We Did Not Attack Gov’t Troops in Basilan – MILF


MILF welcomes ceasefire violation rap by AFP, says they will also protest

The MILF through its chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, denied taking part in a May 25 attack on a Marine outpost in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan that left two Moro fighters dead and 17 Marines wounded. The Moro revolutionary group also “welcomed” the filing of a ceasefire violation complaint against it by the AFP, and announced that it will file its own protest.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 17, June 1-7, 2008

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), through its chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, denied taking part in a May 25 attack on a Marine outpost in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan that left two Moro fighters dead and 17 Marines wounded. The Moro revolutionary group also “welcomed” the filing of a ceasefire violation complaint against it by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and announced that it will file its own protest.

Marine commandant Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino had pointed to both the MILF and the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) as the instigators of the May 25 firefight. According to Dolorfino, the MILF’s 3rd Brigade and the ASG attacked the Marine detachment in Barangay (village) Tongbato, Ungkaya Pukan at around 5:45 a.m. on May 25. Ten Marines were wounded in the first attack, Dolorfino said, while another was wounded when a V150 commando vehicle was fired at in Brgy. Materling, Ungkaya Pukan.

Soldiers on the way to Tongbato as reinforcement were also attacked, Dolorfino said. Six Marines were wounded and two Moro fighters were killed in the ensuing encounter.

“They (MILF) always join (ASG attacks) so indeed that’s a violation of the ceasefire agreement,” Dolorfino told reporters on May 25. “They are supposed to help us against the Abu Sayyaf.”

But Iqbal denied that the MILF took part in the attack on the Marine outpost in Brgy. Tongbato.

“There were two separate firefights last May 25,” Iqbal said. “The first was between Marines and the ASG at Brgy. Tongbato; the second from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. between MILF forces and Marines, which took place in Brgy. Materling. The first was initiated by the ASG, while the second took place right inside an MILF territory. The Marines were the ones who started the second firefight.”

He also denied Dolorfino’s claim that the MILF “always joins” ASG attacks. “ASG is a separate group, their ways of doing things are mostly contrary to our ways,” Iqbal said.

“The MILF has a very clear and legitimate agenda to pursue,” Iqbal also said. “We do not resort to anti-people or ‘terroristic’ methods of pursuing our cause.”

The AFP filed a ceasefire violation complaint against the MILF before the Joint Committee on Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) on May 26.

“The reasons why the protest was filed are the following: one is to know the reason why the attack was carried out, and second is to determine the perpetrators of the incident,” said Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, AFP information chief, at a news briefing on May 26.

Iqbal said the MILF “welcomes” the filing of the protest. “We welcome the filing of the protest in order to ferret out the truth of the incidents, especially the second,” Iqbal said. He added that the MILF would be filing its own protest before the JCCCH.

First clash after Malaysia pullout from IMT

The May 25 encounter is the first firefight between government troops and MILF fighters since Malaysia started pulling out its contingent 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 in the areas of conflict.

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.

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.”

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.

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 Iqbal, had been inserted into the agreement without their consent.

Roots of conflict, prospects for peace

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 in New Manila, Quezon City.

Meanwhile, the recent armed encounter between government troops and MILF rebels seems to confirm what Iqbal said earlier that with the pull-out of the IMT, the peace talks are “shaky on the ground.”

When asked whether the May 25 fighting could lead to a renewed escalation of fighting between government forces and the MILF, Iqbal said it depends on the government. Bulatlat

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