Murad: success in Bangsamoro peace process will make armed struggle “the last option”  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 August) — Returning to armed struggle if the 17-year od peace process will not succeed is “not a closed option” but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front “will try to work out every effort in order that armed struggle will be the last option,” Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said.

”We have invested so much in the peace process. Imagine 17 years. We have to see to it that as long as there is still an opening of a chance for this investment, we will still go for that because we have invested a lot. But if …we feel that there is no more chance for this process, even though it’s very dear to us, we have to opt for other options,” Murad said.

In a sit-down interview with MindaNews in Camp Darapanan on August 24, Murad said “our people are very hopeful that this (peace process) will succeed” but if it does not, “we still can opt for other options, maybe peaceful options.” He added that while returning to armed struggle is not a closed option, “we will try to work out every effort in order na yung armed struggle will be the last option kung wala na kaming makikitang option.”

The government (GPH) and the MILF signed in the gardens of Malacanang, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations, the last four under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

Aquino and Murad, along with thousands witnessed the signing of the CAB by GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal. The celebration was beamed live via satellite, allowing for thousands more in the Bangsamoro areas to gather in town plazas to join in the celebration.

Three months later, on June 24, Murad would meet again with President Aquino, this time in Hiroshima, Japan, but the mood was not celebratory. In the meeting held shortly before the President delivered his keynote address at the 6th Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP6) seminar, he and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal expressed their “concerns” about Malacanang’s proposed revisions to the 97-page draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Murad said they were “shocked” because “almost everything was … reformulated.”

“I raised to him our concern that the review took (the Office of the President) two months. Secondly, I said we just saw the reformatted BBL and we were very disgusted because it was not only the provisions introduced in the BTC that were changed but even those provisions in the agreement itself were diluted,” he said.

The President promised to look into the concerns raised.

The draft BBL was expected to be submitted, initially, by May when Congress resumed sessions after the Holy Week Break, but Congress adjourned sine die on June 11 with the draft still being reviewed by Malacanang.

The draft was again expected to be submitted on July 28 during President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) and even as the President met with the BTC on June 24 – with BTC chair and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal conspicuously absent – no draft could be submitted to Congress as the peace panels of both, to whom the issue was elevated by the BTC, were still in the midst of “workshops” to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa arrived in Davao City at noon on August 10 at the end of the 10-day “workshop” and has since taken over the negotiations on behalf of the government.

Iqbal told MindaNews on August 31 that the draft BBL is now “99.99%” done but declined to cite a date for submission to Congress. (see other story)

Congress is going on recess by September 27 and will resume sessions on October 19.

Murad said Malacanang has been making sure that the draft will go through a smooth passage in Congress. “That’s fine with us but what is not acceptable to us is to sacrifice (the agreement)…. If the agreement will be diluted, derogated from, and all of a sudden we come up with a version of the BBL which is the same as the version of the Organic Act… of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)… so we better accept the ARMM? (laughs). Sometimes we see that the version they are intending to have is even lower than the Organic Act so why will we settle for a BBL that is lower than Organic Act when even the President has already said that the ARMM is a failed experiment?” 

Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro which the GPH and MILF signed on October 15, 2012, the parties agreed that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, that would replace the ARMM.

The ARMM will be deemed abolished after the ratification of the BBL in a plebiscite that would be held “not later than 120 days” from the enactment of the law.

Under the CAB, the future Bangsamoro will have a ministerial form of government and will hopefully be set up by June 30, 2016.

In his SONA last year, President Aquino had urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before yearned 2014 to give enough time for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to govern the area using the ministerial form, in preparation for the Bangsamoro government whose first set of officials will be elected in May 2016.

Murad said he is aware of the limited time left to implement what the CAB stipulates but is confident that the peace process has enough mechanisms to address concerns such as what happens if the BBL’s passage is delayed and the BTA will not be set up, what happens if the bill Congress passes is not faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB, what happens if a petition is sent to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional, what happens if only a few provinces approve the BBL during the plebiscite, and what happens if they lose the elections in May 2016. (see Q and A with Al Haj Murad Ebrahim)

He said the mechanisms were set up precisely to “protect the implementation process.”

“We always had that in mind that the implementation is more difficult and more challenging. That is why we have the ICG (International Contact Group), the Third Party Monitoring Team, we have all these mechanisms to ensure the implementation. If something goes wrong, that is the first thing we will turn to, for the mechanisms to do their part in this process,” he said.

Murad explained that setting up the Bangsamoro government by June 30, 2016 is the “start of another level of struggle.”

“We have to continue the struggle in order to sustain the aspiration because it does mean that when there is a Bangasamoro government, that it is already the realization of the aspiration and dreams of the Bangsamoro. It is still a start of building that realization. That’s why I keep on saying that you don’t imagine that when we are in the Bangsamoro government, everything is finished. It is another level of struggle wherein maybe you don’t need to use the guns but the objective there is to build a genuine and lasting peace for our people, prosperity for our people. That will be another hard and difficult struggle,” Murad said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)