MNLF, MILF hold 'brother-to-brother' meet with Duterte
(philstar.com) - June 18, 2016 - 12:16pm

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – President-elect Rodrigo Duterte met here with leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Friday night in what was described as a “meeting of a brother to a brother.”

The two groups agreed to back Duterte’s plan to change the form of government from unitary to federal, one of the Moro leaders who attended the meeting said.

"A federal system could very well put in place a government of transparency and accountability, and effectively address the peace and order problems, including drug trafficking and kidnap for ransom," MNLF leader Datu Abul Khayr Alonto told reporters after the meeting held at Hotel Elena.

“In this aspect, the MNLF and MILF are united in solidarity with the president-elect,” he added.

Alonto claimed that the current form of government has failed to address the problems plaguing Mindanao.

“The centralized form of government has been a dismal failure. That is precisely (the reason) why you still have war in Mindanao,” he said.

The meeting started minutes past 9 p.m. and lasted for about two hours. Also seen during the meeting were MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar.

"There is no substitute for a brother talking to a brother, with the MILF and the MNLF, and of course with President Duterte,” Alonto said.

When asked if Duterte promised them anything, Alonto replied: “You don’t have to. We were talking brother to brother. You don’t need promises or commitment.”

“It was done in (a) fraternal manner. All of us are committed to that that. There will be change of government and most likely through a constitutional convention,” he added.

Federalism, BBL

The planned shift from unitary to a federal form of government is one of the priorities of Duterte, who anchored his presidential campaign on maintaining peace and order and promoting inclusive growth.

Federalism has been implemented in different ways but it basically entails the sharing of powers between the central government and local state governments. In countries that adopted the system, local state governments can impose taxes, set-up courts, build infrastructure and craft their own business regulations.

In an interview early this week, Jaafar said the MILF wants the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to be enacted first before the form of government is changed to federalism.  He believes it may take time before the peace agreement between the MILF and the government is implemented if the creation of the Bangsamoro government is subsumed by efforts to shift to federalism.

Jaafar, however, said the MILF and the MNLF are ready to come up with a united stand on the Bangsamoro government. He said such stance may require improvements in the proposed BBL.

The BBL aims to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity with an enhanced autonomy. The measure would implement the final peace agreement forged by the Aquino administration and the MILF in 2014. The 16th Congress, however, failed to enact the measure, causing disappointment among the MILF and its supporters.  

The 2014 peace agreement, however, is not without controversies.

MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari is opposed to the proposed BBL, saying it goes against the Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 peace deal between the MNLF and the government. Misuari has been charged with rebellion in relation to the 2013 Zamboanga siege and is now in hiding.  

The Tripoli deal was signed in 1976 and led to the establishment of what is now known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). MNLF members who were disappointed with the outcome of the peace talks broke away from the group and formed the MILF.

Last month, Duterte’s choice for House Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez said the incoming Congress may not tackle the BBL because its concept is the same as that of federalism.

Alonto declined to comment on the MILF’s position that the passage of BBL should come first before the change in the form of government. He, however, said the “good things” in the BBL would be retained in the proposal to establish a federal system.

“I don’t want to talk about BBL. I’m talking about a united government,” Alonto said. 

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