MILF vows to pursue talks; says Bangsamoro law must conform to peace pact

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 February) — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front will continue pushing for the conclusion of the peace agreement with government even if the present Congress fails to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law or if it approves a watered-down version of the law, two MILF officials declared in a forum here on Saturday.

“The MILF does not have the intention to go back to war. Unless, unless we have to defend ourselves because the act of self-defense is a right…If there’s no situation that would push some of our brothers on the ground to themselves, we will not go back to war,” said Robert Alonto, deputy chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and senior member of the MILF peace panel.

“We are on a peace treaty relationship with the Philippine government,” Alonto, speaking during a roundtable discussion on the BBL, said.

Alonto, however, said the MILF has always maintained its “principled position” that the BBL must be consistent with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“Government ought to have held on to the same [position],” he said, adding “this is not just wishful thinking on our part. This is not mere imagination. This is a commitment of government in the peace negotiations. Otherwise, it would not have signed the FAB and CAB from which the BBL draws its rationale and legitimacy.”

“We have not abandoned this position, and we will not abandon it. It is for this reason that we stand behind Brother [MILF] Chairman Al Haj Murad who stated without equivocation that the MILF will not accept any watered down version of the BBL let alone a mangled one that is far removed from the spirit and letter of the FAB,” he said.

Congress has suspended deliberations on the BBL following the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 that left 44 police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians dead.

The policemen, all members of the Special Action Force, went to Mamasapano to get terror suspects Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was reportedly killed in the raid but Usman escaped although wounded.

Several government officials have accused the MILF of insincerity [in the peace talks] as a result of the deadly clash. The MILF however said it was not their fault that members of the SAF operated in their area without coordinating with them thus they did not know who they were fighting against until it was too late.

The MILF has an existing ceasefire agreement with the government.

Alonto said he is inclined to believe that “given the emerging facts surrounding the Mamasapano incident…the BBL was, and is, a target, apart from the so-called terrorists Marwan and Usman, of the people behind the debacle in Mamasapano.”

For his part, MILF peace panel member Prof. Abhoud Sayyed Lingga also assured the MILF will continue talking.

Responding to opinions that certain provisions in the BBL would require amending the Constitution, Lingga said that at the start of the negotiations, they (MILF) were made to understand that the Charter has enough flexibility to accommodate their position.

He said the government has the duty to comply with the terms of the agreement even if it means changing the Constitution.

“You have the agreement. Both parties have obligations under the agreement. I think we still want to see the government pass a law that would conform to the agreement,” he added.

Lawyer Ana Basman, chief legal counsel of the government peace panel, pointed out the peace process will not stop no matter what happens to the BBL.

She cited that the panels were not dissolved, and that once all the substantive agreements are complied with the parties will sign an exit agreement.

“War is not an option for both parties,” she stressed.

Basman echoed the statement of GPH peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer that “no BBL is better than a mangled BBL”.

She said a mangled BBL would be worse than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“I do not entertain that idea and I’m still very hopeful that Congress will pass a law that will implement the agreement. The bottom line here is to me, it will be the responsibility of government,” she added.

The ARMM, which President Benigno S. Aquino III called a failed experiment, will be replaced by the Bangsamoro once the law is approved and ratified in a plebiscite within the areas proposed for inclusion.

In August 2008, the government and the MILF were poised to sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, a deal which would have established the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. On the eve of the signing, however, the Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring the agreement as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court decision triggered attacks by some MILF units in Lanao del Norte and parts of Cotabato province.

A rebel commander involved in the attacks, Amiril Umra Kato, later broke away from the MILF and formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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