MILF chief Ebrahim says he’s “full of hope” on forging a peace pact

FULL OF HOPE. Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Mindanews Photo by Froilan Gallardo

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/05 February) — Despite the slow-progress in the peace process between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government under the seven-month old Aquino administration, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim expressed optimism Saturday that “in a short time we can come out with the proper political formula from the negotiating table (so) we can have the beginning of a just peace in the Bangsamoro homeland in our time and generation.”

At the press conference which was also attended by members of the MILF peace panel, Ebrahim announced they are ready to go back to the negotiating table “full of hope” that talks will lead towards the forging of a comprehensive compact agreement.”

It was Ebrahim’s second press conference since August  9 and Saturday’s was the culmination of a 10-day series of consultations dubbed “Consolidating the Gains of the Peace Process.”

The government and MILF peace panels got stuck in an impasse over the issue of  the Malaysian facilitator and its chairs and two members each, met for the first time for exploratory talks only on  January 13, in Kuala Lumpur.  No joint communiqué was issued at the end of the one-day meeting because it was “informal,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said.

The full membership of the peace panels will meet for the first time on February 9 and 10 in the Malaysian capital, for what Leonen described as “formal” exploratory talks.

Security was tight, with MILF guerrillas armed with machineguns and other high-powered firearms, from the camp’s entrance to the function hall where the press conference took place.

Ebrahim said the MILF peace panel will submit a draft of its compact peace agreement during the  talks on February 9 and 10.
He said the draft is basically the same draft  submitted to the government peace panel under the Arroyo administration.

“We reviewed it and came up with a more comprehensive compact [agreement] draft proposal…there were minor revisions,” he told reporters.

The main thrust of the MILF draft is for the establishment of a state-and-substate arrangement of governance in the future Bangsamoro state, said Murad, explaining the scheme would involve “the setting up of our own state but still within the Philippines.”

“The only way to realize the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination is for them to have their own state,” he said.

The MILF chief stressed that the use of arms will be the last resort for the MILF if all other peaceful initiatives fail.
He urged government to forge with them, as soon as possible, a final peace accord.

“If the government is really sincere, the final peace agreement would “not even take a year,” he said, adding the last 14 years of negotiations for peace has been a long journey.

“Let’s give peace a chance and not waste those 14 years,” he said.

On top of the comprehensive compact, the immediate concerns when peace talks resume this week will be the extension of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the reactivation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

The mandate of the Malaysian-led IMT, which has been monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire between the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF since late 2004, will end on February 28. The mandate is subject to renewal upon the request of both the GPH and MILF peace panels.

The AHJAG, jointly composed of government and MILF forces, was created “to isolate and interdict kidnap-for-ransom groups and other criminal elements operating in MILF bailiwicks.”

On the issue of Ameril Umbra Kato, commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, who has been reported to have acted on his own following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008, Ebrahim said efforts are underway to iron the differences within the front.
“They want to assert a different identity but not outside the MILF,” he said.

Kato has been investigated by the front’s central committee for his role in the 2008 hostilities, with Ebrahim saying their probe was completed but declined to give details.

He said the MILF is studying the possibility of requesting a neutral investigation on Kato, as the MILF’s own investigation might be perceived as biased.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, said the MILF remains intact in its desire to forge a peaceful political settlement of the conflict.
“We already sent three senior ulama (religious leaders) to talk to him about his grievances,” Iqbal told reporters in a separate interview.
Kato, according to Iqbal, was frustrated that after 14 years of negotiations, the final peace agreement is not yet in place. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)