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MILF: Give us substate or give us secession

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 04:48 AM August 12, 2011

A senior negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday said the rebel group would not back down from its demand for a Muslim “substate” and that the rebels were still keeping the option of secession “if we don’t get anything.”

The proposed substate will be governed by a chief minister elected by an assembly as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, MILF senior panel member Michael Mastura said in a phone interview.

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“We will not move out of substate. We have already moved from independence,” Mastura told the Inquirer.

He also said: “We have moved very much away from secession. Won’t you put premium on that? … If that can’t be accommodated, what are we negotiating about? If we don’t get anything, we will have to go back to the option to secede.”

It was not clear from Mastura’s remarks if the proposed substate was a non-negotiable position and if he was raising the specter of separatism as a bargaining clout.

Mastura said the idea of a Moro substate was drawn, among others, from Scotland and Northern Ireland, which he called “substates” of the United Kingdom.

“UK is a unitary system. Scotland is a model that has its own assembly. Sabah (in Malaysia) has its own assembly, or the states of the United States,” he said. “We want to have our own chief minister. In Northern Ireland, they have proposed a chief minister.”

Another model cited by Mastura is Puerto Rico, a US commonwealth with its own legislative, judicial and executive branches and constitution.

The proposed substate has also been likened by some MILF advisers to a “special region” that has “asymmetrical relations” with the national government—as Hong Kong is to China—but has more powers than a regular local government unit.

President Aquino intrigued

The MILF has asserted that a provision on the substate could be appended to the 1987 Constitution by legislation without the country going through a contentious Charter change process.

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The substate’s structure, powers and representation in the national government will all be defined by this provision.

President Aquino himself was also intrigued by the idea of a substate and asked MILF chair Murad Ebrahim about it during their Tokyo meeting last week, according to Mastura.

“Murad explained it,” Mastura said, adding he got the impression that Mr. Aquino “kept an open mind” about it.

“We see the sincerity of P-Noy here,” he said.

MILF draft

Formal talks will resume in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 22, with the government panel expected to present its counterproposal.

The MILF’s January 2010 comprehensive compact draft provided for a “democratically elected Bangsamoro Assembly” vested with legislative and executive authority.

A chief minister, deputy chief minister and other ministers will discharge the executive authority on behalf of the assembly, the document said.

The government of the substate, or the Bangsamoro State, will be formed by the assembly, which will elect the chief minister, the deputy chief minister and the other ministers.

The draft has been revised but its essence has been retained in the latest draft, the MILF said.

Too much gridlock

“It’s like a parliamentary setup,” Mastura said. “We prefer this setup. There’s too much of a gridlock in the presidential system of checks and balances. We want to be governed by a chief minister and a Cabinet.”

He said the MILF was aware of the Filipinos’ wariness about amending the Constitution, that’s why it proposed crafting a provision on the substate that could be appended to the Charter.

Mastura, however, said his group was not ruling out Charter change.

“That’s our proposal to make it easy,” he said. “The other possibility is we go along with the surgical amendment. Congress is talking about lifting economic provisions. That in itself is an opening.”

In the MILF 2010 draft, the “Bangsamoro State” shall take part in the legislation and administration of the central government as a senatorial district. Also, a constituent assembly will be called to craft its basic law.

Caution urged

A leader of the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) has advised the MILF to be circumspect in dealing with the government.

In a statement obtained by the Inquirer, NDF spokesperson in Mindanao Jorge Madlos said while the Tokyo meeting was “admirable,” it could be aimed at “soften(ing) the MILF on the question of genuine self-determination, if not pressure it to capitulate …”

Madlos said any agreement “must be based on the Moro people’s genuine right to self-determination, sovereignty, patrimony, and basic economic and political reforms that shall mainly benefit the long-suffering Bangsamoro.”

Madlos also said that in trying to soften the MILF position, the government aimed to isolate and eventually crush the Maoist revolutionary movement.

Breakaway faction

In Maguindanao province, a breakaway faction of the MILF, which has assailed the peace negotiations as “political trash,” said it was growing in number.

Abu Misry Mama, the spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, claimed they had recruited more than 8,000 fighters since bolting out of the MILF last year.

Fourteen people have been killed in clashes in Maguindanao that began last weekend between the MILF and Kato’s group. With reports from Ryan Rosauro, Jeoffrey Maitem and Charlie Señase, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, BIFF chair Ameril Umbra Kato, breakaway rebel group, MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, MILF senior panel member Michael Mastura, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Muslim “substate”, President Benigno Aquino III
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