Kato: Peace pact should reflect substance of MOA-AD

CAMP OMAR, Maguindanao (MindaNews/18 August) – The leader of a breakaway Moro rebel group said he is willing to support a peace agreement with the Philippine government that would mirror the contents of the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Amiril Umra Kato, commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters that broke away from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said that while he wanted no part in the GPH-MILF peace process he would welcome a peace agreement that would ensure respect and implementation of Islamic governance.

Kato said the size of the area where Islamic governance would reign would not matter, citing that the late MILF founder, Sheik Hashim Salamat, reportedly once told him that “even just a village would be enough”.

But even if government and the MILF succeed in incorporating the contents of the MOA-AD in the agreement that they would sign, Kato said he will still buy time to observe its implementation before he may finally support it.

The Supreme Court, in 2008, declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional and ordered the government peace negotiators not to sign the already initialled accord “in its present form and substance,” but the ruling also encouraged negotiators of both camps to “renegotiate” it.

Had the High Court not botched the MOA-AD, it could have served as the framework for the negotiators to work out an agreement on the most contentious issue of ancestral domain.

Kato, in June, was reported to have expressed his support to the peace talks, but in an interview in this camp, he said that he would only support a peace agreement that would embody all provisions of the MOA-AD.

“If the MOA-AD would be realized, we would agree,” Kato said in Tagalog, adding his group would not accept autonomy as an option.

The MILF peace negotiators have already proposed a sub-state with an asymmetrical relationship with the national government. The proposal considers the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as the “core area,” plus the neighboring towns and barangays that voted for their inclusion in the ARMM. These towns and barangays were not included however in the ARMM because the majority in the provinces where they belong voted against their inclusion in the autonomous region.

The proposal MILF submitted includes a 75-25 wealth sharing scheme between the sub-state and the national government, in favor of the sub-state.

Kato meanwhile admitted that the MILF leadership has already sent four emissaries to convince him to join the Central Committee, but he said he declined the offer.

He stressed he has not left the MILF. Printed on the black uniforms of his men were the words “BIFF of the MILF”.

Before organizing the BIFF, Kato was commander of the BIAF’s 105th Base Command operating in some parts of Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces. He resigned as base commander in December last year and organized the BIFF in March.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal confirmed that indeed they already sent four religious leaders as emissaries to convince Kato to join the Central Committee where he can argue his ideas about achieving their struggle for self-rule.

Iqbal, however, declined to discuss the details of the negotiation with Kato. But he said they have already assured the government that the problem with Kato “is internal with the MILF and we are addressing it.”

Kato’s sentiments against the MILF stemmed from his objection to the Central Command’s order of a Suspension of Military Action in July 2009. The SOMA came a day after the government ordered a Suspension of Military Offensive after a new round of hostilities broke out on August 8, 2008.

Kato claimed that he was not consulted by the Central Committee before it declared an absolute SOMA, calling it “unfair” because the government’s SOMO did not stop the military action against his men and that of Kumander Bravo in Lanao del Norte.

The negotiating panels of both camps are set to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 22 with a mandate from their respective principals to fast-track the negotiation. (Romy Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)