Military takes lead in securing assembly of Moro leadersBy Charlie C. Señase
COTABATO CITY, Philippines–The military is taking the lead role in securing an assembly of Moro rebel leaders and their followers that a Moro rebel leader said would be attended by up to 500,000 people.
The three-day “Bangsamoro Leaders Assembly,” according to MILF political affairs vice chair Ghadzali Jaafar, is aimed at drawing the sentiment of Moro people on ongoing peace talks between the MILF and the government.
The assembly is to start on Friday in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and its holding raises hopes that a peace agreement would come next.
“I can feel it. The vibration is so strong that before the scheduled elections next year, a final peace pact shall have been signed,” said Tocao Mastura, mayor of Sultan Kudarat which is hosting the assembly.
The mayor said the military and MILF have prepared a security cordon that would thwart any attempt by a “third force” to sabotage the gathering.
While Mastura refused to elaborate on who or what he referred to as a third force, previous reports pointed to disgruntled members of the MILF as a possible source of conflict within the rebel group that could lead to the collapse of the talks.
A disgruntled Moro rebel leader being closely watched is Ameril Umra Kato, who broke off from the MILF and formed his own group.
Colonel Agapito Nagarampa, deputy commander of the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade, said the military has set up checkpoints on the national highway leading to the assembly site. Nagarampa said two battalions have been tapped and more soldiers are awaiting orders.
Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido, police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said policemen would help ease vehicular traffic on roads leading to the assembly site.
The military in North Cotabato has offered free transportation to MILF rebels and followers who will attend the assembly, according to 40th Infantry Battalion commander Colonel Roy Galido.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said government buses may be used to ferry participants.
According to Jaafar, among those expected to attend the assembly are local and national government officials and representatives from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, United Kingdom and Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process.
Jaafar said the assembly seeks to unite the Moro people behind the MILF’s push for genuine autonomy.
MILF, a breakaway group from the Moro National Liberation Front which entered into a peace agreement with government in 1996, has dropped its bid for an independent Moro state after a meeting between President Aquino and MILF chair Murad in Tokyo in August last year.
MILF is now demanding expanded territory for an autonomous government that would have vast powers over natural resources and local revenue.