MILF, MNLF move to iron out differences

MANILA, Philippines – Two rival Moro groups – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – have agreed to iron out their differences and reactivate the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, a mechanism that will enable the groups to discuss their issues. 

The agreement was made after a meeting of both parties in Jeddah on June 12 upon the invitation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an influential body which counts 56 Islamic states as members. 

Under the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, the MILF and the MNLF agreed to discuss "common ground" and "explore collaborative efforts at addressing the concerns of each party," professor Abhoud Syed Linga of the MILF told Mindanews.  

Present at the meeting were various factions of the MNLF, including the one led by former Cotabato City vice mayor Muslim Sema and the faction of fugitive MNLF founder Nur Misuari, Mindanews reported. The overall MNLF bloc was led by Sheikh Abdulbaki Abubakar. 

Misuari was not present during the meeting but he was represented by lawyer Randolph Parcasio, doctor Mashur Jundam and Jimmy Labawan, Mindanews said. Misuari is presently facing a warrant of arrest over the bloody siege of Zamboanga in September 2013, which left over 200 dead and thousands homeless. 

Meanwhile, the 9-member MILF delegation was led by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who also headed the body that crafted the first draft of the law fleshing out the group's comprehensive peace peace pact with the government signed in March 2014. 

The two groups signed a joint statement when the meeting ended, the MILF said in an editorial posted on Luwaran.com.

It was the OIC that brokered the 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the government. MNLF leaders say the government has yet to fully implement the deal and wants unfulfilled aspects to be incorporated in the revamped autonomous government in southern Philippines targeted to be established before 2016. (READ: The MILF, the MNLF and 2 peace agreements)

The MNLF led the rebel movement in the south in the 1970s but leadership differences forced the late Hashim Salamat to break away from the group and create his own organization that is more religious in orientation. That group has come to be known as the MILF. 

Past efforts 

In 2010, the OIC convinced the two rival groups to create the BCF in an effort to unify them towards peace in Mindanao. 

Both groups had agreed to create an ad-hoc secretariat group in subsequent meetings attended by MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Misuari themselves. 

But the developments reached a deadlock after Misuari asked the MILF to dissolve their organization and re-join the MNLF.

Since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the MILF, the MILF and the MNLF have been communicating with each other on how to deal with their issues. 

In fact, new MNLF chairman Abul Khayr Alonto graced the signing of the government-MILF peace pact and asked Misuari to support the deal. 

The MILF, meanwhile, has also expressed openness in forging an "alliance" with the MILF as it acknowledged that the "heyday of a monolithic organization" has long gone. 

In reaction to the reactivation of the BCF, the MILF said in its June 15 editorial:

"There at least two ways to achieve this unity; one is good but not reachable, and the other is practical and the only possible arrangement under current situation. After all, with changes and the various transformations sweeping across the Bangsamoro, alliances and coalitions are what matters these days. The heyday of a monolithic organization is a thing of the past and no longer holds currency today. People are tired of being dictated on what to do and what not to do. Moreover, both the MILF and MNLF are supposed to be popularly-based organizations and therefore it is their obligation to run their respective organizations by consultation. The people must be involved to run their lives."

The secretary general of the MNLF-Sema faction, Abdul Sahrin, told Philippine Star the objectives of the BCF will be: 

OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani is expected to present the outcome of the MILF-MNLF meeting before the 41st session of the Council of Foreign Minister in Jeddah on June 18 and June 19.

The peace deal between the government and the MILF aims to establish the Bangsamoro political entity that is designed to enjoy greater political and fiscal powers than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which it will replace. 

The new autonomous government will be "ministerial" in form, where people will elect at least 50 members, who will, in turn, elect a "chief minister" within themselves. 

To prepare for the expected election of the first batch of Bangsamoro officials in 2016, the MILF has started forming a political party, to be known as the "United Bangsamoro Justice Party." - Rappler.com