Murad: MILF has ok’d three-year transition period instead of six

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/09 July) –  From independence to autonomy, from six years to three years.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has agreed to cut down to three years its earlier proposed six-year transition into the new autonomous political entity (NAPE) that the government and MILF peace panels will craft to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),  MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim confirmed in a press conference Monday afternoon.

“Originally that transition should be around six years because it is our conviction that we need a longer period to prepare the Bangsamoro to govern themselves, Murad said.

But the government (GPH) peace panel, he recalled, argued that if the transition period would be six years, “then it will be passed on to the next  President because the term of  President Aquino will end in 2016.”

“So we said we can compromise. We can compromise for three years transition period,” he said.

Within the three-year period,, Murad said, “we hope we can be able to fast track the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the government.”

What is important, he said, is that the agreement signed “will be implemented” because “an agreement that is not implemented will just be a piece of paper.”

President Aquino invited Murad to a meeting in Japan on August 4 last year, where the two leaders agreed to “fast-track” the peace process so an agreement can be forged within the first half of the six-year term of the President and implementation of the agreement can be made in the last half.

From ARMM to NAPE

The GPH and MILF peace panels on April 24 signed their first major agreement under the two-year old Aquino administration —  the ten-point “Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012”  —  which provided, among others, that they would “work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM” which the MILF does not recognize because “it is not the solution” to solve the Bangsamoro quest for self-determination.

Murad said the ARMM is merely an “administrative arm of Malacanang” and provincial governments have more powers than the regional government.

The MILF has been pushing for what Murad refers to as a “state-substate asymmetrical arrangement where the powers of government are divided between the central and substate governments and each level of government has sovereignty in some areas and shares powers in other areas.”

To achieve this “state-substate” arrangement, the MILF had earlier pushed for an amendment to the Constitution even as government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen had repeatedly said there is no need to amend the Constitution to accommodate the demands of the MILF.

A formula may have been found as to how to “accommodate” the MILF demands under the present Constitution because Murad no longer mentioned “Constitutional amendment” at the press conference. He  said the  NAPE “will be constitutionally entrenched and will not be altered by a unilateral decision of the central government.”

A month after signing the “Decision Points, the panels met in executive session the whole day of May 28 – the first day  the three-day peace talks in Kuala Lumpur — to  discuss the roadmap that includes the highly contentious transition from the present ARMM to the  NAPE.

The executive session ended with no agreement reached on the transition except to say they would refer the matter to their respective principals.

Three days earlier, in Davao City,  government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen told the business sector that with or without a peace agreement this year, the elections in the ARMM on May 13, 2013 will proceed as scheduled.

ARMM polls up to government

Murad said whether or not the ARMM elections will push through is up to the government.

“We have officially told the Philippine government about our concerns on the election of the ARMM in 2013. But then as a matter of policy, we do not recognize the ARMM so it is the making of the GRP and if there is an agreement between the MILF and  GRP, it is the responsibility of the Philippine government to do away with whatever  (it) has created. We have nothing to do with the ARMM. If there is an ARMM elected there, then it is the duty of the GRP to see to it that this ARMM will not run obstacle to the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the Philippine government,” said Murad.

“GRP” was the acronym of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines until it was changed to ”GPH” in late 2010.

The ARMM election, originally scheduled on August 8, 2011, was postponed by RA 10153 to synchronize it with the 2013 mid-term elections. The same law allowed President Aquino to appoint Officers in Charge (OICs)  for Governor, Vice Governor and the Regional Legislative Assembly to serve supposedly until June 30, 2013, when the new set of officials shall have assumed the post.

The Commission on Elections has set for early October the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy for ARMM and other elective posts nationwide.

Murad described the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur this month as a “passing through a difficult test”

“Virtually, the status is ‘make or break.’ Anything can still happen any moment. The road is not paved; it is full of twists and turns,” he said.

The MILF chair also emphasized that the MILF “cannot compromise any further” because it has “reached the bottomline.”

Murad repeatedly said the three-year transition period will not be “an inclusive affair” as it will involve not only the MILF but also other representatives of the Bangsamoro. But Murad explained they are “demanding it will be led by the MILF”  because it is the MILF that is party to the negotiation,

One voice

In his opening statement at the press conference, Murad admitted that one of the problems of the Bangsamoro is “about our weakness to act together with one voice.”

“While we do not fight one another in open warfare… the truth is that we are fractious in our ways to advance the cause of our people for freedom and right to self-determination. The result is that we are weak, fragment, and looked down,” he said.

He said those who attended the Bangsamoro Leaders’ Forum that the MILF convened over the weekend,  including elected Moro leaders and government workers, had expressed their support for the MILF’s conduct of the negotiations with the government.

Prof. Ekeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC; formerly Conference), in a message delivered at the opening of the Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly by Tahir Ahmad Saif, Deputy Head of the OIC Minorities Department on July 7, said, “this day will be marked in the annals of the Bangsamoro struggle as a landmark in their march towards uniting their rnks.”

The OIC facilitated the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front that led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Final Peace Agreement in 1996. It has been working on a “Bangsamoro Coordination Forum” between the MILF and MNLF  through meetings between the fronts that it facilitated.

Ihsanoglu appealed to the two parties to “make this forum operative before the next meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers” in November.

The OIC first took cognizance of the Bangsamoro issue in a resolution titled “The Problem of Muslims in the Philippines” passed by the 3rd Islamic Conference  of Foreign Ministers held in Benghazi, Libya in March 1973.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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