MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – They may have chosen to sit out the 2016 national elections as an organization, but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has at least one piece of “general advice” to its members: pick candidates who are willing to help the peace process move forward.
“As far as the MILF is concerned, organizationally we will not participate in the election. We remain as a revolutionary organization; we continue to work outside the system….But then for MILF members…we do not prevent them to vote, to exercise their right to suffrage,” MILF chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim said in a news conference in Camp Darapanan on Thursday, March 31.
“So palaging ‘yung advice namin sa kanila, kung sino ‘yung makakatulong sa peace process. Kung boboto rin kayo, ‘yun na ang iboto ninyo (So our advice to them is that if you’re going to vote anyway, pick a candidate who will be able to help the peace process),” he added.
Murad was asked whether the MILF was backing the ruling party for the 2016 elections, given the visit of administration bet Manuel Roxas II to the MILF camp on Thursday.
During the visit, Roxas met with the MILF Central Committee to talk about the ongoing peace process.
Roxas earlier campaigned in Cotabato City and met with Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, where he also spoke at length about his own plans for peace in war-torn areas of Mindanao.
Also present during Roxas’ meeting with the top MILF officials was Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles.
Roxas is the second presidential candidate to visit Camp Darapanan, after Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
The MILF and the Aquino administration had earlier forged a peace deal that led to the signing of the Framework Agreement and later, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The peace process has been stalled, however, after the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) failed to pass the16th Congress.
The implementation of the pact signed with the MILF through the BBL would have been one of the highlights of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration.
In a joint press conference with Roxas, Murad said at least two factors were behind the failure of the BBL to pass Congress: its “timing” close to the 2016 elections and the bloody Mamasapano clash of 2015.
Members of the Special Action Force (SAF) clashed with fighters from the MILF, the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January 2015. More than 60 Filipinos died in the clash, including 44 elite cops, and at least 17 MILF fighters and 3 civilians.
In the aftermath of the incident, public opinion turned against the BBL as politicians started doubting the MILF and the peace process, in general.
Does he think the BBL stand a better chance under a Roxas presidency? Murad said: “We are optimistic na mas malaki ang tsansa (that the chances are higher) because there would be a right atmosphere to really analyze at titignan kung ano (analyze and see) objectively ang impact at saka ang kabutihan ng (the impact and advantages of) BBL.”
Mindanao peace, national agenda
Roxas has vowed to push for the passage of a BBL should he win.
“The BBL, as in all other documents are always subject to revision, amendment, simply because of the legislative process. So I think one of the most important things na kailangang mangyari bago natin isulong muli ang panukalang batas, ang isang bill, ay aralin natin kung ano ang mga reklamo, ano yung mga pananaw (that needs to be done before we can push for this bill is to look into what the qualms are, the different views),” said Roxas.
Earlier, while speaking to Quevedo and members of the Friends of Peace – an organization composed of the religious, civil society organizations, and the academe – Roxas emphasized the need to consult different stakeholders on a future BBL.
The administration standard-bearer, whom Murad said was part of the peace process, said peace in Mindanao should be the concern of all Filipinos. Quoting Murad, Roxas noted that peace talks “are not part of the national agenda.”
“Napakaraming bahagi ng ating lipunan ay more or less dedma dito sa bagay na ito. When in fact, itong kapayapaan sa Mindanao really affects the entire nation. At isa yan sa mga napagusapan namin… kung paaano na maging kabahagi ito ng national agenda,” he said.
(May members of our society ignore the peace process. When in fact, peace in Mindanao really affects the entire nation. And that’s one of the things we talked about, how to make it part of the national agenda.) – Rappler.com