Ghazali Jaafar will not say exaclty how old he is but describes himself as having graduated from high school ahead of Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Late 60s,” vice chair for political affairs of the MILF (now referred to as 1st vice chair) replied.
While in high school, Jaafar founded a youth group that sowed the seeds of activism among students and those out of school in Cotabato City and neighboring areas. At the Notre Dame College (now Universtiy), he took up AB in Political Science. “I wanted to be a lawyer pero hindi na ako umabot doon.”
Like many in his generation, finishing college took a back seat to the struggle for libearation of the Bangsamoro.
Jaafar, now father of ten and grandfather to 10, was the first chair of the MILF peace panel that negotiated with the Philippine government from 1996 to 1998.
In February, Jaafar was designated chair of the MILF-led 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to pave the way for the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
MindaNews interviewed Jaafar in his residence in the midst of his oil palm plantation in Barangay Pigcalagan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on February 18, six days before the BTC was formally launched on 24 February 2017.
Q. The BTC is now expanded, it’s now composed of 21, you have, according to the roadmap of the government… a deadline to submit this to Congress, before the President delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 24. Are you going to be able to meet that deadline considering the time
A. During our meeting (with) our beloved President (at the Matina Complex in Davao City (on December 2, 2016), he emphasized this … he said (when the) commissioners will be officially appointed, BTC can start its official functions immediately so that we can catch up with the next Congress in July and so that, he said, it’s necessary that the newly crafted BBL will be submitted to him later part maybe of June or early part of July ..
Q. June or July.
A. .. when this will be submitted (to) Congress .. in July, we expect (it) to deliberate on the proposed law and we are expecting that .. somewhere around .. 2018, this will be passed into law … then be submitted to the people within the Bangsamoro area for ratification through plebiscite. Now if this is done and the BBL becomes a law, we expect that by 2019 the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which will serve as a transition government of the Bangsamoro people will be organized. During this time … officials in the ARMM will be elected in 2019 but if the BBL becomes law, then the BTA will be organized. It will take place so that election for ARMM election will be definitely cancelled and instead the BTA will be appointed by President
Q. How long will the transition, the BTA be? From 2019 to when?
A. The BTA will operate from 2019 Insha Allah up to 2022 in time for the election of regional government officials. If in case the Bangsamoro people and the .. the Filipino people will accept the federal system… which is proposed now by this administration to replace the present unitary and presidential system then there will be election …
Q. People are getting confused about the situation and it’s not also clear from the side of government. You have the BTC that is going to draft the BBL. At the same time government is also moving to work on this shift to federal system. When the President who was then campaigning, went to your Camp Darapanan, you received him there on Feb 27, 2016. Klaro yung promise niya na unahin ang BBL.
A. Yes. That’s right.
Q. Pero somewhere along the way (in July) biglang pasok naman siya na unahin muna natin ang federalism, pag i-reject ng mga tao, dito naman tayo sa BBL… Ano ba dapat sa tingin ninyo?
A. Official na usapan namin, December 2, 2016 sinabi niya at diniin niya ito na mauna yung basic law, yung Bangsamoro government kaya nga gusto niyang madaliin ito eh, so pag nandyan na yung Bangsamoro Basic Law, yung ministerial government nag operate na. Pag dating noong federal system pwedeng mapasama na yung Bangsamoro ministerial government sa federal states. At pumapayag naman kami doon, yun din ang gusto namin. Ang gusto namin ay mauna yung Bangsamoro ministerial government at pag nandyan na, pagdating ng federal system, papasok na kami. Kaya lamang yung Bangsamoro yung Basic law as proposed, yun ang magiging saligang batas ng Bangsamoro ministerial government. So we’ll be among several states under the (Federal) Republic of the Philippines pero maaring merong kaibahan ..
Q. Kasi may unique attributes yung Bangsamoro government or Bangsamoro state”
A. That’s correct
Q. So it will be Bangsamoro state within the Federal Republic of the Philippines?
A. No. We will stick to the provision of the CAB– it states there that a new political system will replace the ARMM and this will be called Bangsamoro ministerial government. I think we want to retain that name, Bangsamoro Ministerial Government.
Q. But it will .. be a state of the future federal Philippines?
A. Yes it will be a state. One of the many states of the Federal Government of the Philippines.
Q. You only have March-April May-June kasi the President wants you to submit before he delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 24. Kaya ba yun?
A. Kaya. I believe it can be done. The reason is because you see, as far as I’m concerned, the BBL produced by the previous BTC is a better BBL. Maganda na yan eh, maganda na, so maybe we can reach out an agreement with the government that this previous BBL would become document working paper for the BTC. Now … if that will be the case hindi naman kami masyadong mahirapan. As a matter of fact sa tingin ko dalawa ngayon ang mission ng BTC. One is .. to craft the new BBL as proposed. Another mission which is equally important … is to get the support of the sectors of Bangsamoro people living here, the Christians, IPs, the traditional leaders and all other people because they are the stakeholders of this peace process
Q. How do you intend to do that?
A. .. we will go to them, we will dialogue with them. Tingnan natin kung ano yung nasabi nila sa amin. Maybe they will propose to us and then we’ll accept those proposals but we will study and discuss among the BTC members these proposals, whatever decision of the commissioners of the BTC. We will go back to them and explain to them our decision ..
Q. These consultations will be done while you’re drafting it or after the drafting kayo magko-consult. Will there be two sets of consultations? While drafting and after?
A. It can be simultaneously while drafting the law, we can talk to them. Because we have … workers within the BTC and within the organization of the MILF. As a matter of fact, within the office of the Vice Chairman of the MILF we have several qualified staff and experts on the respective field and … we already pinpointed some of our staff to work with the IPs. Some will work with the Christians, some will work with the traditional leaders and the other groups also
Q. Let me go back to the working documents. You were referring to the BBL drafted by the previous BTC? What draft are we talking about here, the agreed version or the original draft?
A. The draft agreed version, agreed between us and the government at that time.
Q. Hindi yung BLBAR (Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) versions.
A. Hindi. Further to that I think we have to discuss this within and among the commissioners of the BTC, which BBL but I think it will be the consensus yung original na agreed upon by both parties.
Q. The one submitted to Congress (on Sept. 10, 2014)?
A. The one that we submitted to the President and the President submitted to Congress.
Q. The agreed upon version. Of course you also know that we have practically the same composition of Congress from the previous Congress
A. Yes of course we know that.
Q, You also are aware about how the congressmen view the BBL?
A. We’re aware of that.
Q. What will make them vote for your draft now considering the resistance before?
A. That’s the one issue we want to address and I think we can address that issue both directly and indirectly and we will determine later the exact procedure or strategy or you may call it tactics how to do it…
Q. Did the President assure you that he will certify the bill as urgent?
A. I think he will do that. You know, as far as we are concerned, I think our understanding with the President is that this is a priority program of the President, of course simultaneous with the federal system
Q. There is a BBL track, federal track and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Misuari track set up by Secretary (Jesus) Dureza specifically to address the concerns of the MNLF under Misuari. Supposedly in the Bangsamoro Pece and Development Roadmap of the Duterte administration, the provisions of the peace agreements would be ‘converged’ or ‘harmonized’ to form a new proposed law before submission to Congress. Will not the separate tracks pose a problem?
A. I think that problem can well be handled by OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) especially the PAPP now is under the leadership of Secretary Jess Dureza, who is experienced in peace making because (he is) involved in the peace process in the Philippines not only under this administration but even during the … administration of GMA (Gloria Macapagl-Arroyo)….
Q. Will you be having sessions like everyday if necessary?
A. Depends on the situation. I think the previous BTC meron silang … twice a month regular session.
Q. Yes. But you only have four months,
A. We can work overtime at … if the working document is the previous BBL, we review it
Q. And address the provisions that were objected upon?
A. Yes. Yung provisions na walang objection, hindi na kailangang pagtuunan yun ng pansin.
Q. So that makes the work of the new BTC supposedly easier?
A. That’s correct.
Q. The younger Moro leaders are concerned why the elder leaders cannot seem to unite when supposedly you are fighting for the same cause?
A. I think that concern must be addressed .. to Brother Nur Misuari rather than to us because as far as the leadership of the MILF is concerned, we started talking to our brothers in the MNLF several years ago and this… resulted to a very positive agreement to the peace process because .. the MNLF under Abulkhayr Alonto and the MNLF under Muslimin Sema agreed to sign a declaration with the leadership of the MILF. And now Brother Sema’s son is with us in the BTC.
Q. There is also growing concern … about .. violent extremism and how this has been attracting the younger ones. In relation to the peace process, it has been said that among the biggest recruiters to violent extremism is the failure to implement the peace agreements — the 1976 and 1996 agreements with the MNLF and the 2012 and 2015 agreements with the MILF.
A. I don’t think there is extremism in Islam but radical in Islam, yes, and it is correct as you pointed out that one reason which motivated these young leaders to take actions on their own .. it’s because of frustration. They are frustrated because .. they are not satisfied with the way the government is handling the peace process. These negotiations have been going on for .. 40 years and there are .. agreements signed between the government and the Moro people but remained umimplemented … and so that is why first the freedom fighters (BIFF) separated from us. They said they can no longer deal with the situation and so they separated. Now they are on their own and then followed by this Maute group concentrated in Lanao. Lanao is their base and I think they are gradually trying to expand not only that, I think there is another group of Moro radicals in South Cotabato and Sarangani area. These young Muslim leaders are very hot and they are educated. Many of them are engineers. Some of them are professors and now this is also a problem for us.
Q. How will you address this problem now considering that that is going to be a big problem. It is already a problem in Lanao del Sur and some parts of Maguindanao. How will you then encourage the younger ones not to join them?
A. Right now the Central Committee of the MILF organized an ad hoc committee… And the mission of this Committee is to find now what are the reasons why these young Muslims (find) the radical groups existing now more appealing to them …. There must be reasons and after we get these .. accurate reasons why they are doing this, we will discuss this exclusively and they will formulate counter .. solutions to the problem.
Q. How long will the committee be researching? You have a timetable?
A. No timetable but you know we are working with it simultaneously with the peace process because we believe that even the solution to this problem is the implementation of the negotiated political settlement to the agenda of the Bangsamoro people
Q. So babalik at babalik tayo doon sa implementation?
A. Yes. Babalik tayo diyan eh yan ang mother solution … That’s why the MILF is asking for the strong BBL. If we have the strong BBL then this group will support the Bangsamoro government but if the government will not give us the strong BBL, I think this group will reject. They will not support the government and then I also believe that .. government should take advantage of the presence of the senior leaders… the pioneer leaders of the struggle because modesty aside, these pioneer leaders are still respected by the Bangsamoro people and the Bangsamoro people listen to them
Q. You’re all growing in age .. and some of you might not be there in the next five years
A. There is no problem with us because because when we conceptualized the.. MILF many years ago, together with our leader si Salamat Hashim, included in the conceptualization of the MILF is the development of God-fearing leaders and … trustworthy, righteous leaders and I think we have produced some, although not many. I think we produced some… so if pioneer leader is no more, there are these new leaders developed by us… ready to take position and assume the leadership of the Bangsamoro.
Q. Nakailang administration na ho tayo? Marcos Aquino Ramos Erap Arroyo Aquino. Duterte. Sa tingin nyo ba magkakaroon talaga ng realization nung Bangsamoro Dream under a Duterte administration?
A. This is our hope. Kapag hindi na-realize ang establishment ng Bangsamoro government under the term of our beloved President, baka mahirapan na kasi nakita namin sa kanya mas malaki ang pag-asa na ma-resolve itong issue under his term sapagkat hindi plastic na President, tiga Mindanao siya, meron pa siyang dugong Moro.
Q. Ganon din ang tingin ninyo kay Aquino noon except hindi siya taga Mindanao
A. Merong kulang sa kanya. Political will.
Q. Si Duterte?
A. Meron siya. Nakita namin ninyo paano niya binangga ang drugs.. at ngayon babanggain niya ang korapsyon naumpisahan na
Q. So confident kayo
A. Confident kami. Ako, I for one believe sa President na ito kasi yung buhay niya noong Mayor ganon pa rin buhay niya, yung bahay niya, yan din ang bahay niya (as) Presidente. Ang anak ko, the youngest councilor in Cotabato City … barkada niya si Baste (Dutete’s youngest son, Sebastian). Magkasangga sila simula sa student days sa Ateneo de Davao
Q. I spoke with other Moro leaders, rebels and elected, and practically the same yung sinasabi nila na optimistic sila under a Duterte administration. I think it was (MNLF chair Muslimin) Sema who said parang kung hindi pa ma-realize under the Duterte administration, mukhang wala na silang kakausapin pang ibang President.
A. Hindi naman ganon pero sabi ko nga sa iyo kanina kapag hindi na realize ito during the term of our President – President Duterte, siguro baka mag-iba na ang situation sapagkat you see magkakaroon ng dagdag na issue itong Khilafa Philippines, Maute, yung (Bangsamoro Islamic) Freedom Fighters na lalong lumaban at pag mag alburoto yan. The MILF must have to do something otherwise ma lost control ito. It will be chaos. The situation is not good.
Q. The last major war between government adn the MILF was in 2008. Tha’s nine years rest. You think this can be sustained?
A. Let us hope, let us hope. Pero the bottom line is kailangan magkatugma yung paniniwala definition namin sa peace at nang sa gobyerno kasi the way we look at it, ang definition ng gobyerno sa peace is the absence of fighting. That is not the peace that we want. There can be no peace if the Bangsamoro agenda is not addressed to the satisfaction of the greater majority of the Bangsamoro people. This can be addressed if ma-realize yung demand ng Bangsamoro people na meron silang gobyerno and government they will run for everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims alike and a democratic government and still under the Republic of the Philippines.
Q. Pero kung sabihin ng Congress sa inyo na ‘why are we going to waste our time in passing your law na … mag fe-federalism naman tayo’ kasi yan din posibleng sasabihin ng ibang congressmen?
A. If you remember during the time of President Aquino, (he said) ARMM is a failed experiment but you see ARMM was destined to fail because the first day ARMM (was) organized as government experiment, government for Muslim, the greater majority of the Muslims rejected it especially the fronts. We are not acdepting this as Bangsamoro agenda
Q. You were the first chairman of the peace panel of the MILF, kayo nagpirma ng cessation of hostilities agreement, kayo ang kinausap ni (President Fidel Ramos’ Executive Secretary) Ruben Torres, ikaw nag-umpisa, sa iyo din ba ang katapusan?
A. I think so. Let’s pray to Allah, to God.
[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]