MILF eyes new state

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04:06 AM August 9th, 2011

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August 9th, 2011 04:06 AM

COTABATO CITY—A senior Moro rebel leader on Monday demanded a genuine Muslim autonomous state not subservient to Manila, and President Benigno Aquino III indicated Christians and Lumad would be given a choice of whether they would want to join a new autonomy setup.

Civil society groups warned against a military-civilian “third force” which, they said, could sabotage a peace deal between the Aquino administration and the Moro insurgents.

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), denounced the 21-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a “fake” autonomy symbolizing mendicancy.

Jaafar reiterated the current MILF leadership would no longer push for a separate Islamic state and was ready to settle for a “Bangsamoro state” under the Philippine government.

For the first time after he met with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo four days ago, the President gave some details of what he and Murad talked about in their secrecy-shrouded meeting in Tokyo.

Talking with reporters in Manila, Mr. Aquino made it clear that a future peace deal would not be a purely executive agreement but “probably will take congressional action also.”

He also said “one of the things agreed upon is, how do we define territory.”

“At the end of that is a plebiscite, which is also my point,” Mr. Aquino said in Filipino. “The people who will be affected should be the one to say if they want to be part of [an autonomous region] or not.”

He added: “We will come up with a proposal that we will present to the people.”

Third force

In the face of scanty details released by the Palace, the leader of an alliance of prodemocracy Moro civil society groups—dubbed Maradeka—said the government and the MILF should be wary of military officers and local officials who might try to undermine a final deal.

“We’re worried about the third force—the spoilers of the peace agreement in the ranks of military officers and local politicians,” Maradeka secretary general Nash Pangadapun said in a phone interview.

Maradeka sat in as an official observer in the 2006-2008 talks between Manila and the MILF.

Another group, called the Mindanao Peaceweavers, also warned against such “spoilers.”

“We pray that the peoples of Mindanao and the rest of the country become ever more vigilant against ‘spoilers’ from all sides who will brook at nothing to scuttle anew the peace at hand,” it said in a statement.

The Peaceweavers is an alliance of peace advocacy groups composed of Christians, Muslims and Lumad.

System of mendicancy

“We do not recognize the ARMM as a solution to the problem of the Bangsamoro people,” Jaafar said in an interview. “We want a Bangsamoro state where its people are empowered to decide for themselves, charting peaceful ways and means to improve their social, economic and religious life.”

Jaafar said the ARMM was a “fake” setup because it “does not have autonomy, power… Up to now the region is still poor if not the poorest in the country.”

“(We) would demand empowering Muslim Mindanao, unlike the present setup of mendicancy,” Jaafar added. “We rely too much on the national government for practically all the region’s needs. This is an insult to… autonomy.”

Jaafar said the Bangsamoro state that the MILF was proposing would cover the present ARMM region with possible expansion.

“That’s the content of the Proposed Comprehensive Compact Agreement we submitted to the government. It’s good that President Aquino believes that we are sincere in talking peace,” Jaafar said.

He refused to give details of the MILF proposal.

Splinter group

MILF negotiators previously proposed the setting up of a so-called “substate” similar to a US federated state. It would perform all government functions except those pertaining to national defense, foreign affairs, currency and postal services, which would be left to the central government.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pinggoy expressed concern about the emergence of an MILF splinter group.

“Are we assured there will be no group organized after the signing?” Pinggoy asked, referring to groups like that headed by Umbra Kato.

Kato severed ties with the MILF early this year, accusing the Murad-led group of veering away from the struggle for self-determination espoused by founding chair Salamat Hashim.

Kato, who has formed a group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), had expressed hope the Aquino-Murad meeting would conform with Salamat’s battle cry of an independent Moro homeland.

Kato doubted any agreement with Manila would be acceptable to everyone.

Kato has been the target of a manhunt for leading attacks on civilian villages in 2008 after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a government proposal for a Bangsamoro homeland as part of a peace package with the MILF.

Aug. 22-24 talks

Palace officials said the envisaged peace agreement would not be like the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain—or MOA-AD—that was forged during the Arroyo administration.

The MOA-AD, which detailed the areas belonging to a so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.

Mr. Aquino said the two sides agreed on the need to define what “territory” means in their talks to be held Aug. 22 to 24 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Mr. Aquino also said the ARMM would figure in the talks.

“The best thing I heard from Murad was when he said that our negotiating panels should be problem-solvers and not adversaries. We are here to solve the problem,” he said.

Mr. Aquino said no agreement had been reached so far, when asked how much autonomy the government intended to give the MILF.

“The bottom line is, we will make known to all stakeholders and even prospective ones as this is not a Muslim problem alone,” he said, pointing out that these included the Lumad and the Christians living in the so-called Bangsamoro homeland.

“Will it (ARMM) be expanded or will it be contracted? This will be discussed by the negotiating panel,” the President said.

Outside the justice department in Manila, members of the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) urged the administration to take advantage of the “improving environment of peace talks” and release about 300 activists who had been jailed for alleged criminal offenses.

Carrying whistles and handbells, around 30 PM protesters reminded Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of her promise to work for the release of detainees held in jails nationwide. With reports from Marlon Ramos and Philip C. Tubeza

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