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2002 deal allows gov't operations without MILF go signal

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2015 - 6:04pm

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - A former government negotiator said Wednesday that the 18-year interim truce between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front precludes coordination on both sides if government forces are hunting for high-priority targets in rebel territories.

Lawyer Jesus Dureza, chair of the GPH panel that negotiated with the MILF during the time of President Gloria Arroyo, said he and the MILF’s present figurehead, Hadji Murad Ebrahim, signed on May 6, 2002 a document complementing the ceasefire pact which clearly states that government  operations against “high priority targets” need no prior coordination between both sides.

Murad was still the MILF’s vice chair for military affairs, second in rank to MILF’s chieftain then, cleric Salamat Hashim, at the time he and Dureza signed the document, which was in line with their bilateral creation of the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

The primarily role of AHJAG, comprised of representatives from the government and the MILF, is to help the police and military interdict criminals and terrorists in areas covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities, which covers flashpoint areas in the south.

The ceasefire agreement was signed in July 1997 in Cagayan de Oro City by Ghadzali Jaafar, who is now the MILF’s second vice chair, and  Ruben Torres, who was executive secretary of President Fidel Ramos then.

Dureza said the “mechanics of implementation” of the document he and Murad crafted in 2002 was signed by the MILF’s chief negotiator, Muhaquer Iqbal, and his government counterpart then, Marvic Leonen, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 15, 2012.

“That was exactly 10 years after we signed the May 6, 2002 document that explains all of these things,” Dureza said.

Dureza said all the documents stated clearly that “except” for operations meant to neutralize high “priority targets,” government law enforcement activities need to be properly coordinated with the MILF, with the joint ceasefire committee and with the government and MILF’s peace panels at least 24 hours prior to the execution of any law enforcement mission.

“There is that word 'except’ in those documents, which clearly explains that except for operations against high priority targets, such as this Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, Abdulbasit Usman, coordination has to be done in facilitating law enforcement activity. There is a clear exemption,” he said.

Marwan and Usman are international terrorists who are both referred to in the agreements as high priority law enforcement targets, he added.

Dureza had also served as presidential adviser for Mindanao during the time of President Arroyo.

Dureza said the contents of the 2002 document he and Murad signed was reaffirmed in a revised joint Philippine National Police and Armed Forces  Operations Guideline signed by then AFP Chief-of-staff Emmanuel Bautista and the now suspended Police Director-General Allan Purisima on July 23, 2013.

“That document was even attested by the chairperson of the GPH peace panel, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. That was apparently a document internal to Philippine government but I’m sure the MILF was furnished with a copy of same document,” Dureza said.

Dureza said the best thing President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF’s central leadership can do now to save the peace process is for him and Murad to admit responsibility for the deadly January 25 encounter between members of the police’s Special Action Force and Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

“They should both take responsibility for the incident and then move forward, continue with the peace process,” Dureza said.

At least 44 SAF operatives, 18 MILF rebels and four civilians were killed in the incident, which also left six innocent villagers wounded.

Dureza said the government and MILF peace panels also need to review all the provisions of the now 18-year ceasefire agreement and all other complementing documents crafted by both sides during the time of Presidents Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino.

“We have to exhaust all peaceful means of saving this peace process,” Dureza said.

ABDULBASIT USMAN AD-HOC JOINT ACTION GROUP ARROYO AND AQUINO DOCUMENT DUREZA EMMANUEL BAUTISTA GENERAL CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES GOVERNMENT MILF MURAD
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