Asia - Pacific

MILF chief hopes autonomy law seals deal in 2017

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) hopes for autonomy and development in Muslim south under Rodrigo Duterte presidency

Sorwar Alam   | 27.12.2016
MILF chief hopes autonomy law seals deal in 2017

Ankara

By Sorwar Alam and Zuhal Demirci

ANKARA

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, leader of the southern Philippines’ one-time largest rebel group, said Tuesday he hoped the nation’s Congress will submit a regional autonomy bill by July 2017 to seal a peace deal between his group and Manila.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in Ankara, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader said they had expected that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), meant to seal a 2014 peace deal with the government, would be passed under then-President Benigno Aquino III, who was succeeded by Rodrigo Duterte on June 30.

“But that was not what happened,” he said, adding that it had exacerbated frustration among locals.

The MILF has been pushing for the passage of the BBL, which would seal the 2014 peace deal signed with the government, the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro or CAB, in the country’s Muslim south, which is underdeveloped due to decades of conflict.

However the BBL – which would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more inclusive Bangsamoro region – was stalled as Congress recessed to campaign for the May 9 election.

Ebrahim said that the January 2015 Mamasapano clashes between Special Forces and MILF members fueled those opposed to the peace process.

“It gives some frustration among the people. Because after the agreement in 2014 we expected that the text would be passed under the term of the previous president. And it would be implemented. It could not happen because the agreement was not implemented in the expected period. The leadership was changed and there was some fighting between our forces and the government’s special forces. It gives an opportunity to those who were ready to attack the peace process. And the last administration ended without the bill being passed. So the situation here is quite difficult,” he said.

He underlined that Duterte committed to the process even before being elected in the May 9 election that gave hope to people of the majority-Muslim provinces of Mindanao.

“Immediately after the recent election we engaged with the new administration regarding the peace deal. Even before the election, the current president promised that he would pass the agreement and implement the law regarding the peace deal. And this gives hope to our people because he was very open on his commitment,” Ebrahim said

He stated that the MILF was trying to manage the people’s frustration.

“Because as long as the agreement is there, we can hold any government to implement it. So that gives us some kind of assurance that we will continue struggling for the final implementation. We will never throw it out. We will assert that all of the deal [must be] implemented. Because this is valid, this is final that had already been signed by both parties.”

Addressing recent developments, Ebrahim said the MILF had reformed the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked with drafting an autonomy law.

“We have already formed the commission and hopefully they can start working to compose a draft law by January next year. So we are drafting a new law. Because this time the president wanted the law to be more inclusive. That means other Moro groups can be included [in the new law].”

“We hoped that the law will be submitted to Congress by July 2017,” he stressed.

-Signal peace process will continue

Speaking on the meeting this August between MILF representatives and the Duterte government, he called it a signal of the start of engagement with the Duterte government to continue the peace process.

“The meeting in Kuala Lumpur was a signal that government and the MILF are continuing the peace process. And we agreed that there will be no new negotiations because both parties had already engaged in an agreement. And it was finalized. Now we built a committee, dubbed the Peace Negotiation Panel, which will work to implement the agreement.”

Ebrahim said that the MILF had prepared a roadmap for the development of their homeland.

“Immediately after signing the agreement [in 2014], we crafted a development plan. We have a blueprint of development programs that includes short-term, medium-term, and long-term programs. These development programs will build our homeland. And we hope the IHH [Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation], Japan, and other countries and organizations will help us to implement this development program.”

- Immediate implementation needed

He said implementation of the deal is crucial to stem local support for some small groups fighting the government, like Abu Sayyaf.

“Some people still support them because they see the groups as defenders. But this support will stop if the deal is implemented,” he added.

“They are isolated. They are small groups. They have only a few hundred elements. But the solution is immediate implementation of the peace process. Because when the peace agreement is implemented the locals won’t support them anymore.”

The MILF leader thanked Turkey for its support during the peace negotiations, calling it a player in the deal.

Ebrahim called for more international support, especially from Muslim countries, to rebuild the Moro homeland.

Since Duterte won the presidential election this May, his administration has been engaged in efforts to consolidate present and past peace agreements with all indigenous Moro groups in the Mindanao region in an effort to end the decades-old conflict, which has cost some 100,000 lives since the beginning.

This includes the MNLF, which the MILF broke away from due to disagreements about another peace process in 1977. Some MNLF factions see the 2014 MILF-government agreement as a betrayal of earlier deals between the MNLF and the government.

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