Sign final peace pact to thwart BIFF threat, says ARMM biz group

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/08 August) —The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Business Council (ABC) wants the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to immediately sign a final peace agreement as a means to neutralize the threat posed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, an official said on Wednesday.

Datu Haron U. Bandila, ABC chairman, said the offensives launched by the BIFF starting Sunday night have been affecting the business community.

“We want a final peace agreement that would also address the problems posed by this group. The business sector in the ARMM is worried by this turn of [hostile] events,” he said on the phone.

Skirmishes between the military and the BIFF continued until Wednesday in Maguindanao province, leaving thousands of families displaced.

Bandila said the business sector in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao, have been affected by the skirmishes.

“The trade in those towns, like simply going to the markets, has been hampered since roads have been closed,” he said, referring to the national highway that connects these municipalities.

Bandila said the business sector in the impoverished Muslim region strongly condemns the attacks launched by the BIFF, noting this happened at a time when Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadhan.

This is a time for reconciliation and forgiveness, he lamented.

By signing a final peace agreement, Bandila said the government and the MILF “can become accountable or responsible to look after lawless groups” that disrupt the peace in the area.

“We really hope that as soon as possible, the two sides can come up with a final peace agreement. With that in place, we can attract more investments to Mindanao,” he said.

It is difficult to draw investments in Mindanao if we have no final peace agreement that would give investors that feeling of security that their money would be safe in the area, he added.

The peace panels of the government and the MILF resumed formal talks in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, the 30th since both sides restarted the talks during the Arroyo administration.

Ricardo Juliano Jr., Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice president for Mindanao, lauded the government and the MILF for trying to resolve the conflict on the negotiating table than in the battlefield.

A final peace agreement in the long run would augur well for Mindanao’s business community, he said.

Pombain Karon, assistant secretary at the DSWD-ARMM, said that of this morning, an estimated 5,000 families have been displaced by the skirmishes in Maguindanao.

The ARMM regional government tried to bring in relief goods to the evacuees but were not allowed to go in and were stopped in Guindulungan town, she said.

We will wait for the clearance from the military to go ahead so we can distribute the relief goods, Ms. Karon said, adding the team, including ARMM acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman, immediately returned to Cotabato City. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)