Gov’t, MILF must do more to regain trust - IMT

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Peace monitors under the International Monitoring Team (IMT) said the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) need to do more confidence-building measures to regain public trust in the peace process.

Maj. Gen. Dato Abdul Samad Bin HJ Yaakub, head of IMT, noted that while both peace panels are sincere in seeking genuine peace in Mindanao, they need to exert efforts to regain public trust following the January 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, involving MILF rebels, breakaway groups, and the police Special Action Force (SAF).

The IMT is an independent Malaysian-led group that monitors the agreements of both sides concerning ceasefire, rehabilitation, and development. It is composed of at least 55 members; the Malaysians oversee the security component of the team's mandate. Other IMT members include Libya, Brunei and Japan.

Yaakub and other members of the IMT witnessed the turnover ceremony of weapons taken by the MILF’s 105th Base Command from the SAF commandos who attacked Mamasapano to arrest terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir (or Marwan) and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was killed in the operation that also caused the death of 44 SAF troopers, 18 Moro rebels and at least 3 civilians.  (READ: Timeline Mamasapano clash)

The MILF returned 16 SAF weapons to the government peace panel on Wednesday, February 18, at Camp Siongco, headquarters of the military’s 6th Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat town. A total of 63 firearms were lost during the Mamasapano operation, according to a police report.

“On behalf of IMT, we are honored [to witness one] of the historical events in the peace process. Since the tragic events in Mamasapano, the IMT with the rest of mechanism worked hard to minimize the effect of the tragedy,” Yaakub said.  

“We realize that both parties are true to their word. They want peace. Confidence- building measures are one of the ways to gain back the trust of the Filipino public. It happened today,” he added.

The Malaysian officer said they hope both sides will do more in the near future.

“To the military, we salute you for your professionalism and your stabilizing factor of the current situation,” Yaakub added.

Heal wounds

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles thanked the IMT for its significant role in "installing the ceasefire" even as she asked all sides to "work to heal the wounds to move forward."

She acknowledged that the Mamasapano carnage has been the biggest challenge to the process, whose highlight was the peace agreement signed by both sides last year.

The clash is the PNP's worst operation in its young history, and it now threatens to ruin the peace legacy of the Aquino administration. Congressional hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which President Benigno Aquino III hoped would pass early this year, have been suspended.  

Aquino earlier asked the MILF to show good faith in the process by returning the weapons to SAF and arresting Usman. 

The government and MILF peace panels then held backchannel talks that culminated in the return of the weapons.

Senator Ralph Recto however said the MILF should also return the personal belongings of the SAF commandos, saying "these can never be spoils of war nor trophies of battles." – with reports from Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler.com