Iqbal: official statement on non-passage of BBL “not late but best time to issue it”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 February) – It took the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 15 days after Congress adjourned without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to issue an “official statement” on the non-passage of the law that would have paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews it was “not late” but “just the best time to issue it.”

In a two-page, nine paragraph statement issued February 18 and signed by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF called on the Bangsamoro and other peace-loving people to uphold the peace process and “join hands, consolidate and vigorously rally behind the cause to pursue with persistence” the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) “be it in the present government or the upcoming administration.”

It expressed its “deep disappointment and grave dismay” over the non-passage of the BBL” but said it will “continue to uphold the peace process and ensure that all the gains will be preserved.”

“Towards this end, MILF will endeavor to sustain the relevant infrastructure of the peace process and our military forces will, at all times, maintain its defensive posture. It will remain as a revolutionary organization until it officially joins the government in accordance with the agreed road map in the implementation process of the CAB,” the statement read
Asked why it took the MILF 15 days to issue the statement, Iqbal, also chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, told MindaNews in an e-mail Thursday night: “the official statement has to be made after the KL (Kuala Lumpur) meeting. It is not late; it is just the best time to issue it.”

“There (are) so much hassles along the way; that is the difference between theory and practice,” Iqbal said.

In his February 10 speech in Kuala Lumpur, Iqbal said that in the next administration (which will start noon of June 30, 2016), “the most immediate step is either the BBL will be refiled in Congress or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) will be crafted by the BTC, which will most likely have new faces as members. This is the only way forward.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, however, told MindaNews on January 26 that in the next administration, there will be no re-drafting of the BBL because “it’s already an agreed version” and that this will be the version that will be re-filed in the next Congress.

This is the version submitted by the BTC to the Office of the President (OP), vetted by the agencies concerned and finalized with the OP and the principals – President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chair Murad – before it was submitted to Congress in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014

Murad said if the next Congress changes parts of the draft BBL, they are open to the changes or improvements “as long as it will not contradict the CAB…. as long as it will comply with the CAB.”

Based on the peace roadmap, the next administration has until 2018 to pass a BBL as the CAB provides at least a year’s transition, from the time of ratification. Once ratified, the CAB provides that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the entity that the Bangsamoro is supposed to replace, will be deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro.

Unless abolished, the next scheduled elections of the ARMM is on May 13, 2019.

In its latest assessment on the Bangsamoro peace process,, a leading global risk assessment firm led by former intelligence analysts said on February 11 that the MILF “cannot afford to miss its best chance at reaping the fruits of its decades-long fight,” that since it dropped its bid for independence, the MILF “has transformed itself into a primarily political organization” whose “moderate leadership is aging, and its militant capabilities have eroded somewhat.”

“At this point, withdrawing from the peace agreement would threaten an opportunity for the MILF to solidify local support for its fragile authority by delivering greater autonomy to the region. This is why the group has remained engaged and continues to make concessions despite seeing Manila repeatedly renege on agreements. And it will return to the negotiating table if the next administration in Manila opts to redraft the Bangsamoro law. Over the past two years, it has become increasingly evident that MILF leaders lack the leverage to walk away — or the will to return to a full-fledged armed struggle.”

The February 18 statement enjoined all officers, commanders and members of the MILF political wing and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the MILF’s armed wing, to “strictly follow and abide by the instructions and guidelines of the MILF Central Committee.. to uphold the primacy of the peace process while maintaining their vigilance and perseverance as they continue the consolidation and capability building programs of the organization.”

It called on residents in the proposed Bangsamoro to remain patient and to be “beacons of hope in the advocacy for peace with justice.”

“This impasse should not lead anyone of us astray and be swayed by elements unreasonably instigating for radicalism. Let us always make reason and wisdom prevail over emotion,” it said.

In the January 26 interview with Murad, MindaNews asked the nearly 68-year old MILF chair what he was most afraid of. “As far as the organization is concerned, there are second liners already who can take over anytime. I think what I fear most is that itong organization will be dismantled.”

Asked if he meant “magkawatak-watak” (divided into factions), Murad replied he did not want the MILF to end the way of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF broke into factions after the failure of implementation of the 1976 peace pact: the MILF under Salamat Hashim of Maguindanao and the MNLF Reformist Group under Dimas Pundato of Lanao del Sur. The MNLF split into more factions after the 1996 Final Peace Agreement whose implementation remains in question to this day.

In the MILF itself, one of its best commanders, Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, broke away after the skirmishes that followed the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in August 2008. The MOA-AD was already initialed by the government and MILF, but was not formally signed on August 5, 2008, because the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on August 4, barring the government panel from signing the agreement.

Kato resigned from his post as commander of the 105th Base Command of the BIAF in December 2009 and set up the BIFF in March 2010. He suffered a stroke in November 2011 and had not been publicly seen or heard from. He passed away in April last year, leaving behind a BIFF that had broken into three factions. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)