Rival rebel groups back call for unity

Posted on January 28, 2014

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The two rival factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) separately backed yesterday the call of the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for the integration of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) in the final peace accord between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Jimmy Labawan, vice-chairman of the MNLF central committee affiliated with founding chairman Nur Misuari, welcomed the call of the OIC for the GPH, MNLF and MILF to unite in developing a mechanism to harmonize the peace agreements of the two Moro fronts.

In a statement, Mr. Labawan also lauded the GPH and the MILF for the successful completion of the 43rd Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur.

“I support the advocacy in uniting all the Bangsamoro people as one in the quest for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” Mr. Labawan said.

Abdul Sahrin, secretary-general of the MNLF Council of 15 headed by Muslimin Sema, also welcomed the resolution issued by the OIC calling for the inclusion of the gains of the 1996 GPH-MNLF peace agreement to the Bangsamoro framework agreement of the GPH and the MILF.

“It is good if we can put the two peace agreements together so that we can come up with a more comprehensive, inclusive and meaningful solution to the Bangsamoro problem,” he said.

Last week, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Q. Deles reiterated the government’s call for the MNLF to participate in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would govern the Bangsamoro government, and replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2016.

Mr. Sema has clarified his group is not opposed to the forging of a final peace agreement between the GPH and the MILF, as he noted the need to respect the 1996 GPH-MNLF final peace agreement.

“We are not against the signing of a peace agreement between the MILF and the government,” Mr. Sema said in a radio interview last week in Cotabato City.

Meanwhile, House committee on national defense and security chairman and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo G. Biazon yesterday cautioned the government to further study the peace agreement it signed with the MILF to avoid further questions before the Supreme Court (SC) later on.

In a chance interview on Monday, the former senator and Armed Forces chief-of-staff said the conditions in the Bangsamoro framework agreement should be examined carefully to ensure that it does not violate provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

He noted that there can be “traps” in the annexes signed between the government peace panel and the MILF, and may require constitutional amendments, or the enactment, repeal, or amendment of a law. One of the contentious issued cited by Mr. Biazon is the creation of a new police force within the envisioned new Bangsamoro territory.

“The Constitution is very clear: there shall only be one Philippine National Police, civilian in character and national in scope. I am not saying that it is hard for us. We need to examine all the scope of the annexes and find out and begin to study which of the provisions of these four annexes will require deeper examination so that we will know where the traps might be,” he said.

Mr. Biazon predicted that there will be many other provisions in the peace agreement that will be questioned before the high court.

In 2008, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) creating an independent state within the Philippines, but was later on struck down by the SC as unconstitutional.

On Saturday, peace negotiators of the GPH and MILF reached an agreement to demobilize more than 11,000 rebels -- deemed the last step before a comprehensive peace deal is signed.

The remaining Annex on Normalization was signed in Kuala Lumpur, completing the framework for a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, or final peace agreement.

Aside from the Annex on Normalization, the parties also signed the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters that sets the division of authority between the national and Bangsamoro governments over such areas. The normalization annex details the gradual phasing out of MILF forces to be carried out until the new ministerial form of government is formally established in 2016. -- Albert F. Arcilla in Zamboanga City with I.C.C. Delavin in Manila