MILF, MNLF to reciprocate Rody’s commitment to peace
(The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2016 - 12:00am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The now converged Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) yesterday promised to reciprocate the commitment of President Duterte to the Mindanao peace process.

Duterte laid down his administration’s desire to put in place a negotiated closure to the 45-year Mindanao secessionist conflict during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

Efforts to address the Moro issue have been a drawn-out initiative, spanning seven presidents since the crafting of the Dec. 23, 1976 Tripoli Agreement in Libya by MNLF founder Nur Misuari and a panel led by Manuel Yan, representing then president Ferdinand Marcos.

The agreement, brokered by former Libya strongman Muammar Gaddafi and supported by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was the main reference used in the drafting of the Sept. 2, 1996 truce between the MNLF and Malacañang and, subsequently, the government’s accord with the MILF, the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

“There is a possibility he (Duterte) would be the last president we are to negotiate with. We are inspired by his being positive on the peace process. We will reciprocate with honor and vigor,” said Muslimin Sema, chair of the largest of three groups in the MNLF.

Unlike the faction led by Misuari, the MNLF-Sema group is larger and more politically active and is not hostile to the MILF.

Misuari has strongly been opposing Malacañang’s diplomatic dealings with the MILF.

He had even accused former president Benigno Aquino III of having “abrogated” the MNLF’s final truce with the government by forging a separate deal with the MILF, the vaunted CAB.

“It is easier to solve the Mindanao problem now while the moderate, older Moro leaders are still alive. The next generation of Moro leaders will surely be radical and dealing with them might be tediously difficult,” Sema said.

The MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said they are certain Duterte would keep his pledge to abide by all agreements between Malacañang and Moro groups.

Duterte first promised to do so during the campaign and, subsequently, in an inaugural speech during his assumption to the presidency on June 30.

Jaafar said their trust in Duterte is bolstered by his being from Davao City and his having Maranaw and lumad ancestry.

“No one will understand better the Moro issue but a Mindanaon,” Jaafar said.

The MNLF-Sema group and the MILF had twice crafted in the past six months bilateral agreements binding both rebel groups to converge in pushing forward a common peace blueprint for the Moro rebellion.

The MILF started in the early 1980s as a small bloc of MNLF officials, led by the Egyptian-trained cleric Salamat Hashim, that eventually broke away and established a bigger group more religious in character due to loss of confidence in Misuari’s leadership.

Duterte also challenged the MILF and MNLF to prove that they do not have any ties with the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

He believes that the peace negotiations will not succeed if the MILF and MNLF are tied to the local terrorist group.

“I want to hear from the MILF and MNLF that they no longer have connection with the Abu Sayyaf because the firearms of the Abu Sayyaf were also their firearms,” Duterte told soldiers in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

“If they refuse to sever ties or if they are still connected with the Abu Sayyaf, I don’t think there will be a significant result,” he added.

Duterte mentioned the connection between the Abu Sayyaf and the peace talks during his SONA.

“Remember that I do not hit the Abu Sayyaf that much because it is really connected with the peace talks between (MLNF founder Nur) Misuari,” he said.

Early this month, Duterte said he does not consider Abu Sayyaf members as criminals despite their involvement in several kidnapping, beheading and bombing incidents. He believes the Abu Sayyaf had staged violent activities because they were “driven to desperation” by “failed promises.”

The President, nevertheless, promised to put an end to the group’s activities.

Even Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu sees peaceful days ahead for the Moro people now that four top agencies are led by officials from Mindanao.

Mangudadatu was referring to Emmanuel Piñol, Ismael Sueño, physician Paulyn Ubial and lawyer Jesus Dureza, whom Duterte had enlisted as his agriculture, local government and health secretaries and presidential peace adviser, respectively.

Dureza, overseeing the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), hails from Davao City. He is a known friend of political and rebel leaders in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“How can we not see a white dove at the end of the tunnel? Three of these four officials, Secretaries Piñol, Sueño and Ubial, are from Central Mindanao. They grew up with Moro friends,” Mangudadatu said last Monday.

Sueño is from South Cotabato while Piñol and Ubial are both residents of North Cotabato. Both provinces are within the immediate periphery of Maguindanao, which covers 37 towns in two congressional districts.

“All of them also understand deeply the decades-old Moro issue and the importance of the ongoing bilateral peace initiatives of Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” Mangudadatu said.

ARMM’s newly appointed local government secretary Kirby Abdullah was elated with Duterte’s decision to appoint Piñol, Sueno, Ubial and Dureza.

Meanwhile, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Chief Supt. Oscar Albayalde said Duterte’s first SONA was also the first in history without violence.

“There was no violent confrontation between anti-riot policemen and rallyists. This is a first in the history of the SONA,” said Albayalde, noting that the rally staged by left-leaning groups was peaceful and orderly.

According to Albayalde, traffic was manageable because Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City remained open after the demonstrators staged their rally only 150 meters away from the south gate of the Batasang Pambansa complex.

“We had no quarrel with the protesters this time as they are mostly allied with President Duterte and also have vowed to shun violence,” he added. - With Non Alquitran, Alexis Romero

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