MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 May) – On several occasions the government has raised the issue of the move of Amiril Umra Kato to part ways with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as one that may affect the course of the peace talks. Kato, former commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, has formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) over dissatisfaction with what he called “endless negotiations” that had led to no decisive outcome.

Kato may have a valid point. The previous administration had a chance to prove it was sincere in finding a lasting solution to the Moro rebellion in Mindanao. However, then President Arroyo did not stand up to the challenge posed by the opponents of the Memorandum of Agreement
on Ancestral Domain and practically left her peace negotiators to the mercies of the spoilers like former Cotabato vice governor Emmanuel Pinol, former senator Manuel Roxas III and media personalities who may not have read the document at all. The Supreme Court eventually declared the MOA-AD as unconstitutional.

It was the junking of the MOA-AD that reportedly made Kato doubt government’s sincerity in the peace talks. A few days after the Supreme Court decision hostilities erupted anew in parts of North Cotabato and Maguindanao between government forces and MILF units loyal to Kato .It’s not clear how many fighters are with Kato. What is clear is that he can, if he chooses to, be a stumbling block to the peace process.

In a recent interview with MindaNews, Kato disclosed he “will not stand in the way of peace negotiations”. This is reassuring. But both the government and the MILF should note that he has no patience with negotiations without a definite timeframe. He did not say he can wait
for another eternity for an agreement that would reflect the Moro people’s aspirations for self-determination, presumably something akin to the botched MOA-AD.

A closer look would reveal that Kato has some odds stacked in his favor even if he lacks the numbers at present. By giving the talks a chance to succeed he has somehow dispelled notions that he is a hawk as cultivated by media sensationalism. If he manages to avoid making
unwanted moves or stays out of trouble amid possible provocation until such reasonable time that the negotiation reaches a happy ending, Kato will have nothing to lose. He won’t be a hero. But he won’t be a villain either.

On the other hand, if the peace process drags on indefinitely without hints of mutually acceptable terms of agreement Kato would be vindicated in his belief that government simply wants to manage the conflict not resolve it. Allowing this thing to happen is a formula for further disillusionment among the Moro people. They may not necessarily cast their lot with the BIFF but they will certainly lose faith in the talks.

Much will depend on government considering the vested interests within it that are wary of anything remotely related to Moro self-determination. The best way to deal with Kato is to make sure these interests won’t get in the way of the peace process. Otherwise, he will have a good reason to say to the Moro people “I told you so”.(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])