Former MNLF commanders back ARMM abolition, says MILF leader

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06:04 PM January 10th, 2012

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By: Charlie C. Señase, January 10th, 2012 06:04 PM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—A number of surviving foreign-trained commanders of the Moro National Liberation Front support the abolition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the establishment in its place of a Bangsamoro homeland with ample authority to govern itself, an official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said.

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the MILF, which is currently negotiating with the government for an end to a 37-year struggle for self-determination, said former comrades-in-arms belonging to the MNLF Central Committee met here on Sunday at the behest of its chairman, Muslimin Sema, who is also vice mayor of this city.

The MILF started in the late 1970s as a breakaway faction of the MNLF.

Jaafar quoted Mohammad Ali, an MNLF commander based in the “Iranon areas” of Maguindanao, as saying it was about time the Aquino government helped “facilitate the establishment of a genuine Muslim autonomy.”

Ali and some of his men, now engaged in corn and rubber production in Buldon, Maguindanao, courtesy of the government’s agrarian reform program, were one in supporting the MILF position to empower Muslim Mindanao with real autonomy, Jaafar said.

According to Jaafar, the other commanders who had expressed similar views included Libyan-trained MNLF Commander Pangamdas of Western Mindanao, Batch-90 Commander Haji Jordan of Basilan, and Commanders Sali and Sony of Sulu and Davao, respectively.

The military training abroad that began after the declaration of martial law in the Philippines in 1972 came in batches of 90 and 300, said Jaafar, whose MILF faction broke away from the MNLF in 1978 after its leader Salamat Hashim rejected the Muslim autonomous setup that arose from a 1976 agreement between the MNLF and the Marcos government that was worked out under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The reunion of the MNLF commanders, according to Jafaar, was participated in by foreign-trained commanders of the 1970s and some local government units.

Jaafar said since the start of the peace negotiation in 1975, the MNLF signed two significant political settlements with the Philippine government—the 1976 Tripoli Agreement in Libya and the 1996 final peace accord under the administration of then President Fidel Ramos.

He said the government’s grant of Muslim autonomy that underwent several political changes and innovations has not really improved the lot of the Bangsamoro people as shown by the prevailing socio-economic and security problems in the ARMM provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.

“As of now, we are still poor if not the poorest region in the country; and as a result some people resort to commit crimes and other unlawful acts in order to survive,” Jaafar said.

The group, according to Jaafar, admitted that ARMM was “toothless,” needing authority and power to be able to govern by itself without being mendicants and subservient to Malacañang. Oftentimes, local officials are manipulated by the powers-that-be, prompting many to describe such manipulation as “ARMM-twisting,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar said the MILF peace panel is working out a new political setup with the authority to explore the region’s own resources instead of being the “milking cow” of the national government.

“We are rich in natural resources and yet poor. This is the irony that we want the Aquino government to resolve by heeding to our plea for self-determination,” Jaafar said.

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