ARMM governor holds back tears, defends Moros

MANILA, Philippines – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman got into an emotional exchange with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano over the senator's insistence in calling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a terrorist organization.

Cayetano read from an old document detailing the MILF's links to terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, saying that the tag is “not meant as an insult,” but “an international, legal term." Earlier in the hearing on Thursday, February 12, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal reiterated that the MILF denounces and does not condone terrorism. 

As in previous hearings, Cayetano did not mince words. He pounced on Iqbal and blamed the MILF for the conflict in Mindanao in a series of statements: 

"Other people were also victims since the Spanish period but in the last 20 years, your rebellion also victimized those in Mindanao."

"If you did not use violence and terrorist acts, other people would not have been victims in Mindanao."

Magpapasalamat po pala kami sa inyo nakagawa na kami ng kalye dahil sa ceasefire? (We have to thank you that we can pass by roads because you have a ceasefire?)

"You are negotiating under the barrel of the gun. We are not. You can run for president of the Philippines. You say you are for peace but you are the ones who are at war against us."

Before Iqbal could answer, Hataman, a Muslim from Basilan, asked to make a manifestation to respond to Cayetano's use of the terrorist tag. 

Holding back tears, it took Hataman a few seconds before he could speak. 

"I am not siding with the MILF but do we tag the NPA [New People's Army] as terrorists when they burn down equipment?" Hataman said in Filipino. 

"I want to show that the application of the law should be the same because if you read social media, it's as if this is the fault of all Moros," Hataman said.  

In response, Cayetano recalled the Al Barka incident in Basilan in 2011. He said "history" shows the MILF captured soldiers then executed and decapitated them, which should quality the MILF as "terrorists."

Hataman shot back at Cayetano: Have you read the result of the Al Barka incident, if it was the MILF or the Abu Sayyaf who did this? 

The ARMM governor said Cayetano cited an inaccurate information. An investigation into the Al Barka incident showed that it was the Abu Sayyaf that was responsible for the atrocities mentioned by Cayetano, Hataman said. The military also punished its own commanders for the operational blunder they committed there. (READ: Mamasapano and what I wish Aquino said)

Hataman said Cayetano should refrain from generalizing Muslims.

Even South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela had been tagged as a terrorist by the United States in the past, Hataman said. 

But Nelson Mandela never used arms, Cayetano said.

The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process later corrected Cayetano's inaccurate information. It is a known fact that the African National Congress founded by Mandela had an armed wing. 

Cayetano was unapologetic and shot back that he was only referring to the MILF, not all Muslims.  

Standing his ground, Hataman said: If you are basing the terrorist tag on the use of arms, is the NPA a terrorist? Cayetano said yes. Their exchange ended there. 

Under the peace agreement between the Aquino government and the MILF, the ARMM headed by Hataman will be abolished to give way to an expanded and more powerful Bangsamoro region.

'We were the first victims' 

Iqbal took the opportunity to give the senator a short lesson on Moro history in the Philippines.

The MILF chief negotiator recalled laws passed after World War II that encouraged residents from Luzon and the Visayas to transfer to Mindanao to solve the "Moro problem" – a policy that showed that the Philippines treated Mindanao as a mere colony.  

He also recalled the 1968 Jabidah Massacre that sparked the Moro rebellion in the 1970s. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)  

Thousands of people have been killed in the decades-old war, Iqbal said.  

Iqbal narrated the following cases of massacre against the Moros after Martial Law was declared in 1972:

Martial law was declared under the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos Sr, the father of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is now the chairperson of the main committee handling the Bangsamoro Basic Law.  

"Nag-organize kami kasi nakita naming 'di patas ang laban. Pero nu'ng imbitahan ang MILF noong 1997 sa peace talks, nag-respond po and MILF," Iqbal said. 

(We organized ourselves because we saw that the fight was unequal. But when they invited the MILF to the peace talks, we responded.)

The MILF signed a peace agreement with the government in March 2014. Under the deal, the MILF agreed to a staggered decommissioning of firearms in exchange for the creation of a Bangsamoro government. 

Cayetano asked: What would happen if the MILF loses in the 2016 national elections that would also elect the first batch of Bangsamoro officials? Will you go back to war?

Iqbal said the MILF would have decommissioned their arms by that time if the roadmap will be followed.

Pressed for an answer, Iqbal said: Eh 'di talo kami. Kung panalo, eh 'di maganda. (Then we lose. If we win, then that's great.)

The Mamasapano clash killed 44 elite cops and 18 MILF members. Earlier in the hearing, Hataman said 3 civilians died in the clash.

Earlier civilian casualty figures ranged from 5 to 7. Rappler.com