MANILA (MindaNews / 22 Feb) – At the lobby of the Manila Prince hotel here, men in their 60s and 70s – leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) — spent what Mohagher Iqbal, information chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and chair of its peace panel since July 2003, described as an “unexpected, unprogrammed” day on what was supposed to be a historic moment in their lives — the oathtaking for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) on February 20.
But evening of February 19, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal received a text message from Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez, Jr. that the event would be reset to February 22.
Iqbal recalls receiving a text message from Galvez at 7:07 p.m. that “baka ma-move” (it might be moved) to February 22, Galvez finally confirming the postponement during the welcome dinner he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana tendered for the MILF delegation at the hotel.
The “unexpected, unprogrammed” free days on Wednesday, February 20, and Thursday, February 21, became an occasion for reunions in the lobby and the café of men and women in the Bangsamoro peace process. It also paved the way for sightseeing and shopping at the nearby malls and for Manila-based relatives to fetch them for bonding time.
But the Malacanang Palace visitors have to inform the OPAPP’s “checkpoint,” a table set up near the entrance, if they leave the hotel.
Iqbal spent some time with his family between meetings and interviews, while between meetings and interviews, Murad, the MILF’s nominee to be Interim Chief Minister, dined with different ambassadors.
Murad led a delegation of 300 from the MILF, including members of its Central Committee, the Chief of Staff of the soon-to-be-decommissioned Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, five of the seven Front commanders and representatives of the two others who could not come due to illness, and, in the words of Iqbal, “scores of base commanders.”
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Yusoph Jikiri could not come but the MNLF has a 30-member delegation, 19 from the mainland and 11 from the islands.
There was no chartered Philippine Airlines plane that brought delegates to Manila as was done during the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.
Instead, the key MILF and MNLF officials took commercial flights while the rest were flown to Manila on C-130 cargo aircraft and C-295 of the Philippine Air Force.
Outside the Manila Prince Hotel where the Malacanang Palace guests were billeted, MindaNews saw policemen and soldiers fielded, the latter even setting up a tent at the parking area while on the street, three big buses were parked – two with markings of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and one of the Philippine Air Force.
Iqbal, the historian of the MILF – he has written two books on the peace process – as Salah Jubair, said in the long history of the Bangsamoro peace process, including the peace process with the MNLF that led to the signing of the Tripoi Agreement of 1976, and the MILF’s from 1997, “who’d think we would ever reach – it’s as if it is impossible mission but it was made possible with the passage and the ratification of the Bangsamoro law, because we believe in the struggle, we believe in perseverance.”
Iqbal as Jubair wrote “Bangsamoro: A nation under endless tyranny” and “The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process.”
“We were young before and now we are old but we are lucky, so lucky enough that at least we have seen the dawn of what we intend to achieve… We have seen the dawn right now,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal said he is “very happy but at the same time I am also worried,” because “we are facing an unchartered territory – governance. We have not done this any time before. We succeeded in the armed struggle for almost 50 years. We succeeded in the negotiation for 42 years including that of the MNLF. We succeeded in coming up with the law for five years from the Aquino administration then Duterte administration. We succeeded in the plebiscite, we achieved what we want.
Now we are facing a new challenge, an unchartered territory and that worries me.”
Iqbal said they have been asked if they could guarantee success of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the new autonomous political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “I cannot guarantee … we are human beings — the only thing I can guarantee is best efforts.”
“As to whether we can succeed and deliver, well, time will tell,” Iqbal said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)