Sunday, July 13, 2008

MILF SEES RENEWED ESCALATION OF CONFLICT WITH GRP

The MILF, which is fighting for an autonomous state in Mindanao and has been engaged in peace negotiations with the GRP since 1996, sees a renewed escalation of its conflict with the Philippine government following a number of encounters with the military in the last three weeks.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 23, July 13-19, 2008


The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is fighting for an autonomous state in Mindanao and has been engaged in peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) since 1996, sees a renewed escalation of its conflict with the Philippine government following a number of encounters with the military in the last three weeks.

Fighting broke out between MILF fighters and government troops in three villages in Maitum, Sarangani early on June 25. The fighting took place in the villages of Ticulab, Maguling, and Mindupok. Hundreds of residents fled to the town center.

That same day another armed encounter transpired between the MILF and government troops in Tugaig, Barira, Shariff Kabunsuan.

“Frustration with the dilatory tactics of the government in the peace talks mainly caused the fighting,” said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

Contentious ancestral domain issue

The GRP-MILF peace negotiations have been stalled since December last year. Negotiations reached a deadlock over the ancestral domain issue.

The ancestral domain issue, which was first discussed only in 2004 or some eight years after the talks started, has turned out to be the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations.

The MILF last year was proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that would be based on an ancestral domain claim of the Bangsa Moro over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

The GRP had insisted that areas to be covered by the BJE other than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subjected to a plebiscite. This repeatedly led to an impasse in the peace negotiations with the group.

The impasse was broken only in November last year, when the GRP and the MILF reached an agreement defining the land and maritime areas to be covered by the proposed BJE.

Things seemed to be looking up after that, prompting lawyer Eid Kabalu, then MILF spokesperson, to make media statements to the effect that they expected a final agreement to be signed by mid-2008.

But all hopes for forging a peace pact between the GRP and the MILF were dashed last December, when the peace talks hit a snag following the government’s insistence that the ancestral domain issue be settled through “constitutional processes” – a phrase which, according to Iqbal, had been inserted into the agreement without their consent.

Renewed armed clashes

On June 30, MILF fighters and government troops clashed in Aleosan, North Cotabato. The fighting caused some 200 families from the town’s Barangay (village) Paganan to flee, based on reports from the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the 6th ID, said it was the MILF who started the fighting. “We were the ones being attacked here,” he said.

But Iqbal denied this. “Beyond all doubt, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) started the fighting; fighting took place 2.5 kilometers away from the Cotabato-Davao National Highway,” he said.

Iqbal said that coming as they did in quick succession, these skirmishes appear to indicate a renewed escalation of the conflict between the GRP and the MILF – a potential threat to the peace negotiations. “But the MILF flexed its muscle to make everyone in the organization toe the line by giving the peace talks every opportunity to continue,” Iqbal however added.

The MILF, meanwhile, has also been accused of attacking power transmission lines in North Cotabato. They have been accused of bombing a steel tower of the National transmission Corporation in Brgy. Bagontapay, M’lang; and of firing rocket-propelled grenades at a power facility of the Cotabato Electric Cooperative in Matalam.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita accused the MILF of perpetrating these bombings “to pressure the government into agreeing into a peace agreement that would violate the Constitution” –- an accusation Iqbal denied.

“Ermita has never appeared to be sincere in addressing the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao; he is always in favor of the counter-insurgency approach to the problem,” Iqbal said when asked to comment on Ermita’s statement.

“The MILF is not asking the government to violate its constitution; far from it,” Iqbal added. “But we say the government should not use the constitution to forego compliance with its commitment or signed documents.”

Iqbal also said Ermita could have made such statement to win “sympathy” from the people and the international community. “In short, he wants to picture the MILF as an unreasonable group,” he said.

Roots of the conflict

Moro historian Salah Jubair traces the roots of the present conflict in southern Philippines to the U.S. annexation of Mindanao and Sulu into the Philippine territory in 1946. Jubair argues that the Bangsa Moro is a people with a socio-political, economic, and cultural system distinct from that of the Filipino people.

The inclusion of Mindanao and Sulu in the scope of the 1946 “independence” granted to the Philippines paved the way for large-scale non-Muslim migration to the two islands. This large-scale migration, which began in the 1950s, brought with it the problem of land grabbing.

At some point the government even instituted a Mindanao Homestead Program, which involved giving land parcels seized from Moro peoples to landless peasants from the Visayas islands and Luzon and also to former communist guerrillas who availed of amnesty.

This was intended to defuse the peasant unrest and the revolutionary war that was staged in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the communist-led Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army), which was basically a peasant army.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that same year. The MNLF, led by former University of the Philippines (UP) professor Nur Misuari, waged an armed revolutionary struggle against the GRP for an independent state in Mindanao.

The Marcos government, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace and signed an agreement with the MNLF in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1970s. The pact involved the grant of autonomy to the Mindanao Muslims.

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 Moro self-determination.

In 1996, the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement with the GRP, which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a concession to the group. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP.

While the peace agreement with the MNLF supposedly holds, armed skirmishes between the AFP and MNLF did not stop. On Nov. 19, 2001, Misuari declared war on the Arroyo government for allegedly reneging on its commitments to the Final Peace Agreement. The MNLF then attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo. Misuari was subsequently arrested in Sabah, Malaysia for illegal entry and was turned over to the Philippine government by Malaysian authorities. He is currently under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the GRP-MILF peace talks have repeatedly bogged down on the issue of ancestral domain, mainly because the GRP has frequently insisted on resolving it within “constitutional processes.” This does not sit well with the MILF.

MoA-AD

Still, the MILF is optimistic that a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) may be signed sometime this year.

“As of today (July 9), only two points remain unresolved by the Parties namely, the word freedom and effectivity of those (provisions) in the MoA-AD that require legislation,” Iqbal shared. “We insist that if they decide to pass it through legislation it should not derogate prior agreements. If the government is serious, we can sign it before August this year.” Bulatlat

2 comments:

aicute said...

nice blog you got there..

Jerome C. Herrera said...

Hi. My name is Jerome Herrera. I have a forum called Penster Online. It is a forum where Filipino writers can improve their writing skills and talk
to each other. The main goal of the forum is to find the writer in every Filipino. I was wondering if you are interested in exchanging links. Penster Online
can be found at http://www.pensteronline.com If you are interested, please email me at jeromeherrera2006@gmail.com with the title of your blog/website and the
address. Thanks and God bless.