Sunday, November 05, 2006

CONSTITUTION NOT CURE-ALL FOR MINDANAO STRIFE, SAYS MILF LEADER

“Not all solutions to the ongoing conflict in Mindanao can be found in the Constitution.” This was the observation made by MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu in a phone interview with Bulatlat.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO

Bulatlat

“Not all solutions to the ongoing conflict in Mindanao can be found in the Constitution.”

This was the observation made by MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu in a phone interview with Bulatlat over the weekend. Kabalu, who is also a lawyer, was reacting to a recent statement by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye that the Arroyo government was willing to grant the MILF’s demands on the ancestral domain claim, but within the framework of the Constitution.

The ancestral domain claim issue has emerged of late as the most contentious subject in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, which are being brokered by the Malaysian government.

During a bilateral meeting preceding the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) commemorative summit in Nanning, China last week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to tell the MILF that she was willing to grant the group’s demands.

“The president mentioned the current status (of the peace talks and how) we have stalled on some territorial issue, again… The president mentioned that we are willing to provide, we are willing to grant this,” Bunye told reporters in Nanning.

“But this should be done within the framework of the Constitution,” Bunye added. “The President hoped that this would be properly conveyed to the other side.”

Ancestral domain

The MILF is proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity based on an ancestral domain claim over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. “These are areas which historically belonged to our ancestors,” Kabalu told Bulatlat.

Kabalu, however, recognized that there are now many non-Muslim settlers in these areas.

“They will be given the option of either joining the Islamized community or remaining with their original groups,” the MILF spokesman said when asked what would become of the non-Muslim settlers in these areas should the ancestral domain demands be granted. “We will not impose on them.”

The government had insisted that 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.”

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

Impasse

MILF leaders say the issue of “constitutionality” had not emerged in any of the signed documents related to the peace talks since 1997. It had only surfaced when the MILF put forward its ancestral domain claim, the group’s leaders say.

The ancestral domain issue had caused the GRP-MILF peace talks to hit a snag last September.

Amid the impasse, two bombings took place in Mindanao on 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.

Named by the Philippine National Police (PNP) as suspects in the Makilala bombing were:

MILF chairman Al Haj Murad; Kule Mamagong alias Ustadz Kule, Daud Sarip, Biznar Salahuddin, Atti Lintungan alias Ustadz Atti, Samsudin Demaalo alias Commander Platon Blah, Ahmad Akmad Batabol Usman alias Abdulbasit or Basit Usman, Zahide Abdul alias Zabiri Abdul or Bedz, Usman Al Majad – all alleged MILF commanders;

Dulmatin alias Amat Usman and Omar Patek alias Abdul Sheik, alleged members of the Indonesian-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah; and Hadji Akmad Bayam, allegedly a former MNLF commander now working for Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita as an assistant secretary.

Kabalu had warned of a “total breakdown” in the peace talks if the PNP should pursue charges against Murad.

Ermita has said he did not know that Murad was included in the charge sheet. He berated local authorities for not clearing the issue with “higher authorities,” considering, he said, that there are peace talks going on between the GRP and the MILF. “I have to look into this... because it infringes on the higher activity which is the negotiation going on with the MILF,” the executive secretary said last week.

In his interview with Bulatlat, Kabalu cited Ermita as having spoken of the possibility of having Murad’s name withdrawn from the charge sheet.

Government proposal

Government negotiators had asked for a Sept. 30 deadline for coming up with a counter-proposal to the MILF’s demand, but failed to meet it.

The GRP panel subsequently asked for an Oct. 31 deadline for the counter-proposal, but once more failed to meet it.

“They have asked for a Nov. 15 deadline for their counter-proposal,” Kabalu said of the government negotiators.

“We are awaiting their counter-proposal,” Kabalu added. “Whether or not the peace talks will move forward from the impasse depends on that.”

Roots of the Moro war

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. His successor Ferdinand Marcos later conceived a scheme which involved the recruitment of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters to occupy Sabah.

The reported summary execution of these recruits in 1968 by their superiors, which Moro historian Salah Jubair says was due to their refusal to follow orders, led to widespread outrage among Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year.

The MNLF, which fought for an independent state in Muslim Mindanao, entered into a series of negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), beginning in the 1970s under the Marcos government. Conflicts on the issue of autonomy led to a breakdown of talks between the GRP and the MNLF in 1978, prompting a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim to break away from the MNLF and form the MILF. Since then, the MILF has been fighting for an Islamic state in Mindanao.

In 1996, the MNLF signed a Final Peace Agreement with the GRP which created the ARMM as a concession to the group. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP. Bulatlat

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