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Jaafar, 75: Bangsamoro cause loses ‘martyr, consensus builder’

Gov’t, peace advocates heap praise on late MILF cofounder

TILL HIS LAST BREATH Former Moro rebel leader Ghazali Jaafar (center), already ailing in this Feb. 22 photo taken after President Duterte swore him and other members of the interim regional Bangsamoro government, died on Wednesday after seeing the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region. —LYN RILLON

KORONADAL CITY — Ghazali Jaafar, one of the founders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who fought for Moro self-determination since the early 1970s, died early Wednesday just weeks after seeing the creation of a new autonomous region in his Muslim homeland. He was 75.

“Bangsamoro lost a shahid (martyr) today,” said Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chair and interim chief minister of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will temporarily govern the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

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“He is one of the pillars of the MILF leadership and has been with the Bangsamoro struggle for around 50 years or more,” Murad said in a text message to the Inquirer. “We sincerely pray to Allah to reward his good deeds and accept his soul to His paradise.”

Malacañang expressed “heartfelt condolences” to the family and friends of the “warrior of peace.”

“He has fought many battles for peace and may Allah grant him a place in Jannah (Paradise),” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Politically savvy

Mohagher Iqbal, who served as the MILF’s peace panel chair, said Jaafar was more of a politically savvy leader than a military tactician and was one who “(made) things possible through compromises” without abandoning his principles.

Iqbal said Jaafar’s expertise was in laying down approaches and methodologies to achieve the “desired objective.”

According to Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, a Cotabato-based antiterror think tank, Jaafar had established a “broad political network of support for the cause of the Bangsamoro” and was skilled at unifying diverse interests.

“He is a consensus builder, and that’s the vacuum he left behind,” Bacani said.

The MILF website, Luwaran, said Jaafar organized the Moro youth group Mandharul Islam in the late 1960s to defend Muslim villages against attacks of the military-backed Ilaga paramilitary Christian group that was burning Moro homes and mosques then.

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According to Iqbal, Jaafar was one of the “seniors” in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari and was among those who formed the “New MNLF” in August 1977 before they formally broke away from Misuari and renamed their group MILF in 1982.

Not trained to fight

Jaafar was not trained abroad as a fighter like some other MILF leaders, but he always had a clear vision of the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination and independence, and he “never wavered in this vision till his last breath,” Iqbal said.

As the first peace panel chair of the MILF under the late Salamat Hashim, Jaafar signed the ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997.

In October 2012, the government, under then President Benigno Aquino III, and the MILF signed a framework agreement to end the rebellion and build an expanded and more powerful replacement to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Recalling entering Malacañang for the first time to attend the historic ceremony to mark the accord along with other MILF leaders and fighters, Jaafar said: “I never imagined then that we would be in the corridors of the seat of power of the Philippine state.”

Jaafar had called Malacañang the “seat of Moro oppression.”

In February 2017, President Duterte named him chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which was tasked with crafting an enabling law to create the future BARMM to implement the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the MILF.

Heart ailment

He underwent angioplasty in July 2018 while in Metro Manila following the approval of the final version of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) by the congressional bicameral conference committee.

Despite being weak and ailing, he helped campaign for BOL ratification last January and was appointed one of the 41 representatives of the MILF in the 80-member BTA and named parliament speaker.

During the oath-taking for BTA members in Malacañang on Feb. 22, he fell back on his wheelchair after standing during the ceremony.

Jaafar died of kidney complications around 1 a.m. on Wednesday at a hospital in Davao City.

“He is a big loss to the Bangsamoro people. His passing comes at a time when we are about to start a new chapter in the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination,” said former ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman.

Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said that despite his failing health, Jaafar “went the extra mile to join several campaign rallies to push for the realization of the Moro people’s aspiration for a genuine and meaningful autonomy.”

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the country “owes much of the peace embracing Mindanao and the Muslim communities nationwide to Jaafar.”

Peace advocate Baina Samayatin, executive director of the Moro Women Development Cultural Center, said Jaafar was “a great leader” in the struggle for self-determination of the Bangsamoro who would never be forgotten. —WITH REPORTS FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, JAYMEE T. GAMIL, PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND MARLON RAMOS IN MANILA

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Transition Authority, BTA, Ghazali Jaafar, MILF cofounder
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