Peace deal foes will become ‘irrelevant,’ says Iqbal
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other armed groups that would rise to try to undo the implementation of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would become “irrelevant,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said on Thursday.
“I think they have no more cause to fight for because the government is already addressing all the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people when it signed the [Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro] and all the annexes. So they would become irrelevant and would not have the popular support that is required in a long-drawnout struggle,” Iqbal said over dinner with Inquirer editors, reporters and members of the government peace panel.
It was the first time that the two panels sat together in a gathering that was not an official function in the peace process.
The BIFF is led by Ameril Umra Kato, an MILF commander who broke ranks following the junking of a government-MILF peace deal in 2008 after the Supreme Court ruled the agreement was unconstitutional.
The memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) practically carved out of the Philippines a separate Bangsamoro state.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been pursuing the BIFF for almost a week, launching its offensive the day after the government and the MILF reached a peace agreement with the completion of the normalization annex, the fourth and last document attached to the framework agreement.
SOP for BIFF
Iqbal said it had always been “standard operating procedure” for the BIFF to launch attacks against the military whenever the government and the MILF were talking peace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“This time, the AFP was quicker on the draw. Instead of the BIFF attacking the AFP, the AFP attacked, with MILF coordination,” Iqbal said.
Trying to put the BIFF’s insurgency into “perspective,” government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the breakaway faction was “frustrated” over the scuttled 2008 peace agreement.
Then the peace talks under the Aquino administration went off to a slow start.
“They had grounds to agitate not to support this process. But now that we have reached this point, where we have actually concluded all the required documents to complete the agreement then that basis for agitation has been lost,” Ferrer said.
She said this was the reason why the BIFF declared on Jan. 25, the day the normalization annext was signed in Kuala Lumpur, that it wanted an independent Islamic state.
“They need a platform, they need a program to distinguish themselves. But I would agree with the assessment that not too many people would go along with them, especially if they see that the implementation (of the peace agreement) is going well and the (peace) dividends are felt by everyone,” she said.
But the BIFF is not the only group that could spoil the peace deal, and Iqbal is not looking far for the others.
“Who would be the worst spoilers? It is they themselves who faced the negotiating table and did not implement (what was agreed upon). For example, the MILF goes astray, then the MILF would be the worst spoiler. On the other hand, if the government does that, then the government would be the worst spoiler,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal has been talking peace with the government on the MILF’s behalf since 2003, facing nine negotiators in all, including his current counterpart, Ferrer.
Iqbal, the MILF’s communications head during the conflict, emphasized that the “level of trust and confidence between the government and the MILF is at its highest level.”
With all the support the peace process is getting from all sectors, Iqbal said there was no reason for the peace agreement to fail.
“The commitment, determination and focus are there. As long as the parties to the negotiation are really determined to push through, then I think we will succeed,” he said.
Bangsamoro basic law
The MILF and the government are exerting parallel efforts to convince members of Congress to support the Bangsamoro basic law that would govern the new Bangsamoro region, which would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
President Aquino’s peace adviser, Teresita Deles, said the Bangsamoro basic law could be enacted this year or by the first quarter of 2015.
“2014 is in the realm of possibility. It could be in the first quarter of 2015. In both houses (of Congress), we have already established champions (for the proposed law),” Deles said.