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MILF told: Clear your territory of terrorists

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 01:09 AM February 15, 2015

MANILA, Philippines–The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should clear Bangsamoro areas of terrorists, otherwise questions would linger whether it could really secure its territory in the future, Sen. Francis Escudero said.

Escudero advised the MILF to give priority to sweeping terrorists out of Bangsamoro areas even before Congress passes the draft law that would establish a new autonomous region in southern Philippines.

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The MILF should seek the government’s help now since it will be enforcing law and order in the region after the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed, Escudero said.

“If the BBL will be passed, shouldn’t they clear the [Bangsamoro areas] of these terrorist and criminal elements?” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “If they can’t do it now with the help of the government, how can they do it when they’re by themselves?”

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“You’re talking of [the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters], you’re talking of [private armed groups]. That will be your turf. Do you want them to be there?” he added.

MILF sincerity in question

The clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and guerrillas from the BIFF and the MILF in Maguindanao province that led to the deaths of 44 policemen, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians on Jan. 25 has raised questions about the MILF’s sincerity in completing its peace agreement with the government.

The SAF commandos were withdrawing from Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano town after taking down Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” when they ran into BIFF and MILF guerrillas, triggering a 12-hour gun battle.

A legislative investigation into the clash has sidelined discussions of the BBL in Congress, throwing in doubt the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro charter by March.

Facing the Senate on Thursday, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted that the rebel group had no “absolute control” over its forces on the ground.

“There’s no absolute control in the same way that even the government doesn’t have absolute control over its forces,” Iqbal said.

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But that there had been no fighting between government security forces and Moro rebels since 2011 showed that the MILF had “command control,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that on Jan. 25 the SAF clashed with the MILF in Mamasapano.”

Terrorism disavowed

Iqbal said the MILF disavowed terrorism, and it was distinctly separate from the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF in 2010.

Escudero agreed that it would be difficult for Congress to pass the BBL in the aftermath of the Maguindanao debacle.

“It will not pass in its current form for sure today, especially under the circumstances, and probably even in the future,” he said.

One sticky point will be the MILF’s job of securing the area, Escudero said. “That’s why this early, before we pass the BBL, we hope they can show that they can really enforce the rule of law there.”

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Joseph Victor Ejercito have withdrawn their coauthorship of the draft BBL in the wake of the Mamasapano encounter.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the committee on local government, has suspended public consultations on the proposed Bangsamoro law in Mindanao.

Escudero, however, said that the suspension should be seen as “an attempt to give it a chance.”

Premature demand

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said it would be premature to demand that the MILF clear the Bangsamoro region of rogue elements now, as the group was not yet the Bangsamoro government.

“As I understand the BBL, that will be the task of the new regional government. It could be unfair to demand it now. They’re still the MILF, not the Bangsamoro,” Pimentel said in a telephone interview.

“Isn’t that the job of the government? Why do we pass it on to [the MILF]?” he added.

But it would be fair to demand that the MILF identify the guerrillas who clashed with the SAF troopers, and return the slain commandos’ weapons, government-issued equipment and personal belongings, Pimentel said.

“Give us full transparency. Without judging their guilt, can you give us the names of the commander and unit leaders who were involved in the clashes?” he said. “I agree with the President that they should not stand in the way. That’s how they can rebuild trust.”

Obligation in peace pact

To show sincerity, the MILF should surrender the rebel who shot and killed an injured SAF trooper, as shown in a purported video of the clash that has gone viral, if the shooter was an MILF member, Escudero said.

“Clearly, the MILF should do something, and [the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] should be tasked [with demanding] that of the MILF,” he said.

If the shooter was not an MILF guerrilla, it’s the duty of the MILF to help “in [his] arrest or surrender” under the ceasefire agreement, Escudero said.

“The President and the government have been more than fair, in fact too fair to them. It’s about time they showed equal interest and fairness in so far as their obligations in the peace agreement are concerned,” he said.

Trust the MILF

Malacañang appealed to the public to trust the MILF on its commitment to peace.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Iqbal had been very forthright about the MILF’s commitment as the government’s “full partners” in peacemaking.

“We have to believe that because they have spoken in the Senate hearing,” Lacierda said, referring to Iqbal’s statements at Thursday’s Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash.

Both the MILF and the government “have shown the determination to forge ahead given the very difficult situation that we’re facing as a result of the Mamasapano incident,” Lacierda said over government-run dzRB radio.

Speaking at the Senate hearing, Iqbal assured the public that the MILF had begun investigating the clash, and that it remained committed to peace.

“Please do not let this unfortunate incident be used to derail 17 years of hard work and lessen our resolve for peace and justice. Let peace be our legacy. Let us be partners for peace,” he said.

Don’t scrap BBL

Lacierda also said that Congress could review the draft BBL in view of the incident, but not to scrap it altogether.

“It’s very difficult right now to discuss the Bangsamoro Basic Law given the emphasis on the investigation and the inquiry on the Mamasapano incident. But I do hope that as we continue to seek accountability, let us not lose focus on the importance of finding a peaceful solution,” he said.

He said the lawmakers could consider improving the measure in view of the incident, but should not lose their focus on “finding a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Lacierda also said Malacañang respected any protest rally to be staged calling for the President’s resignation, but said it would also be prudent to await the results of the investigations.

“We are in the midst of several inquiries. So while we respect their choice to express themselves in those manners, we will wait for the results of the [PNP] board of inquiry because we need to [know] the truth,” he said.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, Francis Escudero, MILF, peace process, Philippines
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