Q and A. MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The Bangsamoro should be ahead of Federalism”

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was studying Engineering at the Notre Dame  University in Cotabato City when martial law was declared by President  Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

Like many of his contemporaries, Murad quit shcool and joined the  Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), later joining fellow  Maguindanaon Salamat Hashim when the latter broke out from the MNLF  to form the “New MNLF” in the late 1970s.

The new group was later renamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Murad was Vice Chair for Military Affairs when then President Joseph  Estrada waged an “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000, in the midst of  peace talks.

When Estrada was ousted in January 2001 and Vice President Gloria  Macapagal-Arroyo took over as President, she waged an “all out peace”  and resumed peace talks with the MILF with Malaysia as third party  facilitator. Murad was MILF peace panel chair until he assumed the role of  MILF chair after Salamat’s death in July 2003.

Salamat had moved to Lanao del Sur shortly after the Arroyo  administration waged war against the MILF in Buliok, Maguindanao in  February 2003, again in the midst of peace talks.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Murad steered the MILF  into the peace table again but another war broke  out in 2008 following the aborted signing of the already initialed GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in August 2008.

Finally, a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was signed on October 15, 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro  (CAB) on March 27, 2014.  

Congress, however adjourned in early 2016 without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would have paved the way for the  establishment of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that  would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  

From Aquino the mother’s administration, to Ramos, to Estrada, to Arroyo,  to Aquino the son, and now Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the country’s first  Mindanawon President with Moro blood,  the President who vowed he would address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro  people, the MILF looks forward to finally realizing its right to self-determination through the Bangsamoro. 

MindaNews interviewed Murad in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan  Kudarat, Maguindanao, on December 14.


Q. People are quite confused even those groups that have been monitoring the Bangsamoro peace process because initially the roadmap says the BTC would be expanded and you agreed on that here with Secretary Dureza, so that the MNLF and all the other groups would be included there from 15 to 21.  What happened now is there is another implementing panel for Nur Misuari but you have under your BTC the MNLF under Sema and Secretary Dureza said the convergence will be done by Congress and people are saying that it’s going to be a disaster.
A. Actually, honestly also, we are not very clear on how OPAPP would handle two implementing panels because when OPAPP presented to us the roadmap, it was very clear that there is only one implementing panel because what we are trying to implement is the CAB now although there was an agreement in principle that there will be convergence of the agreements and also … inclusivity of the stakeholders so we accepted these in principle … but we understand that this will be done under the BTC because the BTC will be drafting the new basic law and we hope to… enhance the basic law in order to accommodate other interests and also the unimplemented agreements of the Bangsamoro with the Philippine government. So that is where we see that the convergence is — within the BTC because the implementing panel is not really tasked to craft a law it is only the BTC and that is why we agreed to expand also and to include the MNLF… initially our understanding was Nur Misuari was sending his representative, even his son’s name was mentioned as one of his representatives but after a while we were also informed that Nur will no longer, firstly, Nur doesn’t want other MNLF factions to be represented. That was our information, although unofficial, but we are hearing from other people that Nur doesn’t want other MNLF to be represented. So then after I attended a meeting of Jess Dureza with the group of  Sema, I think they came up with the agreement that they will be represented in the BTC  so they were given a slot … When we were informed also that Nur Misuari doesn’t want anymore to participate in the BTC, in fact he made his pronouncement he will not join the BTC, so now we are not really clear on how they will manage because for us the convergence has to be done in the BTC. It is not in the implementing panels. The implementing panel for now is mainly focused more on normalization process the other track the political track is still.

Q. Did you bring this up with the President?
A. I asked him how … it was not also very clear how this will be but he said, ‘anyway we can handle this’

Q.  But he did say also repeatedly that he will push for the BBL minus the provisions that will be questioned on the basis of constitutionality.
A. Actually for him really… I did not hear he was .. mentioning .. about unconstitutional, he just mainly repeated his commitment that he will just push for the passage of the BBL so it’s just a repetition of his commitment, a reiteration of his commitment

Q. Before federalism?
A. Yeah. Before federalism and in fact he was saying he hopes to have the process within  2017.

Q. But in his recent public pronouncements he has not been talking about BBL. In the ARMM (event), he did not mention BBL, even during  the signing of the EO on the Bangsamoro Transition Commission he did not also say “I will certify this bill as urgent as soon as it reaches Congress.’ He has been silent actually on the BBL but has been very vocal about federalism so that’s why I was surprised when you said that he again promised you that BBL will be passed ahead
A. Yeah that was even his opening statement with us. He said, ‘As I said to you, committed to you, we are going to push forward the passage of the BBL’ although later on he discussed also that he was trying to emphasize that federalism is the real solution to the problem.

Q. Is it?
A. That is his pronouncement.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says the MILF supports federalism but “there are issues which are peculiar to the Bangsamoro government so we also reiterate our belief that the agreement is still the best solution to the Bangsamoro problem.” He said Bangsamoro and Federalism can strengthen each other. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Q. But do you believe that federalism is the solution to the Bangsamoro Question?
A. I also emphasized to him that as far as we are concerned.. we are supportive of the movement for federalism spearheaded by his administration but then we know that there are issues which are peculiar to the Bangsamoro government so we also reiterate our belief that the agreement is still the best solution to the Bangsamoro problem although the two can be strengthening each other.

Q.  Kasi pareho po ng trajectory ang.. the President wants the plebiscite on federalism in May 2019 but May 2019 is also supposed to be the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro.
A. In the explanation.. BTA will be in 2019. That is after the ratification of the law. Then the BTA will be – because the ARMM administration will be ending in 2019. The BTA will take over and then the explanation to us, the debriefing to us about the roadmap was that the regular election of both federalism and regular Bangsamoro will take place in 2022.

Q. So you mean there will a three-year transition for the Bangsamoro?
A. That is ..based on the explanation of the OPAPP.

Q. When was this explanation po? Doon din sa Dec. 2 meeting with the President or ibang
A. I think it was here.

Q. Here? When Dureza visited?
A. Yeah. Because they (brought) up the roadmap. 2019. We cannot also elect the regular government .. unless the ARMM is no longer there…

Q. So the thrust of the Duterte administration is ipatapos talaga yung, let the term of the ARMM end in 2019?
A. Yeah. Parang ganon.

Q. The CAB says as soon as the BBL is ratified, the ARMM will be deemed abolished. Hindi na ganon?
A. Hindi na siguro ganon ang mangyayari. I think they can time it with the ratification before the ARMM..

Q. Ang mangyayri is there will be no ARMM election by May 2019?
A. I think so. That is the implication.

Q. So 2019 mag-BTA? 2019 will be the plebiscite for BBL?
A. It could be also because there will be no timeline for plebiscite as long as

Q. That could also be the plebiscite for federalism. So magkasabay sila?
A. I’m not very clear about the federalism

Q. Yun yung plano nila eh.
A. Hindi rin masyadong clear.

Q. You know of course what happened. We all know what happened to BBL under Aquino… but practically we have the same set of officials in Congress except that the Duterte administration .. has a super majority and they already said and even Alvarez said they will pass the BBL basta wala yung ‘unconstitutional’ provisions
A. That is the big challenge.

Q. That will also mean that they are going to pass a law that will be like BLBAR. Are you going to accept a law this time that will just be the same as BLBAR or even worse?
A. Honestly, we see that in the present situation, there are opportunities for we see some opportunities but we also equally see some challenges which we have to overcome… One of  the challenges we see is determining what is ‘unconstitutional.’ That’s why we even recommend it before. That we see that it was a practical way to let Supreme Court process the case filed against the CAB and the FAB.

Q. Yeah but the Supreme Court says
A. They .. were saying that they cannot act on it but if you remember the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain), it was the Supreme Court also that declared unconstitutional this MOA-AD. MOA-AD is not even an agreement itself. It was still to be signed. Now they come up with that argument that they cannot decide on the CAB and the FAB because there is no BBL yet. This will be one of the big challenges because so far.. we always stick to that in our belief that the drafted agreed version of the BBL and the translation of the CAB and FAB is really nothing unconstitutional because it (was) guarded very well during the process

Q. This is a new administration.
A. Yes. That’s why there are opportunities. We see the President as firm in his statement that he wants to end, to solve this problem of the Bangsamoro. Now on the issue of the convergence of the law in this agreement, what we see as very practical is let the OIC strengthen the Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum because the BCF together with the OIC is the most effective mechanism to converge the agreements because the OIC is a party to the agreements ..

Q. But we also know that going through the OIC takes a long time because di ba ang BCF started in 2009 pa or 2010 and it’s already 2016.
A. But for me it will be easier now because the tripartite review of the MNLF has already been terminated ..so there is already that result… when the BCF was created it was basically just the main function is not really to converge the agreement but to harmonize the two peace processes which were all ongoing at that time — the MILF is ongoing also the MNLF through the Tripartite Review is ongoing —  so we don’t expect at all any conclusion to that because it’s basically harmonizing the process but this time it will be for the convergence of the agreement then it can come up with convergence point agreed between the MNLF and the MILF and then that can also be passed to the BTC.

Q. But you have an agreement with the MNLF-Sema even before this expanded BTC di ba?
A. Yeah. We have in fact agreed to have a TWG (technical working group) for this. Also, this TWG is supposed to be starting already on how to converge the two agreements because we both see the possibility that the convergence is best addressed through the BCF.  What we are thinking we had come up with the TWG after the TWG then we can – the output of the TWG will become an initial discussion point with the BCF. That was our intention.

Q. Talking about prospects, do you actually see the possibility of really addressing the Bangsamoro Question under the Duterte administration given the complexity of the situation among the Bangsamoro itself? Kasi di ba nagagalit si Nur, Nur is criticitizing you, Sema is criticizing Nur and the younger ones, the younger Moro are actually also expressing their ..
A. Dissatisfaction

Q. .. criticisms about these senior citizens in the movement who do not seem to agree with each other,  then the state on the other hand also looks at you as a divided group so this does not actually augur well for a peace process to succeed
A. Yeah. There is really a little bit concern. We really see we still need to patch up all this situation although for us since we have already finalized the roadmap with this new administration, we stick to that roadmap and we hope that this roadmap as agreed upon will really be followed and serve as a mechanism in really solving the problem. Because there is always this opening, of … converging .. these agreements but still the prospect is still not very bright

Q. Why did it take so long to name members of the BTC? It’s its been more than a month since he signed the EO.
A. I think they are.. confronted with a problem that they want a representation from the sectors and I think also when they mentioned about convergence or inclusivity and having representation from all these sectors we also see the challenges that (are) very, very difficult because even finding who will represent from the sultanate is very, very challenging because (there are) so many claimants of this Sultanate and it’s not easy…. I think they find it very difficult to pick representations which are really representation of the — so the names we .. saw from – we will share unofficially we see that there is no more representation of the sectors it’s more on handpicking personalities whom they feel that can contribute to the drafting of the law

Q. What about you? Have you named the 11 members nominated by the MILF to the BTC?
A. We have already finalized.

Q. Who is going to be head of the BTC?
A. We are still deciding ..

Q. Six months ago yan din sagot mo.
A. Actually we have all the names already but just designating who will be the chair.

Q. Are you going to chair it?
A. I think no more. I prefer not to be part of the BTC.

Q. Ano daw ang timetable ng BTC? Kailan daw mag-umpisa kasi hindi pa pinangalanan di ba? Will the president be appointing before the end of the year or next year?
A. Hopefully. I don’t know if it can be done this year. Most likely January next year.

Q. What about itong Moro assembly po, because one of the suggestions was the Moro Assembly will actually do the convergence?
A. Actually … the term in the EO is Bangsamoro Consultative Assembly so it will basically be consultative. Meaning,  the BTC commissioners can conduct consultations among the Bangsamoro.

Q. But Nur Misuari will not also agree to this, right, because he did not want to be part of the BTC.
A. Yes.

Q. So his faction will not want to be part of this consultative assembly also? Kung ako  yung Kongreso and Congress is predominantly anti-Bangsamoro, you know that, di ba..
A. Oo.

Q…. And I will say ‘Kasamok ninyo. Ang gulo-gulo ninyo. Hindi nga kayo makapag-agree among yourselves so mag federalism na lang tayo’ di ba? I mean I think that is what people in Congress are thinking about you because among yourselves, you cannot decide, you’re all bickering against each other eh di mag-federalism na lang tayo .. and of course the President also has repeatedly said na nothing short of federalism will bring peace to Mindanao
A. But then as we see it also, the road to federalism will be a long road because we don’t see that it will be a simple as what is being pictured. . because it will involve the total overhaul of the Constitution so that will not be an easy task… While for us we support federalsim, but we don’t see that immediately we can have federalism. That’s why we feel that the Bangsamoro, anyway maybe the MILF and Brother Nur will not agree with Bangsamoro, then we go on with it and they can work on their own with the federal formation.

Q. So kayo ang mauuna?
A. The Bangsamoro should be ahead of federalism.

Q. MNLF-Nur is actually pushing for a new autonomy law supposedly to enhance RA 9054, the law governing the ARMM
A. Parang ganon, going back to the last stage.

Q.  On the other hand the BBL will work for an autonomous entity that will replace, abolish the ARMM. So doon pa lang hindi na kayo magkatugma.
A. I think it’s all up to the President how he can find the two tracks because on our part, as I have said, we are sticking to the roadmap presented to us.

Q. Did you not ask Secretary Dureza why the change in the roadmap?
A. Actually they have not spoken about changing the roadmap

Q. Well, it has changed because there is another implementing panel under Nur di ba?
A. Oo. But as far as

Q. The roadmap with you?
A. There is no change. You know I remember.. the first time we met with the President he was asking about the convergence and then I told him, actually we are already working and we have even formed a committee. We have started some engagement with different MNLF factions and I told him we even reached Brother Nur but his response was not very encouraging. So his comment is, he said, ‘I will take care of Brother Nur. Anyway Brother Nur is already amenable to federalism. In my mind now, what I see is maybe the President is thinking that Brother Nur can be with the movement for federalism. That is only reading in between (the lines). We do not have a clear

Q. Because he might also be misreading it?
A. Yes.

Q. Anong nangyari doon sa inyong anti-illegal drugs joint campaign with government?
A. Itong campaign ng gobyerno… regular coordination meeting on this issue on drugs.

Q. Nagpatuloy ang raids? Magkasabay sa raid or tini-turn over lang ninyo
A. Tini turn over lang..

Q. May mga nag-surrender pa rin sa inyo?
A. Lately wala nang bago kasi nakikita namin kung if this continues, baka magkaroon ng complication sa side ng government agencies.

Q. So ano iyan bali you send the information to the government?
A. No. Just like what is happening in the AHJAG they send us information, we try to validate and then come back to them also and then when they operate, they ask the coordination and even if we can join in the operation like what happened in Midsayap last time.

Q. Balik sa BBL, whether we like it or not, dadaan siya sa Kongreso based on experience hindi siya pumasa.. and then now the President has repeatedly said unahin ang BBL pero minus the ‘unconstitutional’ provisions and the Supreme Court says ‘we cannot act on it dahil wala pa ang BBL.’ Does not sound promising enough for the Bangsamoro peace process?
A. Unang una, we are holding on to the strong commitment of the President. His political capital is still high very high at this moment so that’s why we hope that this new law can be passed to Congress as early as possible while the President still has political capital. It is still very high and that is where we are taking our hope na it could be passed. Now on the issue of constitutionality, we will continue to struggle that peace provisions of the BBL are actually constitutional so that is really our struggle now, the BTC.

Q. You will continue to push for that
A. Yes. We will continue to push for that but of course hoping for the enhancement of these

Q. In the meantime, nothing is moving on the ground in terms of normalization. Naka ilang meeting na. I think naka three meetings na ang implementing panels and nothing is happening.
A. Under the normalization, I think it all depends on the trust fund because now although there is the fund from the MTF still it was already agreed to be utilized in the development of the six camps and the surrounding communities

Q. May pera na yan?
A. May remaining because the MTF meron pang remaining fund I think I cannot remember how much that fund. Yung MTF is ending by December.

Q. So wala na rin yun.
A. So that’s why.

Q. Is there a budget for next year?
A. for the MTF?

Q. At least for the transitional justice also. Wala din, di ba?
A. But then what we are hoping for is the normalization trust fund..

Q. Medyo may grumblings on the ground daw. Ang nangyayari in the meantime, how do you allay the fears of the people, of the communities that are considered under the MILF, given that you have not actually shown peace dividends?
A. Actually there are concerns but then as long as we can push forward that there is something to look forward to, immediately this BTC could also serve as another mechanism for advocacy for the people. We can conduct consultation advocacy so that is where we are looking at (for the BTC members to be) appointed early next year so we can start.

Q. The BTC is supposed to submit the draft BBL in July. We only have six months.
A If the working document is agreed – BBL — it would be easier than before

Q. Bakit pa sila mag da-draft?
A. Review which portion of the BBL na kailangan

Q. Itong violent extremism especially among the youth, the President repeatedly expressed his concern the ISIS is already in Mindanao, is coming to Mindanao.
A. We have established a committee on our side — different committees … and centralize to other agencies the program that will counter the seeming radicalization of the young people. We are going to the madrasah, to the NGOs trying to counter because it is real, that there is ongoing radicalization among the young people and

Q. Due to what? Internal or external?
A. Global situation. We are receiving information since this ISIS is losing ground in the Middle East there are information that they are to focus more in the Southeast region because we were told that the ISIS is trying to establish the so called wilayah. They feel this is far more easy to penetrate in these areas owing to several conflicts

Q. How can the MILF stop the extremism then, given the situation now?
A. On many fronts. We are using the ulama, we are also using other though it’s really difficult to counter effectively

Q. Hindi ba lalong napapahirap — the peace process is a non-violent way of addressing the Bangsamoro question but it does not seem to work also – kasi palpak sa MNLF, palpak din sa inyo.
A. Our concern na the delay of the process is really giving bullet to the radical enemies and rebels

Q. Anong sagot niya?
A. Sabi niya ‘we are doing our best.’ But I emphasize to him that we have no moral

Q. high ground.
A. Parang ganon. Kasi we cannot convince people when you cannot show something to them.

Q. Given the situation, matindi ang extremism and very aggressive ang mga nagkakampanya, are you not afraid, kasi you’re going 70s, 80s arlready, are you not afraid the Bangsamoro revolutionary front would be rendered irrelevant?
A. If the struggle will not succeed at this stage, it could be taken over by these  radical elements …but then now what we are trying to capitalize on is the damage and destruction of this radicalism in the Middle East. We show to people, ‘see what happened in the Middle East Muslims — Practically the entire Middle East is now wiped out so these are only the counter (arguments).

 [Peace Talk is a series of conversations on the Bangsamoro Peace Process with leaders from civil society, government and revolutionary fronts. Interviews with residents in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro are in multimedia format]