MILF’s political party chooses “friend of the Bangsamoro” Leni Robredo for President

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 23 April) –  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s political party on Saturday declared support for the presidential bid of Vice Presidential Leni Robredo, “friend of the Bangsamoro” who “was there for us… was there for Marawi … makes time for the Bangsamoro” and whose track record “consistently demonstrates strong support to the advocacies of the Bangsamoro.” 

This was how Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of both the MILF and the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) and currently interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, described Robredo whom she called “incoming President.” 

From the pink-draped podium on a stage decorated in shades of pink, Ebrahim told the crowd that gathered at the tree-shaded venue a few steps away from the Office of the Central Committee in Camp Darapanan, that Robredo stands out to be “overwhelmingly compatible” with the values, principles, and goals of the party, and “sees eye-to-eye” with the UBJP and is “considerably familiar with the history, context, struggle, and issues of the Bangsamoro.”

“As we aspire for genuine reconciliation and national healing, having Leni Robredo as the next President of the country brings hope to the realization of the elusive unity, through inclusivity, good governance, and real democracy,” Murad said. 

Vice President Leni Robredo gets the endorsement of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, the political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, both chaired by Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, on her birthday on Saturday, 23 April 2022 at the MILFs Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Ebrahim is interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

In his welcome remarks, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF’s Peace Implementing Panel and Vice Chair for Central Mindanao of the UBJP, said they studied the “personalities, plans and platforms of actions” of the presidential candidates particularly on their stand on Bangsamoro issues and concerns, an important factor because “the historical injustices in the Bangsamoro context could easily be overlooked in the Philippine narrative, and truly, not every Filipino understands the root causes of conflict in our region.”

“Friend of the Bangsamoro”

Robredo is “the one and only Presidential candidate whose values, principles, and characters align with those we uphold as a regional political party,” he said. 

Iqbal, who is presently the Bangsamoro Minister of Education, said the party was  “looking for a candidate that is a friend of the Bangsamoro,” a friendship and sincerity “sealed by overt acts since then and up to now.”

Robredo, he said, “never let us down, not once she made us feel that we are less a person and as a Bangsa.” 

Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its political party, United Bangsamoro Justice Party, explains to the crowd gathered at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Saturday, April 23, 2022, why they chose Vice President Leni Robredo as their candidate for President. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Murad, who was Vice Chair for Military Affairs of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces until he assumed the chairmanship of the MILF following the death of founder Salamat Hashim in July 2003,  praised Robredo as a “brave, strong-willed, and compassionate leader who willingly fights for the rights of the marginalized, knowing fully well that peace cannot be attained without serving justice.” He ended his speech by greeting Robredo a happy birthday. 

“Let me wish her a happy, happy birthday … We wish her the best of everything and we wish she will soon be in Malacanang after the May 2022 elections,” he said. 

When it was her turn to speak, Robredo, who wore a black hijab over a pastel pink blouse,  said. “napakalaking birthday gift po ito para sa akin” (this is a huge birthday gift to me). 

Robredo said she is aware that continuity of support for the peace process by the next President is critical to the success of the extended transition period in BARMM. The transition period has been extended until June 30, 2025. 

Champion of the peace process 

“What I can assure the Bangsamoro people is that a Robredo presidency will be a friend of the Bangsamoro and a champion of the peace process,” she said. 

Robredo stressed that a peace agreement can be successfully implemented “if there is a good partnership” between the national government and the MILF as parties to the agreement, a partnership that “needs to be constantly cultivated and developed because the peace agreement cannot be implemented unilaterally.”

Vice President Leni Robredo thanks the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party for the declaration of support for her presidential bid. “What I can assure the Bangsamoro people is that a Robredo presidency will be a friend of the Bangsamoro and a champion of the peace process,” she said. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

As a member of the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2016, Robredo co-authored the “original version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law” and was actively involved during committee hearings and congressional deliberations. “Our legislative intent at the time was how to pass an enabling legislation that will be faithful, compliant and consistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” she said. 

Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned without passing what would have been the enabling law of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It was eventually passed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Platform of actions

If elected President, Robredo committed to the Bangsamoro people a five-point platform of actions “to complete the implementation of the peace agreement and address the remaining gaps in the Bangsamoro transition period.”

These five action points are: hasten the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro including the political track and the normalization track; fully implement provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and continue the momentum of the Intergovernmental Relations Body in due regard and recognition of genuine autonomy; include the immediate passage of the Transitional Justice bill; activate the Amnesty Commission and fast track the appointment of its members; and complete the rehabilitation of Marawi and allow the safe return of the internally displaced persons.  

Representatives from the Moro and Lumad communities in Maguindanao witness the declaration of support by the United Bangsamoro Justice Party for Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential bid in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on 23 April 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

On the aspect of the Normalization, Robredo said the national government and the BARMM will formulate a “mutually acceptable Roadmap for Normalization” and guarantee the provision of adequate funding particularly on the camps transformation and development and socio-economic package for the decommissioned combatants. 

“The rehabilitation of poverty-stricken communities and vulnerable sectors will be promptly attended  and we will sincerely support the continued operators of the peace mechanisms including those for ceasefire and normalization. We also commit to be faithful to the Implementation of the Annex on Normalization on the matters of the disbandment of private armed groups and the gradual and commensurate redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” she said. 

Robredo also said the smooth relations between the national government and the Bangsamoro region will be sustained at the level of the Intergovernmental Relations Body,  and ensure that the other provisions of the Bangsamoro law that need to be implemented are fulfilled. 

Marawi rehab

For Robredo, a lawyer who has been serving the marginalized sectors and victims of human rights violations, a Transitional Justice bill must be passed because “as we move towards peace, we need to deal with the past and recognize and acknowledge the injustices fought by the Bangsamoro.. Without the recognition and acknowledgment, we cannot move forward as a nation.”

Robredo also said that in collectively working on national healing and reconciliation, she will “use my powers with utmost discretion in granting amnesty to all qualified MILF member  and supporters and those who were involved in the armed conflict.” 

Ruined buildings await the return of their owners in ‘Ground Zero,’ Marawi City on 1 April 2022. Many displaced residents are waiting for the monetary compensation so they could rebuild their homes and shops. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

On the rehabilitation of Marawi and return of the displaced residents, Robredo said the Marawi Compensation Board must be activated and its members immediately appointed. She also said she will ensure the provision of “adequate funds” in the 2023 General Appropriations Act for the compensation of the victims. 

“With these commitments, I put myself before you as a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic of the Philippines, and hope to be your partner in working for peace in Mindanao,” she said. 

“Sobrang halaga”

Asked in a press conference after the declaration how important the endorsement was for her, Robredo replied “sobrang halaga” (very important) on so many levels: “number one makakatulong siya, makakatulong siya nang napakalaki sa plano ko bilang presidente”  (it can help, it can help much in my plan as President). 

But she quickly added that for her, there is a deeper and more important reason. 

“For the past nine years I have been doing my part to help to help in peace process, to help in the transformation process,” she said.  She recalled how her late husband, Jessie Robredo, Local Governments Secretary who died in a plane crash in 2012,  was “very actively working on attaining peace in Mindanao” and that this was her primary consideration when she co-authored the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

Inside the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Camp Darapanan, on the road leading to the Office of the Central Committee on 23 April 2022, the day the MILF’s political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, declared support for the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo. MindaNews video by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

She narrated that her Bangsamoro journey initially started by way of continuing the advocacies of her husband but as they were working on the Bangsamoro bill, and accompanying the Moro people in the struggle for the passage of the enabling law of the peace agreement,  “parang I was so invested, I became so invested in what you have been fighting for and ang paniniwala ko talaga, yung lasting peace can be achieved pag binuksan ng pamahalan yung puso niya at inintindi nya kung ano ang pinagdaan ng Bangsamoro people” (my belief is that lasting peace can be achieved when the government opens its heart and understands what the Bangsamoro people have been going through). 

This is the only way, she stressed, for the national government to respond “in the manner that it should.”

What started as a very personal reason, she said, “became a mission already, such that with my limited mandate, limited capacities as vice president I have been doing what I can to help uplift the lives of the Bangsamoro people,” Robredo said of the region whom she has visited repeatedly in her six years as Vice President, delivering projects that have been helping communities. 

In 2016, Robredo won in four of five provinces of the then Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Tawi-tawi – but lost to Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in Sulu. 

Pledge of Commitment for Marcos-Duterte

At the Manila Hotel on April 22, the night before Robredo was declared the Presidential candidate of the UBJP, Sulu Governor Sakur Tan made public his support for Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

He signed a six-paragraph “Pledge of Commitment” to “fervently, strongly, and firmly support the unifying leadership and candidacy of Ferdinand Bong Bong Marcos Jr.” for President and Duterte for Vice President, along with other BARMM Governors who had earlier expressed support for Marcos-Duterte: Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr., who vowed to deliver a “landslide” victory in Lanao del Sur even as several  relatives are campaigning for Robredo and Maguindanao Governor Bai Mariam Sangki Mangudadatu, who had also earlier pledged support for the Marcos-Duterte tandem along with her husband, Sultan Kudarat Governor Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu.  

Tawi-tawi Governor Yshmael Sali, who had earlier pledged support for Marcos-Duterte was not present in the Manila Hotel but his rival in the gubernatorial race, former Governor Sadikul Sahali, who is also for Marcos-Duterte, was there. 

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who had contested the results of the 2019 plebiscite where her city voted for inclusion in the BARMM and who repeatedly appealed to President Duterte to exclude Cotabato City from the BARMM until the end of the transition period, also signed the commitment pledge, along with Alfiya Akbar, candidate for governor of Basilan under Lakas-CMD. 

“More compassionate, and more united Philippines”

In the MILF’s Camp Darapanan, Basilan Governor Jimm Hataman-Salliman, who is running for a third term, declared  support for Robredo through a message read for him during the UBJP declaration for Robredo. 

“I believe in Vice President Leni Robredo’s vision, track record, and platform of governance. Her values aligned with mine, along with the rest of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, and the BARMM, Congressman Mujiv Hataman, and every Moro that believes in dignity, justice, and regional recovery and progress,” Hataman said.

As Governor of Basilan, a Moro and Filipino, he declared his “full support” for the presidential bid of Robredo “from today, on to the national and local elections of May 9, 2022, and beyond as she knows, or as she works to be a fairer, more compassionate, and more united Philippines.”

Hataman’s brother, Basilan’s lone district representative Mujiv and Mujiv’s wife, Sittie Djalia Turabin-Hataman, the mayor of Isabela City, gathered thousands of supporters for Robredo during a rally in Isabela City on March 16. 

Aside from Hataman, a representative  of the Indigenous Peoples in the BARMM went up the stage to personally hand over a copy of their declaration of support to her.

A representative of the Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao hands over to Vice President Leni Robredo their declaration of support for her presidential bid in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, on 23 April 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Also onstage with Robredo was the UBJP’s gubernatorial candidate, Maguindanao’s 2nd district Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who was Governor of Maguindanao from 2010 to 2019. The Mangudadatus earlier supported Manila Mayor Isko Moreno for President, gathering thousands of supporters for a rally for Moreno in their hometown in Buluan, Maguindanao two months ago.

Maguindanao is the vote-richest province in the BARMM, accounting for 818,790 out of the BARMM’s 2.4 million registered voters as of the Commission on Elections’ December 2021 records. Toto Mangudadatu is pitted against reelectionist governor Bai Mariam Sangki Mangudadatu, wife of cousin Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu, Governor of neighboring Sultan Kudarat province.

Vice President Leni Robredo is flanked by (L to R) former Buluan Mayor Ibrahim “Jong” Mangudadatu, Bai Sandra Sema, candidate of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) for Vice Governor of Maguindanao, Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, UBJP candidate for Maguindanao Governor, Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the UBJP and presently the interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Datu Roonie Sinsuat, reelectionist 1st district Representative. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Toto Mangudadatu’s wife, Sharifa Akeel is running for Governor of Sultan Kudarat against Datu Pax Ali Sangki Mangudadatu, mayor of Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao and son of Mariam and Teng. 

Toto Mangudadatu’s running mate is Bai Sandra Sema, former three-term Representative of the 1st district of Maguindanao and wife of Muslimin Sema, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who now serves as Bangsamoro Labor Minister. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)