MILF: President Aquino gave us hope

Opposition lawmaker seeks details of talks

SHARES:

01:06 AM August 8th, 2011

Recommended

A top Moro rebel leader on Sunday said the Tokyo talks between President Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad Ebrahim had given the insurgents “new hope” for an end to a decades-old war that had claimed tens of thousands of lives.

MILF vice chair Ghadzali Jaafar said the rebel leadership believed in Mr. Aquino’s seriousness in ending the fighting but Jaafar also cautioned against expecting a peace pact to be signed during the present administration, given the nature of Philippine politics.

He said the political opposition always looked for ways to put down an administration in order to win in the next elections.

“Politics in the Philippines means after every election some politicians are immediately focused on the next elections, especially the opposition,” Jaafar said in a phone interview with Manila-based reporters.

Jaafar spoke from “somewhere” in Mindanao to assess the results of Thursday’s secret meeting in a Tokyo hotel between the President and Murad.

Malacañang has given few details about what the meeting achieved, prompting opposition lawmakers to demand specifics.

Jaafar admitted that until Mr. Aquino offered to meet with Murad, some Moro rebel leaders felt the peace talks with the government would not get anywhere.

Sincerity doubted

“There were members of the central committee who were doubtful of the sincerity and seriousness of the Aquino administration before the meeting, before this administration offered to us the proposed meeting,” Jaafar said in Filipino.

“In the 14 years negotiating with the Philippine government … admittedly among the leaders of the MILF and the Bangsamoro there were those who have lost hope, who think that the chances that the talks would be successful had gone down,” he said.

“There are leaders who in fact think the government is not sincere, not serious in wanting a peaceful solution to the problem. So this meeting was a shot in the arm, like an injection, because it could bring new hope to leaders who had little hope,” he added.

Jaafar said he and other members of the MILF central committee discussed several times Mr. Aquino’s offer to meet and “we saw his seriousness.”

‘Positive development’

Jaafar said both sides laid down the talking points before the meeting, but he was not at liberty to give details.

He said that after the meeting, he received many calls and text messages not only from within the MILF ranks but from outside “expressing their support.”

“That means other leaders in Mindanao, even those outside the MILF leadership, have accepted that this is a positive development and they hope this trend will continue so it will boost the peace talks,” Jaafar said.

The 12,000-strong MILF initially aimed for an independent Moro state in the mostly Catholic country but is now focused on autonomy.

The 14 years of on-off negotiations have often been marred by violence and distrust.

There was widespread anger after then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo offered the MILF a proposed peace deal in 2008 that would have given them control over vast tracts of land.

The Supreme Court rejected the plan and rogue MILF commanders launched attacks on communities in Mindanao that left about 400 people dead and displaced more than 750,000.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the separatist war, led by then Moro rebel leader Nur Misuari, broke out in the early 1970s. At one point in the mid-1970s, then dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the number of deaths in the war at 120,000.

Heightened expectations

While Malacañang was heartened by the positive reaction to the Aquino-Murad meeting, some members of Mr. Aquino’s own political coalition called for caution.

“There is hard work ahead for President Aquino [and his advisers],” Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said in a text message. “They must now deliver on heightened expectations since failure can result in a worse situation than before the meeting.”

Bello said an MILF proposal for the creation of “a substate” for Muslims “should be done through a constitutional amendment and not merely through executive fiat.”

He cited the ill-fated Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which the Arroyo administration and the MILF tried to launch in 2008 but which the Supreme Court struck down.

Real autonomy

Bello said it was about time that the Moro people are given real autonomy.

“The ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) simply gave the illusion of autonomy while making Muslim Mindanao a financial ward of the Philippine state,” he said.

MILF negotiators have likened their proposed substate to one of the 50 US federated states. They envision a setup where the Muslim substate would exercise all government functions except those on national defense, foreign affairs, currency and postal services which would be exclusively exercised by the central government.

Secrecy only for lovers

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said the minority bloc would reject any peace agreement with the MILF unless Mr. Aquino gave details of his one-on-one meeting with Murad.

“Secrets may be maintained between lovers, but there should be no secrets between the President and the Filipino people,” Lagman said in a statement. “The bits and pieces of information which trickled to media are scanty and stereotyped.”

“The House minority supports the President’s initiative for a peaceful settlement of the armed conflict but we cannot support a peace agenda whose parameters are nebulous and whose terms of engagement and possible agreement are concealed,” Lagman said.

Among the questions Lagman wanted the President to answer was how the ARMM would fit into an eventual agreement.

He also said Mr. Aquino should say why the meeting was kept a secret and reveal the “bottom-line demands” of the MILF.

Not a public relations job

The President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said most people welcomed his unprecedented move to speed up the talks.

“By far, we have seen that the reactions of our countrymen have been positive, especially among the stakeholders in Mindanao,” Valte said.

She said the Tokyo meeting was held “not for PR (public relations)” purposes or to make the President look good in the eyes of the people.

“The President saw the opportunity and he knew taking that opportunity will go a long way in kick-starting the talks that have been stalled for so long. So let’s focus on the good results that the President achieved,” she told state-run dzRB radio.

Valte dismissed as “cowardly, undiplomatic and unintelligent” the remarks made by an unnamed diplomat who said Mr. Aquino’s meeting with Murad was an act of treason.

She said she did not think the diplomat would ever come out and own up to that statement.

Don’t forget Lumad

Vice President Jejomar Binay urged Filipinos to support the administration’s peace initiatives. He lauded the decision of the MILF “to drop its agenda of establishing an independent state.”

A Roman Catholic prelate from Mindanao said the Tokyo meeting could finally pave the way for lasting peace in the region.

Speaking on Church-run Radio Veritas, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma said he was optimistic a final peace agreement with the MILF would be signed under the Aquino administration.

But Ledesma also said the peace panels must also include the rights of the Lumad, or the indigenous people in the region, in forging an agreement. With reports from AFP, Christine O. Avendaño, Jerry E. Esplanada, Jocelyn R. Uy and Inquirer Research

Disclaimer: Comments do not represent the views of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments which are inconsistent with our editorial standards. FULL DISCLAIMER
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.