ARMM Gov: finish GRP-MNLF first before signing peace pact with MILF

The ARMM is central to the peace processes of both the MNLF and MILF because, in the words of Ampatuan, “ito yung pinag-aagawan nila" (they are fighting over this).

The ARMM, which comprises Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Shariff Kabunsuan and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, constitutes the main area for the MNLF’s and the core area for the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) of the MILF.

But it will be a race against time as elections for a new set of officials in the ARMM are due in August next year and Ampatuan has publicly said he will seek reelection.

Since the signing of the “final peace agreement” in 1996, Ampatuan is the first non-MNLF member who has been elected governor. MNLF chair Nur Misuari served as ARMM governor from 1996 to 2001 while Parouk Hussin, MNLF foreign affairs secretary, served as governor from 2001 to 2005.

Misuari and Hussin served beyond their supposed three-year terms of office on holdover capacities because Congress failed to pass the law that would have expanded the ARMM and the other provisions of the 1996 agreement.

The government and the MILF peace panels have just broken the 13-month impasse in the talks on the question of territory and are set to meet this month for another exploratory talks before the formal peace talks where they hope to sign a peace agreement, before the end of the year.

The two panels have discussed a transition period in preparation for the BJE they intend to set up. Whatever that structure is, according to the MILF, it will not be autonomy, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had earlier said.

Ampatuan told MindaNews in a 2005 interview prior during the campaign for the ARMM elections that he supports the peace initiatives of President Arroyo and that he had told the leaders in the ARMM “that if I and my running mate are given the chance to lead the ARMM as governor and vice governor, respectively, if within our term

a peace agreement would be forged, in the name of unity and peace, in the name of the Bangsamoro, in the name of Islam, we are willing to sacrifice our posts for the Bangsamoro.”

“If we are elected, I as governor and my vice governor, we are willing to leave our posts for the sake of the majority, in the name of peace and unity and in the name of Bangsamoro and Islam,” he said.

Ampatuan, a member of the Philippine government delegation to the Tripartite Meeting here, told MindaNews that he is aware of the possibility that their terms of office would be extended on holdover capacity because of the peace process.

“But on the other hand, we are ready for our reelection,” he said, adding the governors of the ARMM provinces have expressed their support for him.

“Ganun pa man sa ngalan ng Bangsamoro, kung ang makakabuti, if ever, if ever, kaya nating isakripisyo ang posisyon natin” (But then, in the name of the Bangsamoro, if it will do good, if ever, if ever, we can sacrifice our posts,” he told MindaNews at the receiving area of the Crystal Ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel here.

“Hanggang ngayon yun pa rin ang stand natin. Kung yng ang makakapag-resolve sa minimithi ng Bangsamoro, ba’t hindi. Malaking bagay na maging dahilan na magkaroon ng tunay na kapayapaan sa Mindanao” (Until now, that remains our stand. If that will resolve the aspirations of the Bangsamoro, why not. It’s a major thing to be the reason behind genuine peace in Mindanao), Ampatuan said.

“Yes, I am willing to give up (my post) pero kung may eleksyon, considering malakas pa rin ang suporta sa atin ng local leaders, tatakbo pa rin tayo” (but if there’s an election, considering the strong support of our local leaders, I will still run), Ampatuan said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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