Iqbal: We trust Aquino, gov’t panel even more to pursue peace talks with MILF | Inquirer News
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Iqbal: We trust Aquino, gov’t panel even more to pursue peace talks with MILF

Mohaqher Iqbal attends the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano encounter for the first time on Thursday. He said the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, has not diminished but even bolstered the trust of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in President Aquino and his administration’s efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao. RAFFY LERMA

Mohaqher Iqbal attends the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano encounter for the first time on Thursday. He said the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, has not diminished but even bolstered the trust of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in President Aquino and his administration’s efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao. RAFFY LERMA

MANILA, Philippines–The deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, has not diminished but even bolstered the trust of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in President Aquino and his administration’s efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao.

Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator in the peace talks with the government, called for the creation of an independent body to investigate the clash between government and MILF forces, saying that some people would doubt the outcome of the separate investigations being conducted by the two sides.

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BACKSTORY: MILF’s Iqbal finally faces Mamasapano probe

At a news conference that followed his appearance at the Senate inquiry into the Jan. 25 clash that left 44 police commandos and 18 MILF fighters dead, Iqbal said he attended the hearing on Thursday because “[we] really want to reach out to everybody and let everyone know what really happened as far as the MILF is concerned.”

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Explaining why he appeared only at the third Senate hearing, Iqbal, who just arrived Thursday morning from Jakarta, said the MILF had initially sent to the hearing its representative to the joint government and MILF coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities because he was at the site at 5:30 a.m. of Jan. 25 and thus, had “personal knowledge” of the incident.

Asked whether he and the MILF still trusted the President after the Mamasapano tragedy, especially amid allegations that the Chief Executive was personally involved in the police operation that targeted two known terrorists and in the botched rescue operation for the police commandos, Iqbal said the group trusted Aquino and the government peace panel even more.

“We trust the President and our counterparts all the more because we saw how serious they are [in the peace process],” Iqbal said.

He was apparently referring to statements of the President and his officials, including members of the government peace panel, to continue to pursue peace talks with the MILF even after the incident, and the clamor to defer the peace negotiations and the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Iqbal maintained that the “victims” of the incident were not only the President, the government, but also the MILF and the people in general.

Blames ‘noncoordination’

He blamed the “noncoordination” by the Philippine National Police Special Action Force with the MILF in its operation to capture Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and BIFF commander Abdul Basit Usman that led to the encounter with the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and consequently, the death of 44 police commandos.

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“What happened is there was no coordination and because there was no coordination, then this happened,” Iqbal said.

Despite some lawmakers now doubting the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process, he maintained that the MILF had proven for the past 17 years that it was working for peace as shown by the many documents and agreements it signed with several administrations.

Iqbal said the MILF had started to look into what really happened last Jan. 25, with a team created and was talking with MILF ground commanders, civilians and “personalities” privy to the incident.

He assured the public that the MILF had no plans to “whitewash” its investigation as it was also after the truth.

Iqbal nevertheless pressed for an “independent, impartial and fair” investigation of what he called the tragic incident.

Perception problem

While the government through its board of inquiry and the MILF were conducting separate investigations, it could not be helped that some people would doubt the outcome of these probes, he said.

“One of the problems we are encountering here is perception and speculation,” he said.

Iqbal urged Congress anew to pass the draft BBL by the first quarter of the year so that they could meet the deadlines, including holding a plebiscite.

He said the MILF was wondering why the Mamasapano incident happened “at the precise time that the proposed BBL was under consideration intensely in both Houses of Congress.”

Nation wounded

Asked whether he thought there were moves to derail the passage of the proposed BBL, he said this should be looked into.

“Even if the (Mamasapano) incident is not an act of a spoiler, but its consequences are more of a spoiler,” he said, noting how the nation was ‘wounded’ and the national outrage on the Mamasapano incident.

He said the passage of the BBL would ensure that no other group would rise up against the government because the law would show that the Bangsamoro people were “part of the country.”

Asked what he told Deputy Director Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge, after he hugged him at the end of the five-hour-long hearing, Iqbal said he just told him that the MILF was “not at war with the PNP.”

“The PNP is not the enemy, the AFP is not the enemy, the government is not the enemy,” he said.

Reaching out

At the Senate hearing, Espina reached out to Iqbal, saying they should work together in finding justice for slain police troopers and Moro rebels.

“It’s a good thing that chairman Iqbal is here because we’re able to convey what happened to our men. Thank you. If I may, I hope we’re together on this,” Espina said, turning to Iqbal.

“Forty-four of our men died and you said, 18 of your men died. But we have to be both together on this. We seek justice for our people. I hope that goes the same with you,” he added.

Iqbal said the MILF was just as pained by the deaths of the 44 SAF members.

Justice for both parties

The Moro negotiator said justice should apply to both parties and assured the Senate that the MILF would help hunt down fugitive terrorist Usman.

Iqbal began his testimony by relaying MILF chair Murad Ebrahim’s expression of condolence to the PNP over the killings of the SAF troopers.

He came under intense grilling by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and her colleagues, over a host of issues such as the MILF role in the clash, its failure to rein in its forces, and its purported coddling of terrorists.

Iqbal, however, admitted the killing of the SAF commandos was painful, too, for them.

“That’s why we need an independent investigation so we’ll know the truth,” he said, responding to Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

While the viral video showing the killing of a SAF trooper has yet to be authenticated, Iqbal said: “I agree with Sen. Grace Poe that whoever did this deserved the highest condemnation.”

“I think if there is a word more than terrorist, it can be more than that,” he said in response to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

Iqbal, however, said that justice should “apply to both sides.”

Prevent similar incident

Reading from a prepared statement, Iqbal said the best way to honor the slain SAF troopers and MILF guerrillas was for both sides to work together to prevent a similar incident.

“We are already investigating the conduct of our men during that encounter to see if anyone violated the rules of conduct,” he said.

The MILF chief negotiator said blaming the MILF for the killings was unfair since there were other groups—BIFF, private armed groups and local militias—on the ground.

Iqbal said that 28 SAF men, holed up one kilometer northeast of Tukanalipao, were fired upon by unidentified armed groups but were saved through the efforts of the MILF. He did not go into details.

“The 28 SAF are alive today because of the efforts of the MILF and finally, it is the will of God,” he said.

Besides, the MILF tried to effect a ceasefire around 6:30 a.m. hours into the firefight to save the SAF men, but this came into effect only in late afternoon, he said.

Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, also disavowed any form of terrorism, saying this was inconsistent with Islam and the group’s principles.

 

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, government panel, Iqbal, Mamasapano clash, MILF, Mohaqher Iqbal, peace process, Peace Talks, Senate probe
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