Nation


Gov’t, MILF peace panels to strengthen 2014 milestones




Posted on December 29, 2014


ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Members of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels hail 2014 as a milestone year for finding a resolution to the drawn-out conflict in Muslim areas in southern Philippines and they are intent on fortifying what has been achieved on paper through actual work on the ground.

“We achieved many milestones for the peace process in 2014. Of utmost importance, we signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF on March 27, successfully concluding more than 17 years of negotiations and signaling an end to the decades-old conflict,” Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Q. Deles said in an interview.

Consequently, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was submitted on Sept. 10 to both houses of Congress and public consultations were held in various parts of Mindanao as part of the deliberation process.

Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate have committed to pass the BBL within the first quarter of 2015.

Ms. Deles, whose office oversees the government’s peace initiatives with armed groups, said the historic signing of the peace agreement has once again demonstrated that the longstanding problem in Mindanao could be resolved through a genuine negotiation.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government chief negotiator with the MILF, described 2014 as a year when the government and the MILF established foundations to ensure that the southern peace process will not suffer a setback in the future.

“[E]verything is on track and moving steadily towards the establishment of the Bangsamoro by 2016. There will definitely be humps and grinds along the way but we know that, with the support of our people, we will be able to overcome all challenges in the spirit of true partnership with the MILF,” Ms. Deles said.

However, one of the challenges is making the people understand that the peace deal between the MILF and the government is separate from the previous pacts that were signed between the government and another Muslim group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“It is, in fact, an enhanced version of all previous peace agreements to make the autonomous region in Mindanao as genuine as possible,” Mohagher Iqbal, MILF’s chief negotiator, said, stressing that the BBL built on the gains as well as the lessons of the past agreements.

Some hardliners in the MNLF -- an organization from which the MILF broke away from and has since disintegrated into several other factions -- are opposing the MILF-government arrangement, claiming that it oversteps the previous peace agreements.

The MNLF faction under Nur Misuari, who led the previous peace deal with the government signed in 1996 under the Ramos administration, launched a siege in Zamboanga City in September 2013 ostensibly to express its disagreement to envisioned new Bangsamoro territory.

However, other MNLF senior leaders have expressed support for the proposed BBL.

Abdul “Kong” Sahrin, secretary-general of the MNLF central committee under the Sema faction, said his group believes there are ways on ensuring that the gains of the previous peace agreements will not be forgotten.

MNLF faction’s leader Muslimin Sema is among those pushing for the harmonization of all southern peace agreements and is part of the so called “Jeddah Formula” that composed the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) along with senior leaders of the MILF.

The BCF was created by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Cooperation to bridge the differences of the two Moro groups. The BCF was reactivated in Saudi last October.

Once the BBL is passed by Congress and signed by the President, the future Bangsamoro region, which will be run under a parliamentary form of government, will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

According to Ms. Deles, the Bangsamoro law “will entrench the Bangsamoro that is expected to bring shared security and shared prosperity in Bangsamoro and the rest of the country, which we expect to radiate to our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors and beyond.”

“Preparations are under way for the implementation of the normalization process. The normalization bodies have been activated and operationalized and we hope to start the first phase of decommissioning by early next year,” she added. -- Albert F. Arcilla