MILF calls for an independent body to look into civilian casualties


Q & A with Mohagher Iqbal, MILF panel chief negotiator

Part One

Earlier reports have put the blame on Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders Ameril Ombra Kato in North Cotabato and Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Kumander Bravo, in Lanao del Norte for launching the attacks in August that reportedly killed civilians and forced the government to change tack in the peace talks.

The attacks came after the failed signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which would have given the MILF authority over the areas identified under the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Even in the holy month of Ramadhan, the AFP continues its military operations in Moro communities in pursuit of the two renegade commanders.

But what really triggered the attacks? Were Ombra Kato and Bravo solely to blame?

In this interview, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told Davao Today the unreported MILF side of the story.

Q: Some MILF commanders were reported to be on a rampage after the failed signing of the MOA-AD. What really happened?

When the Philippines failed to sign the MOA, there were commanders who, at the beginning, did not really want the peace process because, according to them, the Philippines cannot be trusted, anyway. The government will not implement what it has committed. So when it was not signed, our two commanders concluded that the government of the Philippines did not really want the peaceful process. So, they decided by themselves without the sanction of the high leaders of the MILF. That’s when the problem came.

But we have to distinguish between North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte.

In North Cotabato, it was the government of the Philippines who clearly started it. On July 1, they attacked our forces in Aleosan, some 2.5 kilometers away from the highway. That was how the war started in North Cotabato. Then, there were burning of houses. There were elements who joined the MILF who also burned some houses.

As for the Cafgus (Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Unit), the CVOs (Civilian Volunteers Organization) and the military, they also burned houses. If you come to think of it, there were more houses burned among the Moros, than those among the settlers.

What we are trying to say is that, since they filed charges against Kato, why not also file charges against the Cafgus and CVOs, who were also guilty of burning houses?

In fact, they burned a lot more houses than the MILF. We are saying that if the government still treat the Moros as constituents of the Republic of the Philippines, they should also file charges against Cafgus and CVOs.

In the case of Lanao del Norte, we have to admit that it was initiated by Kumander Bravo. But as to the reported incidence of deaths of civilians, let me clarify that there were three kinds: First, there were Cafgus and CVOs. How do you classify them? They were armed combatants, therefore, enemies in times of war.

Second, there were those caught in the crossfire, especially the kid from Pagadian (a city in the province of Zamboanga del Sur). It was a crossfire, so, we do not really know who hit them.

Third, there were other civilians who were not very careful. We really feel sorry for that and we condemn the killing of unarmed civilians.

But it’s no secret to us that in Lanao del Norte, there is a fanatic group called Good Shepherds. They owe the Moro a lot. They took lands away from the Moros. There were people killed. Some of them joined the MILF. They took revenge against the people. Maybe, this is hard to believe but we are trying to ask the government to allow an impartial group, most probably the international monitoring team, to conduct an investigation so we would know, once and for all, what is the truth. It should be an impartial group so that nobody doubts the result of the investigation.

The government doesn’t allow this, yet, but this is what we want.

Q: Has there been an investigation done by the MILF leadership as regards the two commanders?

Well it becomes moot and academic. When (the MILF attacks) happened, the government countered. As a result, there were more houses destroyed, more properties of civilians lost, or taken. There were indiscriminate bombings, shelling and excessive use of force in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte. So (to investigate our two commanders) becomes moot and academic. But still, the MILF would want the incident, the killing of the civilians, investigated. There should be justice for all victims of the attacks.

If we have to count the number of casualties, only one percent died among the settlers. There were more casualties on our part. I can cite to you some examples. In Manili massacre (which happened in 1971), 72 Muslims died, in the Tabuk Massacre and the Kauswagan Massacre, 73. In Palengla (1974), 1000 Moros were massacred inside the mosque, in Pata Island (1981), 2000 Moros, in Patikul, 700.

Were they given justice? I’m not saying the death of those killed in Lanao del Norte meant nothing because they must also be given justice. But first, you have to give justice to the Moro. Our people have been denied justice for far too long.


Q: We read in the MILF website http://www.luwaran.com that the MILF is already dealing with the two commanders. May we know some updates regarding the actions that the MILF has taken on them?

Well, we don’t want to imitate the government of the Philippines, during the February 4 massacre in Maimbung, (Sulu) early this year, where 15 civilians were killed.

The Human Rights Commission (sic) found the Marines responsible for or guilty of the crime but later, the Armed Forces of the Philippines came up with its own investigating team and came out with a report that the Marines were not guilty.

That is why we are saying, it should not be the CHR who should investigate because it is still an agency of the government. And besides, the findings might be reversed.

As to our commanders, we have internal rules to follow. We have our policies, our military discipline. We have the disciplinary board, we have Shariah Court. We should be the judge on this.

Secondly, as to the rules of engagement, the only thing that regulates our relationship with the government is the ceasefire agreement of 1997 and 2001.

In that ceasefire agreement, the opposing parties are responsible for the violations of their own members. If the violators are members of the MILF, then it should be the MILF who punishes them. If it is the government who committed the violation of the ceasefire, then they should deal with their own ranks, too.

There is no rule agreed by both parties in the ceasefire agreement that will require us to turn our erring commanders over to the government. Since there is none, what can we do? The MILF is a revolutionary organization. It has policy, it has ideology, integrity. What will happen to us if we turn them over?

Q: So do you mean that the two commanders had already been dealt with by the MILF leadership?

Well, that is internal to us. If I can cite an example in 2005, the Marines launched attacks in Palembang, Sultan Kudarat, and one of those killed was a member of the 106th (Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) under Ombra Kato.

What Kato did after that was he exacted revenge in Maguindanao. There were soldiers killed. So, because they did a very clear violation of the ceasefire beyond reasonable doubt, we had to suspend the whole unit. We also suspended the direct commanders involved. We suspended them for more than one year.

Now, amid the violations and accusations hurled against government troops, the government refused to punish its men. They only assigned them (the violators) to other places.


Q: So, at least, Sir, there is an assurance that the MILF has already been dealing with the two commanders…

Well basically, that’s more on discipline. We cannot say it (the two commanders’ action) is a criminal act or not. I’m not saying that. But the MILF has to make necessary disciplinary actions against them. (To be continued) (davaotoday.com)

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