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AFP-MILF war over but fighting continues

The war between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is officially over.

Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., the AFP Chief of Staff, made this bold declaration during his visit to the MILF’s administrative headquarters at Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao on Oct. 6.

He also called on the AFP’s division and brigade commanders to “respect peace here in Mindanao.”

Galvez also said that after his retirement on Dec. 12, he will campaign for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The plebiscite for the BOL is set for January 2019. (See sidebar)

“After I hang my uniform, I can freely campaign for a yes vote for the BOL,” Galvez said.

During his visit, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chairman, handed Galvez a plaque, which honors the general as a “Soldier of Peace.” This was in recognition of the previous role Galvez played in the peace process.

The MILF leader described this as Galvez’s “undying efforts to attain peace in the Bangsamoro homeland.”

Four years ago, when Galvez was still a brigadier general, he was assigned as the co-chairman of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH). The CCCH, which was created in 2003, has the task of monitoring the implementation of the cease fire between government and the MILF.

The MILF’s recognition of Galvez as a “Soldier of Peace” can be seen as appropriate. When Galvez was appointed co-chairman of the CCCH, his words were “We can bring peace to Mindanao. From now on we will have a progressive Mindanao because we will work together for lasting peace.”

The MILF viewed Galvez’s presence in Darapanan as a milestone in the road to achieving peace because it was the first time for an AFP chief of staff to visit the MILF’s administrative headquarters.

CONTINUING FIGHT

Even as Galvez declared that the war between the AFP and the MILF was over, fighting in certain areas of Mindanao continued.

The reality was that the MILF was not the only armed group that the government had to deal with on the island.

In a previous article published in the Philippines Graphic issue dated May 15, 2017, Isidro R. Bacani, the executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance said the Mindanao peace process was a “complex issue.”

According to Bacani, there were “two distinct but related conflicts going on in Mindanao.”

The first conflict Bacani defined was the vertical conflict between the government and various armed groups in certain areas within Mindanao and their search for a peace agreement. And there was a second conflict, the horizontal one, which was going on between the various vested interests in the island.

An example of the vertical conflict was the issue between the government, the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MILF’s rival.

Muslim rebels in uniform with patches identifying their unit line up  (AP Photo/Pat Roque)

The horizontal conflict involved the off-and-on row between the two Moro factions, the gap between historical rights and ancestral domain, and the jockeying for primacy between indigenous folk of Mindanao, the Moro/Islam based armed groups and the remnants of the Sulu sultanate.

Bacani explained during a forum organized by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that the government will find it difficult to settle the vertical conflict with peace pacts with the MILF and MNLF if the issues heating up the horizontal conflicts continue to boil.

According to Bacani, among these issues were “unaddressed historical justices inflicted on the minority that were compounded by prejudice and biases of majority; the shifting policies of the government over time between autonomy, integration, pacification and co-optation; failed implementation of peace agreements; and weak governance.”

For Bacani, the most important issue that had to be addressed to settle both the vertical and horizontal conflicts in Mindanao was good governance.

“For conflict resolution to be successful, there must be good governance,” Bacani said.

This meant that local governments, existing forms of tribal leadership and various vested interest groups must agree to a common form of delivering efficient basic services to the constituents they serve.

Bacani conceded that this was a matter that was easier said than done.

And there was another issue that can influence the direction of the Mindanao peace process under the Duterte administration.

(AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan)

Bacani explained during his talk that this issue was whether the peace process should focus on federalism or regional autonomy.

From 1976 to 2001, the consistent focus of the national government for the peace process was the grant of autonomy. This resulted in the Final Peace Agreement between the MNLF and government, which led to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

However, this peace deal didn’t end the war. The MILF, a splinter group of the MNLF, continued the conflict. After at least three decades of fighting, the MILF eventually agreed to conduct talks with the government.

The MILF demanded a stiff price for achieving peace. And the MILF’s demand was the dismantling of the ARMM, which was the cornerstone of the government’s peace deal with the MNLF.

Fortunately, the matter was apparently settled when the Duterte administration included the MNLF in the current peace process. Under the Aquino administration, the MNLF’s exclusion led to a flareup between the MNLF and the government. This was known as the Zamboanga Siege, which was settled with the defeat of the armed elements of the MNLF led by Nur Misuari.

And when the MILF was on the brink of signing a peace deal with the government under the Arroyo administration in 2008, a faction of the MILF broke away and staged a series of attacks. This group became known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

In this year alone the BIFF has been behind a series of ambuscades and bombings in certain areas of Mindanao.

Aside from the BIFF, there is the reported resurgence of religious extremism on the island, which is based on the remnants of the Maute group that tried to take over Marawi City. Reportedly allied with this extremist group was the Abu Sayyaf, which was originally a band of terrorists affiliated with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization and has since swore allegiance with Daesh.

Daesh is an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, the extremist organization that attempted to put up its own government in Syria and Iraq. Their attempt led to a heavy fighting in certain areas of Iraq and a civil war in Syria.G

BOL will end Moro people’s ‘narrative of isolation’ – BTC commissioner

 

The passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was a major victory not only for the Moro people but for the Filipino nation as a whole.

This was the declaration of Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Commissioner Maisarah Dandamun-Latiph during the seminar workshop dubbed “Understanding Federalism in the Philippine Context” held Oct. 9 at the VIP Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City.

“The [BOL] will result in unity and social cohesion,” Latiph said, noting that there were still “a lot of misconceptions” about the Moro people.

She was hopeful that the landmark measure can help bring a better understanding of the Bangsamoro people’s aspirations, particularly their decades-long struggle for self-governance.

Latiph, who was among those who helped in the drafting of the BOL, said the law was one of the major pillars of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which was signed in 2014 between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

She said the CAB is “a comprehensive solution” which, through the BOL, “will be the legal framework that will set the stage” towards realizing the dreams of the Moros.

This will, in turn, lead to the formation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The BARMM was expected to be formed after the results of the BOL plebiscite, which is scheduled to be held on Jan. 21, 2019.

She said the upcoming plebiscite to ratify the BOL was very crucial.

“This (plebiscite) is a recognition of the legitimacy of the [future] BARMM government,” Latiph said. “It is the people [themselves] who will say yes or no to the law.”

Latiph said she was confident that once the BOL is implemented, the people will throw their full support behind it.

“We need a foundation where we can stand on,” she said, referring to the BOL.

Latiph expressed hope that once the BOL was ratified and properly implemented, “the narrative of isolation (of the Bangsamoro people) will come to an end.”—OPAPP report

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