‘It’s like a hero’s burial’: Thousands attend MILF leader’s funeral
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Cars were stuck on the road leading to the big family farm of Ghazali Jaafar in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, where his remains were buried on Wednesday, March 13.
Many got off their cars and hiked a few kilometers under the punishing heat of the sun to line up for the public viewing. Jaafar's body was wrapped in white cloth, but his face was showing. More people stood or sat on monoblocs under the trees nearby, seemingly content to watch people come and go.
“It’s the biggest funeral I’ve seen. It’s like a hero’s burial. Thousands of people attended,” said Guimel Alim, chairperson of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society. He walked 3 kilometers to reach the farm house packed with people to see the remains of the rebel who didn’t fight with guns but with ideology.
Jaafar was one of the pioneers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a key political personality whose strong character at times put him at odds with his fellow rebel leaders. He passed away just as the MILF was beginning to set up a new autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, the fruit of their decades-long struggle.
Jaafar brought it to the finish line as chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that worked with Congress to pass the enabling law. His astute understanding of national and local political dynamics, coupled with his closeness to Mindanao politicians including President Rodrigo Duterte, allowed Jaafar to navigate the challenges even if his colleagues may not have always agreed with his decisions.
“He was the closest to Duterte. Remember he was the host when Duterte went to Camp Darapanan during the campaign,” said an MILF observer who refused to be named.
The political battle to pass the law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was tough. Jaafar pushed himself beyond his limits, at the peril of his health.
He was hospitalized after a bicameral conference committee meeting in January 2019 as they were finalizing the law. There are those who say he had a heart attack, although the MILF supposedly tried to keep it a secret from most.
“The BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) survived in both houses because Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar was an agile negotiator and a true diplomat,” Maguindanao Representative Bai Sandra Sema posted on her Facebook page.
The passage of the law creating BARMM didn’t stop him from working. He helped in the campaign for the law to win the plebiscite, attending major rallies if only briefly and making sure to make the important calls.
“We will never forget that, despite his health condition, Jaafar went the extra mile to join several campaign rallies to push for the realization of the Moro people’s aspiration for a genuine and meaningful autonomy,” said Carlito Galvez Jr, chief presidential adviser on the peace process.
But his health continued to deteriorate. He showed up in Malacañang on a wheelchair when members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) took their oath on February 22. MILF leaders and peace advocates surrounded his wheelchair, happy to see the future Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament after a long absence.
He forced himself to stand up for the photo of the BTA members with President Duterte, who held his hand while they spoke in Malacañang. Jaafar later collapsed on his own weight, his back fell on another member of the BTA.
It was Jaafar’s’ last public appearance. He died past midnight on Wednesday, March 11, after 3 days of confinement in a hospital in Davao City.
At his farm house on Wednesday, many were seen mourning but just as many were also celebrating Jaafar’s life.
Jaafar joins MILF pioneers Hashim Salamat and Aleem Abdul Azis Mimbantas in the afterlife. As the people watched the MILF leadership pay their respects, it dawned on many how the once young rebels may only have a few years left on earth.
“He was exhausted. He left us because he had accomplished his mission,” Sema quoted Jaafar’s wife saying.
But there’s more work to be done. Jaafar’s death is a wakeup call to the MILF to prepare the succession line. – Rappler.com