MILF Rejects Gov’t Proposal on Truce Overseeing Body


As Malaysia begins pullout from peace monitoring team

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has rejected a proposal by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to tap the services of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) in monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire between the government and the Moro revolutioinary group.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 14, May 11-17, 2008

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has rejected a proposal by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to tap the services of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) in monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire between the government and the Moro revolutionary group.

In a statement posted on the website www.luwaran.com, Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the MILF Committee on Information, said the government’s proposal was “cheap” and “a let-down to men of faith like the bishops and the ­ulamas.”

“Making them sweat and sacrifice to maintain peace and order like policemen after the government intentionally (defiled) the peace process is absurd,” Musa also said.

Musa cited the experience of Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., who served as a truce observer from 1997 to 2000.

“(But) he ended up castigating the government for willfully making a mockery of the ceasefire and the peace process,” Musa said. “Now, the Malaysians are about to go.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced the government’s intention to tap the BUC as ceasefire monitor in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations as Malaysian delegates prepared to pull out, starting May 10, from the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which is tasked to observe and monitor the cessation of hostilities between the two parties to the negotiations as well as the implementation of socio-economic projects related to the talks.

The IMT – which is composed of delegates from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya – was deployed to several areas in Mindanao in 2004. Malaysia, which facilitates the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, had the biggest contingent in the 60-member IMT.

An initial group of 29 Malaysian delegates left Mindanao on May 10. The remaining 12 are set to follow by August.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who is part of the government’s national security cluster, has admitted that the Malaysian team’s pullout is an “obstacle” that would have a “psychological impact” on the peace negotiations, even as he stressed that “all is not lost here.”

Malaysian facilitator Othman Abdul Razak was reported as saying on May 3 that the GRP-MILF peace negotiations “will not move forward” if the GRP kept insisting that the talks be conducted in accordance with “constitutional processes.”

Ancestral domain

Last December, the GRP-MILF peace negotiations reached a deadlock over the ancestral domain issue.

The ancestral domain issue, which was first discussed only in 2004 or some eight years after the talks started, has turned out to be the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations.

The MILF last year was proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that would be based on an ancestral domain claim of the Bangsa Moro over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

The GRP had insisted that areas to be covered by the BJE other than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subjected to a plebiscite. This repeatedly led to an impasse in the peace negotiations with the group.

The impasse was broken only in November last year, when the GRP and the MILF reached an agreement defining the land and maritime areas to be covered by the proposed BJE.

Things seemed to be looking up after that, causing lawyer Eid Kabalu, then MILF spokesperson, to make media statements to the effect that they expected a final agreement to be signed by mid-2008.

But all hopes for forging a peace pact between the GRP and the MILF were dashed last December, when the peace talks hit a snag following the government’s insistence that the ancestral domain issue be settled through “constitutional processes” – a phrase which according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, had been inserted into the agreement without their consent.

A history of oppression and struggle

Moro historian Salah Jubair traces the roots of the present conflict in southern Philippines to the U.S. annexation of Mindanao and Sulu into the Philippine territory in 1946. Jubair argues that the Bangsa Moro is a people with a socio-political, economic, and cultural system distinct from that of the Filipino people.

The inclusion of Mindanao and Sulu in the scope of the 1946 “independence” grant to the Philippines paved the way for large-scale non-Muslim migration to the two islands. This large-scale migration, which began in the 1950s, brought with it the problem of land grabbing.

At some point the government even instituted a Mindanao Homestead Program, which involved giving land parcels seized from Moro peoples to landless peasants from the Visayas islands and Luzon and also to former communist guerrillas who availed of amnesty.

This was intended to defuse the peasant unrest and the revolutionary war that was staged in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the communist-led Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army), which was basically a peasant army.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that same year. The MNLF, led by former University of the Philippines (UP) professor Nur Misuari, waged an armed revolutionary struggle against the GRP for an independent state in Mindanao.

The Marcos government, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace and signed an agreement with the MNLF in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1970s. The pact involved the grant of autonomy to the Mindanao Muslims.

Conflicts on the issue of autonomy led to a breakdown of talks between the GRP and the MNLF in 1978, prompting a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim to break away from the MNLF and form the MILF. Since then, the MILF has been fighting for Moro self-determination.

In 1996, the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement with the GRP, which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a concession to the group. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP.

While the peace agreement with the MNLF supposedly holds, armed skirmishes between the AFP and MNLF did not stop. On Nov. 19, 2001, Misuari declared war on the Arroyo government for allegedly reneging on its commitments to the Final Peace Agreement. The MNLF then attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo. Misuari was subsequently arrested in Sabah, Malaysia for illegal entry and was turned over to the Philippine government by Malaysian authorities. He is currently under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the GRP-MILF peace talks have repeatedly bogged down on the issue of ancestral domain, mainly because the GRP has frequently insisted on resolving it within “constitutional processes.” This does not sit well with the MILF. Bulatlat

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