Butch Malang of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front sign a document in the presence of Malaysian Army Gen. Datuk Masrani bin Paiman of the International Monitoring Team, which helps enforce the interim truce between Malacañang and the MILF. Philstar.com/John Unson  

IMT urged to continue observing peace process even after BBL enactment
John Unson (philstar.com) - December 2, 2017 - 9:17am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Southerners want the International Monitoring Team to continue observing the peace process even after the possible approval in 2018 of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The Malaysian-led IMT has been helping enforce since 2004 all security agreements between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The inter-agency provincial peace and order council in Maguindanao, a bastion of the MILF, wants the IMT to also monitor the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro through the BBL, which is now pending in Congress.

The IMT is comprised of soldiers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and non-uniformed conflict resolution specialists from Japan, Norway and the European Union.

It was through Malaysia’s third party intercession that Malacañang and the MILF forged on March 27, 2014 the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, meant to end decades of secessionist conflicts in the southern Philippine region.

The accord also aims to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more empowered MILF-led Bangsamoro entity via the BBL as an enabling measure to repeal the ARMM’s constitutional charter, the Republic Act 9054.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said on Saturday that the IMT must continue observing the Mindanao peace process even after the BBL’s likely enactment into law and ratification via a plebiscite before 2019.

“It can act as an observer on how the government and the MILF are to jointly implement the BBL, the key to the successful resolution of the Mindanao Moro issue,” Mangudadatu said.

There has not been any single encounter between government and MILF forces since 2010 in central Mindanao as a result of the pacification efforts of the IMT in the region.

Malaysian Army Major Gen. Datuk Masrani bin Paiman, head of the current IMT mission, said credit has to go to local officials, peace advocacy groups and to commanders of the MILF and military units deployed in conflict flashpoint areas.

Paiman said local government units are supportive of the common initiative of the IMT, the MILF and Malacañang to enforce the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between Moro guerillas and state security forces in the south.

The truce was crafted in Cagayan de Oro City in July 1997 by government and MILF peace negotiators.

Despite the ceasefire pact, bloody confrontations between the MILF and units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao hit record high from 2001 to 2009 owing to the hostility of the provincial government then to rebel groups encamped in several towns in the province.

Politicians at the helm of the provincial government during the period stockpiled weapons and organized private militias to fight the MILF to show opposition to the peace process which they fear would boot them out of power.

Mangudadatu, first elected to office in 2010, said their having settled more than 90 vendetta clan feuds in the past six years was achieved with the help of the government-MILF ceasefire committee.

The national government and the MILF has two security mechanisms — the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities and the  Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group -— that helps the police, the military and LGUs maintain law and order in Maguindanao and other Mindanao provinces covered by the 1997 interim ceasefire agreement.

“This is among the many reasons why we support the IMT and want this multinational peacekeeping group to continue with its mission even after the BBL gets the nod of Congress,” Mangudadatu said.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, deputy of Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, said Saturday that the recent tangible accomplishment of the government-MILF ceasefire committee and the IMT was the prevention of any spillover of the May 23 to October 23 conflict in Marawi City to vital stretches of the Marawi-Cotabato Highway.

“As the hostilities went on for five months, vehicles of emergency workers and trucks carrying relief supplies for evacuees reached Marawi City from different areas in Mindanao through that highway,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso, a resident of Cotabato City, where there is MILF presence, said the joint ceasefire committee also initiated, with concurrence from IMT, the rescue of 255 Maranaw residents trapped in the crossfire in Marawi City between AFP units and combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

The present IMT contingent in Mindanao is the 12th since 2004.

Its presence in the country is premised on a written protocol concession between the government and the MILF, which both sides renew annually.

“We want the presence of the IMT in Mindanao even after the BBL is passed into law by Congress,” said Bobby Benito of ARMM’s Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, chairman of the regional peace and order council, said he is thankful to the IMT, the government and the MILF for expanding cooperation on socio-economic, civilian protection and other human security projects in far-flung areas.

The joint ceasefire committee also worked together, along with local Army units and MILF guerillas, in driving away from Maguindanao last month the Islamic State-inspired group of Esmael Abdulmalik following an eight week operation that resulted in the deaths of 31 militants.

Butch Malang, chairman of the MILF’s ceasefire committee, said they also lost 20 guerillas in their bid to flush Abdulmalik out of Maguindanao.

Members of the local business communities also support the peacekeeping missions of the IMT.

Pete Marquez, a senior member of different business blocs, said the presence of IMT is a big boost to efforts of creating Cotabato City a potential investment hub for domestic and foreign business capitalists.

“The involvement of the IMT in the Mindanao peace process makes the initiative an international peace-building thrust,” Marquez said.

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