Q and A with MILF-BTC’s Mohagher Iqbal “We have exerted everything possible and that’s what we got out of the process”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 Sept) — Mohagher Iqbal, information chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been chief negotiator of its peace panel since July 29, 2003 but had previously served as a member from January 1997 until the MILF Central Committee disbanded the panel on August 21, 2000 following the “all-out war” declared by then President Joseph Estrada.

When the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member government-MILF body tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) signed the transmittal letter that would be attached to the “refined” final draft at the Mt. Mayon function room at the BSA Twin Towers in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City shortly before 5 p.m. of Sunday, September 7, Iqbal, also BTC chair, heaved a sigh of relief.

“I was so gratified that we are inching forward towards the final submission of the BBL to Congress,” he said the next morning.

For Iqbal, however, the “most emotionally-filled” moment as chief negotiator was “during the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” on October 15, 2012 because “I considered it as the real breakthrough in the (then) 15-year
negotiation with the government.”

Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and BTC. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and BTC. checks his notes for details on certain provisions.  MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Negotiating the FAB was also the most difficult period in his now 11-year stint as chief negotiator, he said.

After the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, Iqbal steered the BTC into finishing the draft BBL that was submitted to the Office of the President on April 22, and the problems that followed after they received the Malacanang reviewed draft with its comments and proposed revisions on June 21.

Iqbal discussed the challenges in the peace process in an interview with MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas on September 8 at the BSA Twin Towers in Ortigas.

Excerpts:

Q. When (Executive Secretary Paquito) Ochoa took over noon of August 10, was it really better?
A. Yes. In all sense…Isipin mo as of August 24, there were still 53 unsettled issues. Fifty-one were settled in 14 hours, in two days of seven hour-meetings. In fairness to GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, paulit ulit naman nyang sinabi na ‘kayo na lang mag-usap’ (with the Office of the President).

Q. Are you happy with the final draft? Can you live with it? What makes you sad about it?
A. I was asked by Alistair MacDonald (former EU Ambassador, now head of the Third Party Monitorting Team of the GPH-MILF peace process), ‘Are you happy?’ But he was very specific on the issue of the block grant, special development fund, and normalizaiton funds so I told him very bluntly, ‘I am happy.’

Q. You are happy?
A. I told him ‘I am happy.’ Then he had a follow up question. ‘Why?’ Bakit? Sabi ko ginawa ko na lahat ang makaya ko. Lahat ng oras ko ginugol ko na rito. Not just me but the team. Pangalawa, I know my position and I have to understand the position of the other side and then in a negotiation you can only agree. Pag maiintindihan mo yung kalagayan nila, yung where they are coming from, so dahil doon, ginawa na namin ang lahat. We understand the position of the other side; they also understand our position. Ito ang nangyari. I am happy kasi ginawa ko na lahat, ano pa ang gagawin ko? In the absence of what is excellent, what is available is always the best. Alam natin na compromise yan eh.

Q. What makes you sad about this compromise?
A. I am not sad.

Q. You are not sad?
A. I’m not. I am not sad. Because essentially in a negotiation you cannot get all that you want. Neither the other side can get all that
they want. That’s negotiation.

Q. Can you, can you live with it?
A. I can live with it.

Q. Even if the waves of criticism and comments will come after the submission?
A. Yes. Because that’s the nature of peope. Indiviudal differences. Even the best boxers in the world, when they are on the ring, some people can still criticize. But if you put
them on the ring and they will box it out with the other side, then they will know the difference of seeing, criticizing and doing things

Q. You have been negotiating on behalf of the Bangsamoro people and the only other negotiator before you that signed a peace agreement was Nur Misuari. In a sense, your final product will be measured against the final product of 1996 (Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front).
A. I will not judge that. It’s the people who will judge. And history will judge.

Q. That’s a series of compromises, right? Is there a provision you think should really have been there but is not there?
A. I think I have to be very consistent with what I have said. We tried, I tried and that’s all that we can get. So I do not regret putting something that is not there because we tried it and we did not manage to have it.

Q. You ended your May 23 speech in a forum on the Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro with an appeal to‘please give us a chance to prove that in the Bangsamoro, the IPs have a bright future.’ Is this draft BBL offering the IPs a bright future?
A. Actually, the provisions on the IPs were hardly touched by the Office of the President’s review. The President personally made a suggestion and he was very polite. The BBL states ‘may create an office or ministery for IPs.’ The President suggested to change ‘may’ to ‘shall.’ We agreed.

Q. I understand this provision on the creation of an IP office was removed in that first review by the Office of the President?
A. It was removed but we put it back.

Q. You’ve signed the CAB, now the BBL is to be transmitted to Congress and
A. There are two most difficult moments in a revolutionary struggle: when you start because no one will join you, very few people will join; and then at the end of the struggle because everybody wants to join, you cannot distinguish who are foes and who are friends.

Q. That happened to the MNLF.
A. Hopefully ang MILF hindi mag-away.

Q. Having learned lessons from the two peace agreements – 1976 and 1996 how will you avoid the problems of 1976 and 1996?
A. We were part of the 1976 agreement (Note: the MILF was set up in the late 1970s after the collapse of the 1976 agreement). It is in the concluding point in a negotiation, once you are about to sign the agreement when you should watch out. In 1976, it was the rider on the implementation of the Constitutional processes, hindi binantayan ng MNLF. We were part of that (MNLF) but it was Nur Misuari who was the leading personality and they were in Tripoli and then Salamat (then MNLF vice chair) was

Q. Salamat was outnumbered, that’s what he said.
A. Sa Jakarta (Note: Jakarta was venue of the 1992-1996 peace negotiations between government and the MNLF), ganoon din. Nagmamadali sila.

Q. Hindi ba kayo nagmamadali?
A. Nagmamadali tayo pero cautious tayo.

Q. May oras pa ba? September 10 it will be submitted to Congress. Congress goes on recess on September 27, will return October 19 then take a break on the 31st etc..
A. We want the whole forest but each tree is important. According to the process, the BTC has to finish then submit to the Office of the President. There, the draft will be certified as urgent then submitted to Congress. Sa kanila na ang bola.

Q. Congress will call on you as chair of the BTC?
A. I think so. We are willing to go. Pero hindi kami ang main proponent diyan eh, ang Office of the President. BTC is created by Executive Order.

Q. Are you ready for the difficulties that lie ahead as far as Congress is concerned?
A. That’s my training as a revolutionary. Kung mahirap, mag-struggle tayo. Thats our training.

Q. There’s very limited time, less than 30 working days in Congress to the end of the year. We also know that the plebiscite will be conducted within four months from passage of the law. May oras pa ba ang BTA? Less than one year? If the BBL is passed but the MILF says it’s ‘not faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB,’ and then you may still have to contend with the Supreme Court…
A. I do not want to answer a hypothetical question. I am positive looking. I trust and I hope that the collective wisdom of Congress will pass the BBL. That’s my hope and we will try to work towards that kind of situation… the BTC can contribute in whatever way para kahit anong mangyari, good legislation ang mangyari, di ba?

Q. But if lessons are to be learned from the 1996 agreement and what happened to the final text of RA 9054
A. Expected naman talaga na meron diyang lilinisin eh. You cannot expect Congress not to do that. Lilinisin yan (draft BBL) but if it is for improving the essence.. reasonable naman tayo. Pero pag watered down, talagang rejection na yan.

Q. So what happens if you reject? MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said hindi pipirmahan ang exit agreement?
A. Hindi pipirmahan ang exit agreement. So mae-extend ang process. Hindi ko alam kung anong mangyari.

Q. In the meantime, remember there is an election in the ARMM by 2016 if it is not abolished. And it will be abolished only if the BBL is ratified and the BTA takes over. Yung Supreme Court, in case a case is filed, that might shorten even more the duration of the BTA. Are you going to accept a transition that is less than a year?
A: Desisyunan ng leadership yan. If you are asking my personal point of view, mukhang mahirap kasi failure ang resulta. Why would you accept something na you know the result is a failure?

Q. If I base it on 1996, every administration tries to catch up towards the end of its term to “solve” the Bangsamoro Question. Ramos. Erap. Arroyo. It’s the same now. But the reality is, the ARMM is there, it will not be abolished unless the BTA takes over and you have very limited time for BTA so with less than a year left, how can you prove anything?
A. Yun na nga. We cannot prove anything except failure. Pero marami pang proseso in between eh.

Q. The peace panels are still there. Can the panels still negotiate for an extended transition?
A. Theoretically pwede pa rin yon pero I do not know how the government..

Q. Hindi niyo ba napag usapan yan?
A. Kasi nga pag ang sitwasyon nasa malayo pa, hindi pa namin pinag-uusapan

Q. Malapit na yan. You cannot avoid that.
A. Oo nga. We will cross the bridge when we are there na. Kasi I do not want to complicate. First things first. Pag iisipin mo kasi yan, magiging jittery ka dyan. Hindi mo alam kung anong gagawin mo di ba? Ma-confuse ka pa kasi as far as the MILF is concerned, siguro hindi ko naman sinasabi na wala sa iba, pero sa amin, ang konsepto namin is always the concept of struggle. Merong isang bagay, mag-struggle kami

Q. Never ending struggle.
A. Never ending struggle.

Q. Kung hindi mapasa this year, struggle na pud?
A. Struggle. Diyan pumapasok ang sinasabi ni Salamat. Sa iba, the main form of struggle is the armed struggle and everything is in support of that armed struggle. Ang sa MILF, ang konsepto, pag abnormal ang situation, jihad, pero jihad na more on a political concept, kasama diyan ang armas pero not just armas kasama dyan. So pag hindi naayos ito, patuloy pa rin ang struggle. Kung anong pwedeng gamitin, depende yan sa situation pero sa implementation side, ang decommissioning naka-anchor yan sa mga political milestones. Halimbawa, pag naisubmit na ito BBL sa Kongreso, MILF will undertake symbolic decommissioning.

Q. Ito yung 75 firearms under the Annex on Normalization?
A. Oo. Symbolic. Then pag naipasa na ng Kongreso, 30% decommissioning (of the total of MILF-owned firearms as verified and validated by the Independent Decommissioning Body) then pag na operationalize ang police force, 35% decommissioning, then when all are implemented, two months before before the signing of the full implementation of the agreement, the last 35%. So naka-anchor yan dyan.

Q. After submission of the draft to Congress, when you are you going to do the symbolic decommissioning?
A. Pag-usapan namin. Pupunta kami sa Kuala Lumpur this September.

Q. Ilan nga ang total na i-decommission?
A. Symbolic 75. (States total number as cited by government but explains the final figure is still subject to verification and validation by the Independent Decommissioning Body). Aside from that kasi sa gyera sumasama mga sibilyan sa amin so kung titingnan mo, mas maraming sibilyan kasi People’s War eh.

Q. Hindi ma-decommission ang sibilyan
A. Kasama doon sa normalization i-register ang firearms. Now yung ayaw magpa-decommission, ayaw magpa-register, that’s a peace and order problem, trabaho ng Joint Peace and Security Teams. If the Basic Law is not passed on time by Congress, what will happened to the decommissioning?

Q.The last 35% is two months before the signing of the exit agreement, right?
A.Yes… Kaya nga itong negotiation ng MILF is designed to succeed. Palagay nating magkaroon ng gyera, kung sinong may kasalanan, siya ang masisi di ba?

Q. Designed to succeed because of the lessons learned?
A. We learned so many hard lessons from the experiences of the past.

Q.That’s why the exit agreement, Joint Peace Security Teams, Third Party Monitoring Team, etc.?
A. Or pag hindi mag succeed, patuloy ang struggle, at sinong may kasalanan, siyang sisihin. Shaming and blaming.

Q. Baka pareho na naman iyan sa 1996 agreement na several years later, the same complaint, that it was not implemented?
A. In terms of engagement, in 2000, government did not comply, it declared an all-out war…massive ang displacement and (government forces) occupied half portion of Camp Abubakar. Towards the end of Estrada’s term, gusto niya bumalik sa negotiation, ayaw ng MILF. Ang gusto ng MILF ma-elevate ang pag-uusap, merong third party facilitation or OIC (Organization of the Islamic Cooperation) mismo and outside the Philippines na. Nang mapalitan si Estrada, diplomatic stage na. Malaysia as the facilitator. February 11, 2003 inatake ang MILF under the preetext of runing after kidnap for ransom groups pero ang inatake si Salamat kaya nagkaroon ng gyera and then after that, sa term pa rin ni Arroyo mag-usap ulit, sabi ng MILF, ‘kahit na may ceasefire inatake niyo kami,’ so pumasok ang International Monitoring Team in 2004. Then MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain), initialled na pero hindi sila (gov’t) pumirma in 2008, nagkaroon ng gyera. Hindi kayo tumutupad sa agreement, so there has to be an international guarantee, so dyan pumasok ang International Contact Group. So ngayon pag hindi pa tumupad ang gobyerno mas maging mataas na ang engagement.

Q. Kung diplomatic stage tawag nyo noon, ano na siya ngayon?
A. Umabot na tayo sa United Nations.

Q. Okay, you’re in this stage of your struggle. But you are all aging. You, Murad, Jaafar, etc.. How deep is your bench of second liners?
A. The struggle is something different from other kinds of human endeavors because you cannot learn the the art of being Mujahideen or revolutionary unless you are there. Kaya nga sabi ko there are two very difficult periods in the struggle: how to begin and how to end. Ang aming struggle, comprehensive, isang component ang armas. When we meet other revolutionaries outside the Philippines, we tell them hindi namin kalaban ang gobyerno at sundalo, ang kalaban namin ay oppression. Kahit sinong mag-oppress, kalaban kaya wala kaming tinatagong tinding sama ng loob sa sundalo kasi hindi sila ang kalaban namin.

Q. Sa palagay mo yang draft BBL na yan, kung nakakabasa pa si Kato ng BIFF (Note: Kato, a former MILF commander who broke away to set up the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, suffered a stroke in November 2011 and has not been heard from since) katanggap-tanggap yan?
A. After all those efforts na magkaroon pa ng pagkaisa, sending the best of his teachers and classmates and leaders of the MILF and he rejected, sabi namin go on your way, we’ll go on our way. In the end, tingnan natin.

Q. In my interview with Kato in April 2011, he said it’s up to you to negotiate but they will not get in the way of peace
A. ..Sa Pilipinas nga, may NPA, may MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayyaf, etc. Yun ang sagot ko doon sa tanong. Dito sa Pilipinas, may mga rebelde, eh doon pa kaya sa Bangsamoro Government? But hopefully with a genuine heart to address the issue…

Q. Pero hindi mo ako sinagot re how deep is your bench in terms of second liners.
A. Leaders are born out of the struggle, they are not made.

Q. I ask you the same question I asked Nur, Salamat Hashim, Murad. How would you want history to judge you? You in particular, you still have very young children, how would you want your children to remember you when you’re long gone?
A. I would like history to judge me on the positive and the negative side. I do not believe in judging people by merely mentioning the positive side.

Q. Your very young children? How would you want them to remember you?
A. As they are watching me

Q. Who will chair the BTA?
A. I don’t know.

Q. The Central Committee will decide? Have you made plans about this?
A. A consultation was called by Chairman Murad on who will be named to the BTA. The Bangsamoro Government is by election but BTA is by appointment. There was a huge consultation, involving political and military components of the MILF as well as mass leaders and the consensus was for Murad to lead the BTA.

Q. He told me the other week that the Central Committee has yet to decide. My question to him was: “Is the BTA minister going to be Al Haj Murad Ebrahim?” He said it depends on the Central Committee.
A. Yes. That’s why there was consultation and the overwhelming response was to push him as BTA chair. But the Central Committee will finally decide kung siya na ba o meron pang iba. Hindi natin alam.

Q. What will be your role in the BTA?
A. Hindi ko alam. Ang importante sa akin natapos ko ang trabaho ko as negotiator. As chief negotiatier na-deliver na ng team namin ang agreements, ang BBL.

Q. You still have many deliverables until the exit agreement, right?
A. Dumadami eh. Ang importante diyan, walang agawan sa billing. Uulitin ko, mahirap sa struggle how to begin and how to end.

Q. But the ending you are referring to is just the end of one phase, right? Bobby Alonto said yesterday the struggle does not end with the submission of the draft BBL to Congress.
A. Yes. The end of one phase. Continuing struggle yan. We will never give up RSD (right to self-determination).

Q. If Moro people read the final draft BBL, are they not going to say it’s a document of a sell-out?
A. It depends on who is reading the document.

Q. Ikaw?
A. I will never be part of a document that is a sell-out. I believe that the BBL that we drafted is the best as far as a real autonomy is concerned. The only thing that would better this one is when we are drafting a Constitution for an independent state which is not in our mind.

Q. Compare the original 97-page draft and the draft that will be submitted to Congress, malaki ba ang difference?
A. Malaki ang na improve.

Q. In terms of substance? Styling?
A. Substance. Especially in Transportation and Communication then Bangsamoro Electoral Office and then Shari’ah. Na-enhance.

Q.The Bangsamoro Electoral Office will be under Comelec, right? How different is it from a regional Comelec office?
A. It’s part of Comelec. May mga special powers.

Q. I noticed the emphasis of “Constitution” in the transittal letter.
A. To immediatley give the impression that this does not violate the Constitution. Kaisa naman ang gobyerno at saka MILF na kailangan hindi labag sa Constitution. Ang issue lang diyan flexibility and rigidity of the Constitution. Yung outside of the Constitution, yun yung sa proposal to amend the Constitution (which is not in the draft BBL).

Q. Among the total funds that will be given to the Bangsamoro, there’s a P2-B a year for five years for Special Development Fund, you said. But that’s the same amount given to the ARMM in 1989. It’s now 2014 and it’s the same amount? Overall, are you happy with the amount that you are getting for the Bangsamoro?
A. Yes. We tried everything and that’s the only amount that we can get. And secondly the more important part of it, we have that policy of self-reliance. We have to stand on our own. Of course we need the government’s help because we are still part of the Philippines. Also, the bulk of our wealth had been taken away from us and our place is devastated.

Q. Pero magkasya ba yun?
A. Magkasya? .. Presidente na ang kausap eh. Anong gagawin mo? Pipilit ka pa ba eh Presidente na ang kausap mo? Magiging unreasonable ka na.

Q. Do you feel you could have gotten more?
A. I tried everything.

Q. Are you happy with the final text of the power-and-wealth-sharing in the BBL?
A. I’m happy because we have exerted everything possible and that’s what we got out of the process. Otherwise, we will end up with nothing. I will give you an example kasi minsan eh pragmatism… halimbawa yung Oslo Agreement, maganda ang package pero hindi tinanggap ng PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) so anong nangyari? Lalong napasama. Pangalawa, sa panahon ni Misuari, panahon ni Cory (President Corazon Aquino, the incumbent President’s mother), gusto nila isarado ang 10 provinces kasi ano yun, revolutionary government pa so kahit anong gusto ni Corazon Aquino, mangyayari. Inayawan ng MNLF. Gusto nila 23 provinces. Anong nakuha nila? Tinanggap nila ang apat na probinsya ng ARMM so from these, lessons learned.

Q. Sana tinanggap na lang nila ang sampu?
A. Sana tinanggap na nila. Against the advice of many people, ayaw nila. Kami (kung) gusto pa naming humirit sa Presidente, magiging unreasonable na kami.

Q. Salamat Hashim in the negotiations for the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, said Moro-dominated lang but he lost to Nur who had the majority then. A week after the signing of the FAB, Nur said in Davao City that what you in the MILF got is ‘only five tiny provinces not even the size of the Cotabato Empire of yore.’
A: Sa proseso kasi yan. Sa (MNLF), from top to bottom. Sa amin from bottom up. Thirteen provinces, nine cities (Note: original area of autonomy under the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 wiht the MNLF; now equivalent to 15 provinces, 15 cities out of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities). Palagay natin makuha mo 13 provinces, kaninong autonomy yan? Christian autonomy di ba? Ang MILF, bottom up. Five provinces, meron pang pagkakataon ma-increase yan, depende sa

Q. Depende sa performance ng Bangsamoro government?
A. Yes. At demography. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Comments

comments