MILF’s Ghazali Jaafar passes away; his last public appeal to fellow leaders: “be the unifying forces for our people”

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 13 March) – Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), newly-appointed member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and nominated Speaker of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) passed away at 1 a.m. Wednesday in a Davao City hospital.

Jaafar, who went through a heart surgery late last year, passed away at the Metro Davao Medical and Research Center in Davao City, Prof. Raby Angkal, his chief of staff, announced at 6 a.m., through a text message using Jaafar’s mobile number.

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes the hand of Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair Ghazali Jaafar during the oath-taking of the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority inside the Heroes Hall in Malacañan Palace on 22 February 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Jaafar, Vice Chair for Political Affairs until the title was changed to “1st Vice Chair,” was the first chair of the MILF peace panel. He signed the general cessation of hostilities between government and the MILF in Cagayan de Oro City on July 18, 1997.

He chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2017 and oversaw the progress of the draft law until the Bicameral Conference Committee of Congress passed its substitute bill – RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM.

The law was passed in July 2018. Shortly thereafter, he underwent a heart surgery.

Jaafar’s last public appearance was at the oathtaking rites of the BTA in Malacanang on February 22, 2019. He arrived on a wheelchair shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte entered the Rizal Hall, insisted on standing up when he took his oath along with 71 other BTA members, but fell on his back while conversing with President Duterte.

Jaafar was not present during the turnover rites from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the BARMM on February 26 at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex. It was here where interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) named him as Speaker. But while he is recuperating, he said, a Deputy Speaker – former Lanao del Sur Rep. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong — would take his place.

In a message sent to MindaNews Wednesday morning, interim Chief Minister Ebrahim said “the entire MILF officers, members and sympathizers are very saddened for the passing away of Brother Ghazali Jaafar, the 1st Vice Chairman of the MILF and to be recommended for the Speakership of the BTA Parliament.”

Jaafar, he said, was “one of the pillars of the MILF leadership and had been with the Bangsamoro Struggle for around fifty years or more. We sincerely pray to Allah to reward his good deeds and accept his soul in His paradise.”

MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said they lost “one of the most dedicated leaders of the MILF and Bangsamoro people. My family and I express our utmost condolence and sympathy to the bereaved family of the departed leader.”

In a sit-down interview on February 18, 2017, six days before they took their oath as BTC members, MindaNews noted the aging leadership of the MILF, that some of them might no longer be around in the next five years. Jaafar replied: “There is no problem with us 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.”

Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, in this file photo taken on February 18 2017. Jaafar then said he was confident the 21-member commission would be able to submit the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers the second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. MIndaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Jaafar in the 2017 interview declined to give his age but described himself as having graduated from high school ahead of Ebrahim and Iqbal who were batchmates in high school. Ebrahim is turning 71 in May while Iqbal is 72.

On March 1 this year, when MindaNews asked him for his age, Jaafar said his birth certificate states he was born on May 6, 1954 – placing his age at 65. MindaNews clarified if he meant 1944 because he had earlier said he was older than the two. He reiterated he was older. He was likely 75.

While in high school, Jaafar told MindaNews in 2017, he 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 University), he took up AB in Political Science. “I wanted to be a lawyer pero hindi na ako umabot doon.”

Like many in Jaafar’s generation, finishing college took a back seat to the struggle for liberation of the Bangsamoro.

Jaafar said it was important that government and the MILF are on the same page on the definition of peace “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.”

Jaafar did not live to see the inaugural session of the BARMM. It was supposed to have been inaugurated March 11 but this was moved to March 21.

In his last speech delivered at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex on January 18 during the “Peace Assembly for the Ratification of Republic Act No. 11054 or the  Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Jaafar appealed to “all my fellow leaders to be the unifying forces of our people.”

“Our personal political interests should not stand in the way of the collective interests of the Bangsamoro, settler communities and indigenous peoples, the overwhelming majority of whom are pinning their hope for peace and progress through the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” he said.

“This coming Monday (January 21), we will make history again. The opportunity to set into motion our long-cherished Bangsamoro Government is now in our hands. We no longer need bullets and arms, but only a mere stroke of the pen. Let us all say Yes to the BOL, and together let us chart a new future for ourselves, our children and our posterity,” Jaafar concluded. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

READ: Q and A with BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar: There can be no peace if the Bangsamoro agenda is not addressed”