entire Congress. Maybe Rufus can push for that but the entire Congress can overturn. It’s not final. It depends on the majority of Congress kung anong gagawin nila.

Q. Looks like given a very limited time, the pronouncements of Rufus and the lack of quorum, if there is a basic law that will be passed it might be BLBAR in its present form. What am trying to say is are you not in a situation already that given all the constraints — that this will be passed on to the next Congress if it is not passed under this administration — are you not being forced into a situation where you will just say ‘sige ipasa nyo lang kahit ano yan and then tangapin na lang namin yan’?
A. Definitely that will not happen. This is a product of a hard work both in the peace process and the Bangsamoro so we cannot afford to barter the struggle of the Bangsamoro people. So hindi mangyayari ang ganon. Definitely… If there are some people who will accept — pero until the MILF as an organization officially declares na yung bill is acceptable — the implementation process of the CAB should not be unilateral. It has to be agreed upon by the parties… Kung merong tatanggap, hindi pa rin binding sa MILF as an organization.

Q. But we are actually seeing something like history repeating itself and it can even be worse this time because there will now be two peace agreements that the next administration will implement – yung sa inyo at saka kina Nur (Misuari of MNLF).
A. We are supportive of the Tripartite Review (of the GPH-MNLF-OIC). Many of their agreed points are already in the CAB and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. But if there are matters that have not been included, we can still do that when we have the Bangsamoro government. We can work out together with the MNLF, to include these. 

Q. The three key issues under review by the Tripartite? Natural resources, territory provisional government?
A. They (MNLF) can be accommodated in the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority). They can be part of the BTA and then on the provision on natural resources, almost settled na. Sinasabi nila strategic mineral which is not defined in the GPH-MNLF agreement. Intentionally hindi rin namin dinefine dahil mahirap i-determine kung ano yung strategic mineral because any natural resources can be strategic mineral.

Q. Territory?
A.   I-amend ang opt in provision

Q.  But Rufus already said the opt-in is out.
A.   But that can be subject of amendment.

Q,  What if the next administration says no more third party facilitation because we’re now on implementation phase?
A.   The position of the MILF has always been that whenever we stop, we will start from there when we resume. Hindi pwedeng sabihin na balik tayo sa zero because pag bumalik ka then imagine mo we spent 18 years sa isang proseso tapos sasabihin mo na babalik? We will continue the peace process from where we stopped so all the structures we are preserving. All the structures, kasi nandyan na iyan

Q. The 3rd party facilitation, IMT, ICG, etc..?
A.   Yes. Even the IDB (International Decommissioning Body), we’re preserving it and the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)…

Q, The TJRC report has not been made public.
A.   The report is there but when it will be released will still be decided on. On our side, we’re ready to have it released to the public

Q. You said if the BBL won’t be passed in this administration, you will start where you left off. When the new administration comes
A.   We will push for the implementation of the CAB… As far as the agreement is concerned, hindi na pwedeng pag usapan. Maybe (we can discuss the) ways forward but not on the content. It’s a finished agreement. As for the BBL, as long as it will be compliant with the CAB, wala kaming problema. 

Q. If the law is not passed under the Aquino administration, the CAB is there, the FAB is there, but in terms of legislation, the bill will have to be re-filed. You will have the agreed version re-filed? Hindi na uulitin yung draft?
A. Hindi na because it’s already an agreed version. Napagkasunduan na.

Q. Eh kung sabihin ng new President ‘ako naman yung bagong President eh so ako kausapin nyo,’ ganon pa rin ang stand ninyo?
A. Titingnan natin kasi sa proseso, even though it’s already agreed, dahil sa process ng Congress kung meron silang pagbabago, as long as it will not contradict the CAB, siguro kung mayroong improvement, well, it’s open naman for as long as it will comply with the CAB.

Q. So not necessarily zero but back to square 1?
A. As far as the bill is concerned, parang ganon.

Q. And in the next administration you will have at most two years (to deliberate on the BBL) because the next ARMM election will be in 2019.
A. Yes. 2019. About 3 years pa.

Before he became MILF chair in July 2003, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs. He also served as MILF peace panel chair from 2001to 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO Before he became MILF chair in July 2003, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs. He also served as MILF peace panel chair from 2001to 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Q. But you have at least a year for transition period.
A. The transition is at least one year … there are ideas na gawin na lang yung transition three years. Pag ganon, it doesn’t violate the CAB because at least one year. .. I think it’s more practical to make the transition three years and then coincide with the 2019 election.

Q.  If transition is at least one year, the BBL should be passed before 2018 so the BTA can be set up 2018 at the latest?
A.   Yes.

Q. By then the ARMM is still there, the Regional Legislative Assembly is still there. Does this mean they will use the same formula to include the RLA in the BTA,
A, Tingnan natin. As long as we still have the majority. Kasi majority-led ang provision. We are still the majority kahit na maipasok nila ang mga elected ARMM. Okay lang.

Q.  How do you ensure that the autonomy that you will get will not be another patronage autonomy, where the patron is Malacanang?
A. Actually if you look at the BBL and the CAB, the distinction between the present ARMM structure and the Bangsamoro ministerial structure is very clear. Malayo masyado. That’s why if you look at it, its’ very independent from the executive branch of government although the President has general supervision. But the structure is different. That’s why there is an IGR (Inter-Governmental Relations) kasi this will always function as a defining mechanism sa relationship ng Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government so magkaiba ito. Tingnan mo ang ARMM, directly under the President so it gets the mandate from the President so even yung mga departments diyan they are devolved only. They’re not an exclusive power of the ARMM so malayo masaydo ang difference.

Q. Eh tinanggal na nga ng BLBAR ang exclusive powers di ba?
A. Yun na nga. Kailangan maibalik yun because that is the essence of autonomy.

Q. Paano kung si Duterte ang next President? Sinusulong nya ang federalism.
A. Ang nakikita ko kay Duterte… parang nababasa ko gusto niyang maipasa ang BBL ngayon and parang gusto niya parang tingin ko gagawin niyang model ito ng federal state so if ever na successful siya turning the Philippines into the federal state siguro magiging model na ang Bangsamoro, just duplicating it to other regions.

Q,  So magiging model pa kayo.
A. Hahaha. Siguro. Baka sakali. Yun ang nakikita ko. He is pushing for the BBL and he is pushing for federalism.

Q. Kahapon anniversary ng Mamasapano at bukas ang re-investigation naman ng Senate. The Senate Committee will re-investigate tomorrow so there will be no time for the BBL. You said in your January 24 presscon that that the case is closed. Why did you say ‘closed.’
A. Kasi sa panig namin wala na kaming masabi tungkol sa Mamasapano incident. Nasabi na namin ang lahat sa side namin. We have submitted already a copy of our investigation report. That’s why as far as I am concerned, closed na ito. Ang tingin namin ngayon parang ang target ay paano nila ma-pin down si PNoy, the President.. It’s more political.

Q. Guiamel Alim recently about re-investigating Mamasapano but he made a call to re-investigate also the massacres in the past, the historical injustices..
A. We’re supportive of that call. That’s why there is a TJRC so that these injustices will be brought out in the open. Ang importante maipalabas ito and then mabigyan ng justice… If compensation is still possible then we go for that but if that is no longer possible then siguro meron lang mga moral …. i-acknowledge ang nangyari.

Q. You also said passing the original BBL is more important than the election. Why did you say that?
A. It’s very important to the country kasi it’s for the general welfare. The election is also important. I meant legislators should see that the passage of the BBL is more important than individual political interests.

Q. What are your most afraid? You are 67 turning 68, you have nine grandchildren, you dropped out of college to be part of the struggle, you’ve seen through the wars, the peace process. What are you most afraid of at this stage of your life?
A. As far as the organization is concerned, there are second liners already who can take over anytime. I think what I fear most is that itong organization will be dismantled.

Q. Magkawatak-watak?
A. Yeah. Magkawatak-watak gaya ng nangyari sa MNLF. I just want to make sure na hindi magkakaganon

Q,  What are you doing to ensure hindi magkawatak-watak?
A.   Consolidation of the Central Committee… In the case of the MNLF, nagkaroon ng struggle sa leadership. Yun ang gusto natin na i-protect, na hindi mangyari. So we have a clear chain of command and clear (policy on) succession.

Q,You’re talking succession now?
A.   Yes. Succession of leaders. Kasi yun ang problema in the MNLF. There is no clear succession. Kailangan merong agreed mechanism na ito yung succession natin

Q. You have that?
A.   Yes we have.

Q. You’ll be chairman for 13 years by July. Napag-aralan nyo na yan? In short, you’ve learned lessons?A.   Yes, we have learned lessons.

Q, Are you afraid of ending up like Nur Misuari? How will history treat you later given this crucial period in history when you have do decide if you will accept or not the law if it is passed. Your decision of course will matter most because this might spell the difference between Misuari and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. As chair of the MILF, are you afraid you’ll end up like Misuari.
A. I don’t entertain the idea. We have taken care that that won’t happen because the present leaders of the MILF are now maintaining the consultative and collective leadership. Whatever decision I make, I will not make it alone. I have to (consult) because that is what we see as one of the shortcomings of Nur. Because he does not consult his followers. So that’s the difference. We will not make a major decision unless the Central Committee is consulted.

Q. When the President meets with you in Malacanang, you cannot readily say this is the decision? You have to go back to the Central Committee?
A. Unless of course when we already have a decision on a particular issue, I can directly answer him na okay. When there is no clear decision yet by the Central Committee, then I have to go back to the Central Committee.

Q. What about your political party. I understand the Comelec has approved the application of the UBJP (United Bangsamoro Justice Party)?   Are you going to participate in this election?
A.   If it is already the Bangsamoro government then we will participate but if it’s still ARMM, we cannot participate. But we will continue to build up the party. We’re now thinking of the headquarters of the party.

Q. Where will that be?
A. We are trying within the vicinity.

Q. You have a new party and election is in May. Are you not going to participate to somehow introduce your party to the rest of the region?
A.   Hindi pa.

Q.   So party building pa lang?
A.   Party building pa lang kasi too early to participate na. Hindi pa masyadong luto

Q. Registered voter na ba kayo
A.   Ako? Wala pa.

Q.   Di ba may special registration supposedly for MILF? Hindi nyo itinuloy?
A.   Hindi tinuloy dahil sa BBL.

Q.  So hindi ka rin makaboto ngayon?
A.   Hindi pa ako botante..

(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process” Reviewed by on . DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 January) – Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, 67-year old grandfather of nine, has been chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since Ju DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 January) – Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, 67-year old grandfather of nine, has been chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since Ju Rating: