‘Honorable’ peace warriors?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The whole of September is marked as the National Peace Consciousness Month all over the Philippines. At the center of this observance is the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) headed by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. On the eve of the Peace month, Sec. Galvez joined us in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday and updated us in the latest peace and development efforts of the government of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM).

Retained as OPAPRU chief at least up to the end of this year, Galvez continued performing the peace-building mandates he started during the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Currently, Galvez is pursuing the completion of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The CAB was signed on March 27, 2014 during the term of the late president Noynoy Aquino III. This stand-alone peace pact with the MILF was concluded after 17 years of negotiations with the government that stretched to three administrations.

The MILF is a breakaway faction from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) headed by chairman Nur Misuari. The MNLF forged its original peace pact known as the 1976 Tripoli Agreement signed in Libya by Misuari with the Philippine government under then the late president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Former First Lady and widow of the namesake father of PBBM, Mrs. Imelda Marcos figured prominently in the peace meeting with the late Libyan strongman Moamar Gaddafy. Libya was then financially supporting the MNLF and gave safe haven to Misuari.

Succeeding administrations pursued the peace pact with the MNLF that called for, among other things, to place 13 provinces under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but subject to a plebiscite. The government also has tried but failed to negotiate peace pact with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). Galvez believes, however, the localized peace talks like those that created the Cordillera Autonomous Region will prosper.

Renewed hostilities erupted in Mindanao when former president Joseph Estrada declared an all out war against the MILF. Before Mr. Estrada’s term was cut short, his all out war was able to take back under control of government forces all 31 of MILF strongholds, mostly in Maguindanao. It included the MILF’s biggest Camps Abubakar and Raja Muda, among them. When former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over, she restarted the peace talks with the MILF and gave back some of their smaller camps.

After their long years of armed struggle as secessionist rebels, Galvez cited, the MNLF and MILF have abandoned the ways of war. They took up the parliamentary struggle as part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that have P70 billion “block” grant.

But a self-proclaimed breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is regarded as terrorists front in the molds of the Islamic extremist Dawlah Islamiyah as well as the Abu Sayaff bandits and the ISIS-influenced Maute group still pestering Mindanao with their criminal activities. However, the family relations of the MNLF and MILF with these groups are also constant source of irritants in the peace process, not to mention “rido,” or vendetta killings between feuding Moro clans.

That in capsule summed up the history of the Mindanao conflict where the OPAPRU plays the important tasks in the “unity campaign” that PBBM placed upon Galvez. This early, Galvez disclosed, PBBM wanted to get underway the preparations to ensure the peaceful and orderly transition of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

The BTA was first constituted in Feb. 2019 as transitory body composed of appointive officials pending election into office of its members in the parliamentary body of the BARMM. Upon endorsement of the Duterte administration, the 18th Congress approved the postponement of the BARMM elections to May 2025 instead and extension into office of the incumbent appointive BTA members.

Toward this end, PBBM earlier swore en masse two weeks ago the 80 members of the BTA, headed by MILF chairman Ahod Ebrahim. As the head of this body, Ebrahim was likewise retained as the Chief Minister of the BARMM. This is despite the fact that Ebrahim and the MILF openly supported defeated presidential candidate ex-Vice President Leni Robredo.

After the oath-taking rites of the new BTA members, Galvez quoted PBBM giving his piece of mind to them: “No more extension. And while you continue in your office, show performance (to get you elected).” Among the BTA members are the children of Ebrahim, Misuari, and the other new generation of “peace warriors” from the ranks of former rebels from the MNLF and MILF.

“They are, in fact, no longer called as ‘Commander’ but are now addressed as ‘Honorable MP,’ (or Members of the Parliament),” Galvez quipped. Notably, he cited as example, former BIFF “commander Bravo” is now addressed as MP Abdullah Bravo. From armed combatants they used to move around with in the past, the BTA officials are now with a coterie of lawyers and accountants accompanying them, the OPAPRU chief attested.

Living up to their “transformation,” Galvez noted, the Bangsamoro leaders have “embraced the peace and unity call” of PBBM. We had to cut short our news forum because Galvez was called to Malacañang Palace for a meeting, presumably along with Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Rodolfo Azurin.

After which, Azurin denounced the deadly ambush of a town police chief and four other policemen while serving a warrant of arrest to a suspect hiding in the MILF community in Ampatuan, Maguindanao last Tuesday. Azurin recalled the deadly 2015 Mamasapano massacre where 44 members of the Special Action Force of the PNP were slain while trying to arrest a wanted terrorist hiding in the MILF-stronghold area, also in Maguindanao.

Are they really “honorable” peace warriors? While this is rhetorical question, certainly it deserves a straightforward answer.


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