Tuesday, October 24, 2006

ON THE OCTOBER BOMBINGS IN MINDANAO:
‘THESE ARE THE HANDIWORK OF GROUPS OPPOSING PEACE’


The bombings that took place in Mindanao earlier this month are the handiwork of people who want the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to completely collapse, the spokesperson of the Moro revolutionary group said. These, he said, are people who are opposed to the prospects of real peace in Mindanao.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO

Bulatlat

The bombings that took place in Mindanao earlier this month are the handiwork of people who want the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to completely collapse, the spokesperson of the Moro revolutionary group said. These, he said, are people who are opposed to the prospects of real peace in Mindanao.

MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu made this observation in a phone interview with Bulatlat.

Two separate bombings occurred in Mindanao last Oct. 10. The first took place at early afternoon in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, wounding four women. The second happened eight hours later in Makilala, North Cotabato, killing six people and wounding 29 others.

“Why are these being carried out at a time when there is an impasse in the GRP-MILF peace talks?” Kabalu said. “The parties could not immediately reach an agreement on the issue of territory, so there was an impasse.”

Ancestral domain


The issue of ancestral domain had emerged last month as the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, which are being brokered by the Malaysian government.

The MILF is proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity based on an ancestral domain claim over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. But the government had insisted that any areas to be included to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in addition to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subject to “constitutional processes” – something which, the MILF said, had not come up in any of the signed documents related to the talks since 1997.

The ARMM –- which includes Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao –- is a product of the 1996 peace agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the GRP, which sought to end the MNLF’s 27-year armed struggle for a separate state.

During the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Sabah, an island near Mindanao to which the Philippines has a historic claim, ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government.

During his first presidential term, Ferdinand Marcos conceived a scheme which involved the recruitment of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters to occupy Sabah. The recruits were summarily executed repeortedly by their military superiors in 1968, in what is now known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre. According to Moro historian Salah Jubair, this was because they had refused to follow orders.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year.

The MNLF entered into a series of negotiations with the GRP, beginning in the 1970s under the Marcos government. In 1996, it signed a “Final Peace Agreement” with the GRP which created the ARMM as a concession to the group.

Impasse and bombings

“These attacks happened shortly after (the impasse arose), so the MILF is being blamed for these,” Kabalu said. “There is something rather suspicious in this. What we see is the intent to make the GRP-MILF peace process collapse.”

In an earlier statement, Hermein Arendain, spokesperson of the party-list group Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People) in Davao City, made a similar observation. “It is highly (suspicious) that the series of bombings in Mindanao came at a time when Congress was debating on the enactment of (the Anti-Terrorism Bill) and the GRP-MILF peace talk is in an impasse,” Arendain said in an Oct. 16 statement.

North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol was quick to point the accusing finger at the MILF, whose chairman Al Haj Murad was subsequently among those charged with multiple murder in connection with the Makilala bombing.

The MILF in an Oct. 11 statement condemned the bombings in Tacurong City and Makilala. In his interview with Bulatlat, Kabalu categorically stated that the MILF has nothing to do with the bombings.

When asked who could most likely benefit from a complete collapse of the GRP-MILF peace talks, Kabalu declined to name any specific group.

“It is difficult to speculate, but there are many groups who want the status quo to remain,” the MILF spokesperson said. “They continue to exploit the situation here in Mindanao, and they are the ones who benefit from these.”

Kabalu, however, noted that among those charged by the police in connection with the Makilala bombing was Hadji Akmad Bayam, a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) whom he said now works with the office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

In an earlier statement, Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, had said that the fact that Bayam was included in the charge sheet showed that police cannot possibly charge Murad with murder. “It’s amazing that Hadji Akmad Bayam was included,” Iqbal said.

“Anyone who is in his right mind won’t include Hadji Akmad Bayam (on the charge sheet),” said MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar in a TV interview on Oct. 19, reiterating Iqbal’s statement.

Malacañang has yet to comment on the allegations of Kabalu, Jaafar, and Iqbal on Bayam. But news reports last month cited Ermita as saying that Bayam, whom he referred to as his assistant secretary, was involved in the “recovery” of Grace Gonzales, who was kidnapped in Zamboanga last Aug. 1.

Grace Gonzales is the daughter of Dr. Eldigario Gonzales, president of the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU).

Also included in the Makilala charge sheet were Kule Mamagong alias Ustadz Kule; Daud Sarip; Biznar Salahuddin; Atti Lintungan alias Ustadz Atti; Samsudin Demaalo alias Commander Platon Blah; and Ahmad Akmad Batabol Usman alias Abdulbasit or Basit Usman; Zahide Abdul alias Zabiri Abdul or Bedz; and Usman Al Majad –- all alleged MILF commanders.

The charge sheet also included Dulmatin alias Amat Usman and Omar Patek alias Abdul Sheik, alleged members of the Indonesian-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. Dulmatin’s wife, who had been captured previously in Jolo, Sulu, had said the MILF is linked with the Jemaah Islamiyah –- an allegation Kabalu has denied in several media interviews.

“The Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to be involved in these bombings,” Kabalu said. “That is why we lodged a formal protest against Piñol’s allegations, so that they could be investigated and the persons involved in these incidents could be pinpointed. So we are ready to cooperate with the authorities, with the government for the immediate identification of those involved in these bombings.”

Meanwhile, Arendain said, “The latest spate of bombings in Central Mindanao is consistently interrelated with other cases of unsolved bombings in Mindanao since 2001, which local and police authorities have always attributed as the work of terrorist groups.”

“However, the result of an independent fact finding mission of the Mindanao Truth Commission, which investigated the series of bombings in 2002 to 2003, concluded that a third party was behind all the bombings,” Arendain added. “Apart from the investigation of the Mindanao Truth Commission, the Magdalo soldiers (had) also accused then Intelligence Chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus and former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes of masterminding the series of blasts in Davao City. Even the government-backed Maniwang Commission, which was also tasked to investigate the series of bombings in Mindanao, has not dismissed the possibility of a ‘third party’ involvement in the bombings of the Sasa wharf and Davao City International Airport.”

MILF

The MILF was formed in 1978, when a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari.

That year, the MNLF signed an agreement with the Marcos government in Tripoli, Libya which provided for a grant of autonomy to Muslim Mindanao. The Marcos government had insisted that a plebiscite be held to settle the territories of the autonomous government. The MNLF refused to recognize the results of the plebiscite and negotiations with the GRP bogged down.

The MILF has been fighting for an Islamic state in Mindanao. Peace negotiations between the GRP and the MILF began in 1996, under the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos. Bulatlat

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