Murad: “what’s happening here is different from the Middle East”  

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/26 August) — Mindanao and the Middle East should not be compared because the situations in these areas are different, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said amid claims by a former Philippine president that 100 Filipino Muslims are undergoing training in Iraq with the extremist Islamic State (IS).

“So far we have not monitored any Filipino Muslim who went to Iraq,” Murad told MindaNews in his camp on Sunday afternoon.”

Murad said they are “openly advising our people, especially the young that they should not compare our situation with the situation in the Middle East. We are also advising them not to get involved in that problem and to instead focus our efforts on the advancement of our own struggle.”

He said what is happening in the Middle East “cannot be applied here because we have a very different situation,” adding, “dito sa Mindanao ay meron tayong nakikita na opportunity na ma-resolve itong problema” (here in Mindanao, we see an opportunity to resolve this problem).

Murad was referring to positive developments in the peace process with the Philippine government, with both parties about to complete the final text of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will be submitted to Congress before the end of August.

The MILF and the Philippine government (GPH) signed on March 27 this year the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) after 17 years of peace negotiations and are awaiting the submission of the draft Basic Law to Congress, a major part of the implementation process.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says what is happening in the Middle East “cannot be applied here because we have a very different situation." MIndaNews photo by Toto Lozano
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says what is happening in the Middle East “cannot be applied here because we have a very different situation.” MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Former President Fidel Ramos told ANC’s “Beyond Politics” on August 19, that “the report that has been reaching us retired people” is that “at least 100 of our young Filipino Muslims have already infiltrated Iraq to undergo training to return and be jihadists or militants.”

Media reports on Sunday and Monday quoted Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as saying in his Sunday morning television program that there were Dabawenyos who were among “100 Filipinos” who allegedly went to Iraq for training but Duterte on Monday told reporters that he did not link Filipino Muslims, among them Davao City residents, with the IS.

“I said na may nagbulong sa akin dito … na may mga young Muslims na pupunta ng Middle East kasi makipagsapalaran sa giyera” (I said someone whispered to me that there are young Muslims going to the Middle East to take part in the war).

“I did not say that they will join ISIS,” he said, adding what he fears is thescenario of young Muslims bringing back to the city a “technology of terror.”

Philippine military officials in Manila and Mindanao have, since the Ramos announcement, repeatedly said reports about Filipino Muslims training with the IS in Iraq and Syria have yet to be verified.

The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), also know as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), was formerly known as the Al Qaeda in Iraq. It renamed itself into IS after declaring in late June this year that it had established a Caliphate, an Islamic state, and called on supporters worldwide to pledge their allegiance.

Salamat Hashim’s reminder

“What is happening now (in Iraq and Syria) is that they’re trying to force people to accept radical Islam even as the people there cannot accept that,” Murad said.

He recalled that the late MILF chair, Ustadz Salamat Hashim would always remind them that “you cannot force people to accept and adhere to strict Islamic principles. Acceptance must be voluntary.”

Murad, however, acknowledged that the recent developments in the Middle East make it even more imperative for the peace process with the Philippine government to succeed.

“The MILF wants the peace process with the Philippine government to succeed because if it will not, then it could be a motivation to the younger generation to follow what is happening in the Middle East.”

The Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were earlier reported to have pledged allegiance to the IS but these reports are “unverified,” according to Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan.

ANC News quoted Tutaan as saying “it can be claimed by anybody who wants to take (advantage) so they can become more notorious, so that they will be feared more since they have links (with IS),” he said.

The ANC report also quoted as saying the military is not dignifying the video posted on YouTube about the Abu Sayyaf and BIFF reportedly pledging support to the IS.

“We do not dignify (videos on) YouTube… A lot of things can happen on YouTube… We are just being careful on our pronouncements before the media because we don’t want to cause undue alarm… These (linkages) are unverified,” he said.

Dealing with BIFF, Abu Sayyaf

Murad said they have been “opening our door” to dialogues with the BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf “if not to convince them to get aboard the peace process, then maybe they can just opt for wait and see attitude for them to give the peace process a chance to succeed.”

“What is important is we can show after the peace process is completed that a solution is already in place. If they see the solution is viable, there is a chance that they will accept the solution,” he said.

But for those who refuse to accept the peaceful solution, “then what is important is we get the overwhelming support of the people because when we get the overwhelming support of the people, those who will not accept the solution to the problem will ultimately be isolated.”

The government and MILF had agreed in April 2012 that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The parties signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012 where a roadmap was set for the establishment of the “Bangsamoro,” a political entity that would have an asymmetrical relationship with the national government and will run the affairs of the region using a ministerial form of government.

Murad said the dialogue with the BIFF, a group that broke away from the MILF “is still continuing.”

Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato set up the BIFF in March 2010, three months after he tendered his resignation as commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command. He told MindaNews in an interview in April 2011 that he resigned because he felt he was being eased out and was not defended by the MILF when the military declared his command a “Lawless MILF Group” following the war that broke out after the aborted signing of the GPH-MIFL Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008.

Murad said Kato’s group launched offensives in protest of the government’s not signing the MOA-AD. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on August 4, barring the government peace panel chair from signing the then already initialed MOA-AD.

“All of us want peace”

“They (Kato) have accepted the process even before, kaya lang nakikita nila, ‘parang wala namang patutunguhan ang peace process,’ na ‘niloloko lang kayo ng gobyerno.’ Those are their statements. That shows that even if they are not joining the peace process, they see that if there is a solution to the problem, a real solution, then ultimately they will also join us,” Murad said. 

Kato in the same April 2011 interview narrated that when representatives of the MILF Central Committee visited him, he told them to just continue the peace negotiations, that if something positive comes out of it, then he will respect it. “Lahat tayo gusto ng kapayaapaan” (All of us want peace), he said.

Kato also said he was aware of how critics of the peace process were asking if an agreement is reached with the MILF, will this mean another peace negotiation with the BIFF?

Kato replied: “Hindi kami nangangailangan ng negotiation. Kami kailangan namin ang resulta. Kahit na hindi kami magnegotiate, pero kung makita namin na yun ang hinahangad natin, okay automatic, we will agree. Sang-ayon na kami.” (We do not need negotiations. What we need are results. Even if we do not negotiate ourselves, if we see that what was negotiated is also what we aspire for, okay automatic we will agree. We will agree).

Kato suffered a stroke late that year and has not been seen or heard from since. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)