Below is “Let us be partners for peace,” the opening statement of Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash on February 12, 2015. In his first appearance at the inquiry, Iqbal reiterates the MILF’s commitment to the peace process and its readiness to help the government in tracking down terrorists.
Let me speak straight from the heart.
First, the encounter between the MILF and the SAF was an unfortunate encounter. It was something that nobody planned or wanted. We thought that we have effective protocols and mechanisms in place that would prevent things like these from happening. In the end, 44 SAF, 18 MILF, and many more died in that encounter. We must honor them by making sure that their sacrifice would not be in vain. While we cannot change the past, we can do something in the future. We can work together to make sure that something like this will not happen again. Thus, we are already investigating the conduct of our men during that encounter to see it anyone violated the rules of conduct.
Second, the MILF was not the only group that was present in the area. The SAF fought other armed individuals belonging to different networks and groups – BIFF, private armed groups, local militias, etc. The delicate task of finding out who did what, especially the reported atrocities, cannot immediately be blamed on the MILF. That would be unfair. We need to investigate. On the part of the MILF, aside from our own investigation, we push for a truly independent group that would conduct a fair and impartial investigation of the incident.
Third, the MILF was immediately working to effect the ceasefire as early as 6:30 in the morning. But because of the limitations in communications and because of the on-ground situation of battle, the ceasefire was obtained only in the afternoon. MILF members who were part of the joint ceasefire committee risked their lives to effect the ceasefire. We were trying to save those men.
Fourth, credit must be given where credit is due. Through the efforts of the MILF, 28 SAF were rescued from imminent death that day. The 28 SAF were part of the first team and holed up in an area one kilometer northeast of Tukanalipao. They were already being fired upon by unidentified armed groups. The 28 SAF are alive today because of the efforts of the MILF and finally, it is the will of God.
Fifth, the MILF is against all forms of terrorism. We have made a solemn vow to fight terrorism in our areas. Terrorism is inconsistent with Islam and has no place in the orientation and principles of the MILF. Our previous actions bear witness to our commitment against terrorism. To tag the MILF as a terrorist group is unfair.
Sixth, the MILF did not harbor Marwan or Usman. The MILF has no links with these terrorists and terrorist organizations. Marwan or Usman were in areas outside the MILF-controlled areas.
Seventh, the MILF and the BIFF are different organizations. We do not share the same goals and objectives. There is no truth to the allegation that we are conniving with each other.
Eighth, we are committed to peace. We have been in negotiations with the Philippine Government for 17 years. Our present partnership with President Aquino has been durable – there has been no recorded armed hostilities between the government and the MILF since 2011. We signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. Each of these agreements is a testament to our commitment to pursue our objectives through peaceful means.
Ninth, the peace process is important to us – and to everybody. It has brought us the promise of a good life for our people – free from fear, want, and discrimination. It contains our hopes and our dreams – it is not for us, for our children. We have waited for this opportunity for 17 years. We promised our people that peace will be our legacy. We seek your help in making this promise possible. We cannot do it by ourselves. We ask you to help us live in peace.
Finally, justice is at the core of our struggle. We have been seeking justice for a long time. Thousands of our brothers and sisters have died pursuing this cause. We see an opportunity that peace can be established. 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 me partners for peace.