CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 6 September) – The ratification of the law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will make groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) irrelevant, an official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Wednesday.
Eduard Guerra, co-chair of the GPH-MILF Joint Normalization Committee, said the BIFF broke away from the MILF citing as reason the delay in the peace process.
The GPH-MILF peace process started in 1997, a year after the Ramos administration signed the Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari.
In 2008, the government and the MILF forged the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The court’s decision triggered attacks by some MILF units, including that of Ameril Umra Kato who formed the BIFF.
Guerra said the law must be ratified so that the BIFF will no longer have a reason to exist.
But Guerra, speaking at the “Peace Conversation” here hosted by Balay Mindanaw, emphasized that apart from the law’s ratification, the Moro people must reap the fruit of the peace process like economic progress.
“The agreement ended the war,” he said, referring to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in March 2014.
“The MILF will become a social and political movement. Wala ng armas (We will no longer use arms), kaya mag-decommission kami (that’s why we’re decommissioning),” he said.
“Bago ito sa amin, itong pagpasok sa politika. Mag-aaral kami kasi destruction ang ano namin (This is new to us, entering politics. We will study because we had only focused on destruction). A good commander is not necessarily good in governance,” he added.
The MILF formed the United Bangsamoro Justice Party in late 2014 in preparation for the 2016 elections. However, the bloody encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 cost the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and with it the elections for the new autonomous region.
In the same gathering, Guerra’s counterpart from government, Assistant Secretary Dixon Hermoso of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said the decommissioning process will cover 35,000 to 40,000 MILF combatants both armed and unarmed.
Hermoso said that alongside the decommissioning process would be the redeployment of military units as required by the peace agreement.
But he added there could be an adjustment in the redeployment plan for government forces due to the presence of so-called extremist groups.
He cited the two recent bombings in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat which occurred five days apart from each other.
Hermoso, however, emphasized that the real enemy is not the armed groups but the “scourges of society” such as poverty, ignorance, injustice and bigotry which are being exploited by extremist groups.
“We thought the enemy was the armed groups. But the problem remains even after I have retired,” Hermoso, a former Army colonel who had seen action in Mindanao, said.
He warned that “extremism knows no boundary; one or two persons can create trouble.”
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, of Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese, said peace in Mindanao needs six S’s – sincerity, security, solidarity, sensitivity, spirituality and sustainability.
Ledesma said solidarity means recognition of the diversity of cultures in the region while sensitivity requires understanding the differences through interreligious and intra-religious dialogues.
He noted that Christianity and Islam are both religions of peace that believe in one God and in resurrection, and therefore hold similar traditions.
He added the Bangsamoro law is one way to sustain the gains of the peace process.
The plebiscite on the law is scheduled on January 21 next year.
The proposed Bangsamoro territory covers the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Basilan, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao), the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato.
After ratification, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will serve as caretaker government until the holding of regular elections in 2022. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)