Are we negotiating with terrorists? Gov’t peace panel defends MILF
Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) - February 11, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - “Do we negotiate with terrorists?”

The government should make clear its policy on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with regard to terrorism, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday.

In the continuation of the Senate inquiry on the Mamasapano incident, Cayetano made the statement to determine if the government peace panel is in fact negotiating with terrorists, saying the MILF appeared to have coddled international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

Cayetano made a presentation during the hearing and accused the MILF of coddling terrorist personalities.

He said the MILF appeared to be using the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as an
attack group while describing the BIFF as a breakaway faction.

Cayetano said Marwan had been staying in the area near the camp of the MILF in Mamasapano before the bloody firefight between the police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and combined forces of the MILF and the BIFF on that fateful morning of Jan. 25.

But despite having known that Marwan was in Mamasapano, the MILF did not exert any effort to arrest and surrender him to the authorities, if only to prove its sincerity to the peace process.

“The MILF and the BIFF are the same. The MILF’s style is that the BIFF is the one making the attacks, but they are the same. Why did MILF not surrender Marwan?” he asked. “They are killing our policemen, but then they are saying that they want peace?”

During the Senate hearing, Cayetano asked Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles why she appeared to be acting as spokesperson for the MILF when its peace panel chairman, Mohagher Iqbal, did not bother to attend the hearing.

Cayetano also challenged the MILF leadership to surrender BIFF commander Ameril Umbra Kato as a confidence-building measure.

“They should surrender Umbra Kato. They are killing the policemen, but when it is the BIFF they are coddling them,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano’s statement stemmed from the declaration of Deles that MILF peace panel chairman Iqbal is willing to attend the Senate hearing but only in an executive session.

“They said they will come. They did not say that they will not come. They want to have more time. I will request for an executive session with the CCCH,” Deles said, referring to the joint ceasefire committee.

This prompted Cayetano to ask Deles if she is representing the MILF.

“I spoke not on behalf of the MILF. I spoke on behalf of the peace process,” Deles answered.

Deles clarified the Philippine government’s clear, existing policy that peace negotiations will only be done with legitimate revolutionaries and not with terrorist groups or their associates.

“The policy decision of government to negotiate with the MILF since 2003 was always accompanied by dependable, rigorous Philippine intelligence,” she said.

Deles clarified the peace process is part of the government’s national security policy.

The decision on whether to pursue peace talks with the MILF or any other non-state actor is largely determined by the continuing assessment and recommendation of the Cabinet Security Cluster, in which the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, like the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense or Department of Justice, is a member, in line with National Security Policy.

According to Deles, before peace talks with the MILF resumed in 2003, “this was a very explicit demand – the MILF’s disavowal of terrorism,” adding that this declaration was monitored by the Philippine government and the international community.

Deles warned Cayetano over the allegations that the MILF coddled Marwan.

“With regard to the actual situation between where Marwan was found and the MILF, I think that is subject for investigation,” she said.

Deles assured the Senate the government panel will not engage or continue a peace process with a group linked to terrorists.

“Certainly this will not be allowed,” she said.

Deles said the sincerity of the MILF to the peace process is continuously being demonstrated.

“The reality is also is that we have come to this point of a comprehensive agreement where the MILF agreed to go through a legal, legislative process fully understanding what that means,” she said.

Deles also said the MILF ceasefire mechanism has been instrumental in the conduct of law enforcement operations.

Ceasefire holding

For her part, government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the joint ceasefire mechanisms of the government and the MILF worked hard to implement the ceasefire in Mamasapano, after learning of the bloody firefight that killed 44 policemen last month.

Ferrer told the Senate hearing that Rasid Ladiasan, head of the MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), gave the first notice of the firefight to his counterpart in the government.

“The information on the firefight came from the MILF-CCCH. They said that there was trouble in the area,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said Ladiasan also called on the government ceasefire mechanism and requested for a ceasefire.

She cited the joint report of the ceasefire mechanisms of the government and the MILF, namely the CCCH and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), showed the ceasefire committee was not aware of the operation of the SAF in the area.

The report was submitted by the ceasefire mechanism to the Senate through the government peace panel.

Ferrer spoke at a hearing of the Senate hearing yesterday detailing the documents submitted by the ceasefire panels showed that by 6:42 a.m. of Jan. 25, Ladiasan sent a text message to Carlos Sol, head of the government-CCCH secretariat, stating: “We have to ceasefire, brother, before it’s too late. What if we go to the area, you and your staff. Also the IMT, you can invite them,” referring to the International Monitoring Team.

While the firefight was ongoing, Ferrer said CCCH chief Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. and Sol were in Butig, Lanao del Sur accompanying members of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in a site visit to Camp Bushra, an identified camp of the MILF.

However, upon learning of the incident in Mamasapano, the two immediately went to Cotabato to organize a “joint ceasefire crisis team” to negotiate a ceasefire, separate the two contending forces, assist in the evacuation of casualties, assess and help stabilize the situation.

Ladiasan relayed that on his part, as soon as he learned of the firefight, he immediately informed the leadership of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) in Camp Darapanan.

Ladiasan said achieving immediate ceasefire was difficult due to the close encounter of the combatants.

“Executing the ceasefire is not easy, considering the situation on the ground and communication constraints,” Ladiasan said.

Since 1997, a ceasefire mechanism has been put in place under the agreement between the government and the MILF for general cessation of hostilities signed following the start of peace negotiations between the two parties.

The agreement provided for the creation and establishment of a joint CCCH that was designed to activate and respond immediately to de-escalate any reported hostile armed confrontation between government and MILF forces, with no need for presidential or Cabinet secretary level instruction.

Meanwhile, the AHJAG was established in May 2002, through a joint communiqué between the government and MILF and formally organized in 2005.

Its mandate is to coordinate, monitor and disseminate information between and among the government security forces and the BIAF for the arrest of criminal elements in their areas and communities.

Coordination would lead to success

AHJAG chairman Brig. Gen. Manolito Orense said there had been several successful law enforcement operations that led to the arrest and capture of criminals in Central Mindanao, facilitated by the ceasefire mechanisms.

Orense cited at least three operations successfully carried out following the protocols under the ceasefire agreement.

Orense cited the operation of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade that neutralized the Killafah Islamiyah Mindanao at Lumbaca Unayan, Lanao del Sur on Nov. 2, 2013.

CAYETANO CEASEFIRE DELES GOVERNMENT LADIASAN MAMASAPANO MARWAN MILF PEACE PROCESS
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