EU delegation visits Cotabato City to get firsthand information on peace process

Cotabato City – A seven (7)-man delegation from the European Union (EU) arrived in Cotabato City on January 30 to meet Ghazali Jaafar,1st Vice Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Central Committee (MILF, CC,) and Chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to get firsthand information on the latest developments of the current peace process including the monitoring of global issues on radicalism, and terrorism in Mindanao.

However, due to a prior commitment, Jaafar designated his staff headed by his Chief of Staff Prof. Raby A. Angkal, Prof. Abdullah B. Adam, Executive Assistant III, Margany R. Gumander, Peace Program Officer II, and Abdula P. Tayaan, Communication Officer to meet, and engage with them in a dialogue. 

A round table question, and answer dialogue was held at the BTC Office, 4th Floor, Elena V. Co Building, Don Rufino Alonzo St., Cotabato City. 

The EU Delegation 2-day visit is part of their monitoring programs, and activities on humanitarian aid to the victims of both man-made and natural calamities. They also extend support to the government counter insurgency and campaign against radicalism and terrorism. 

The first question raised by the EU is on the current status of the ongoing peace process. 

How would the MILF foresee or evaluate the current flow of the peace process with the (Philippine) government for the past several years? A member of the EU delegation asked.

“The MILF demonstrated its sincerity, patience and determination to attain just and dignified peace in our homeland by engaging the government in peace negotiation. In fact, the peace talks lasted for more than 17 years before the Government, and the MILF came up with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012, followed by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on March 27, 2014,” Angkal said.  

“The GPH-MILF Peace Process is so far the longest peace negotiation in world where the government had designated at least 12 peace panel chairs at a given time, and 4 chairpersons on the MILF side, Angkal added. 

What are the expectations of the MILF now that the BBL is in the Senate Sub-Committee level conducting public hearing?   

The MILF sees the passage of the BBL as the only viable solution to attain just, and lasting peace in Mindanao. Senator Juan Miguel “Migs” Zubiri, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on BBL stated during the Senate Committee Public Hearing on BBL on 25 January in Cotabato City, “Rest assured the senate will pass an undiluted BBL. If there’s any changes, only the wordings for enhancement”, Angkal replied. 

During the public hearing in Cotabato City, Senator Sonny Angara, Chairman, Senate Committee on Local Government believes that the Bangsamoro people are united, and fully support the BBL. 

“Sa dami ng taong dumalo sa Senate Public Hearing on BBL ni isa man ay walang tutol sa BBL,” Senator Angara said. 

“Not even Senator JV Ejercito, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Heath – known anti-BBL before who reiterated that he has proven during his term as the Mayor of San Juan that Muslims and Christians could live together harmoniously,” Angara also said.

Are you optimistic that President Duterte has the blessings to the Senate public hearings on the BBL?      

“We are very optimistic that President Rodrigo Duterte is sincere and committed to correct the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people. At the very start of his campaign, and during his SONA in 2016, Pres. Duterte reiterated his commitment to pass the BBL, and to correct the historical injustice to the Bangsamoro,” Angkal said.

Angkal also said that, no less than President Duterte himself who announced in public that if the BBL will not pass in Congress, he has already prepared an Executive Order (E.O.) No. 10 to ensure that the signed agreements will be implemented.”

 “I don’t want that Marawi incident will be repeated again.” This was the stern warning of the president to congress, both Lower and Upper House as a gesture of support for the passage of BBL in Congress, Angkal added. 

The plus factors for the passage of BBL according to Angkal was that President Duterte is a Mindanaon, the Senate President, and the House Speaker are also Mindanaoans, and so there’s no reason why BBL will not pass in Congress, Angkal told the EU delegation.  

Had there any specific guidelines, and mechanism adopted by the government to ensure a sustainable implementation of the signed agreement?  How could the MILF ensure that once the BBL passed into law and implemented, just and dignified peace could be attained? 

Yes, there’s an implementing guidelines to be followed to sustain peace building mechanism, and we believe the government panel is in the right tract for the implementation of the signed agreement, Angkal said. 

BTC Commissioner Mohaguer Iqbal, Chairman for the MILF Peace Implementing panel, and ASEC Nabil Tan, Chair of the Peace Government Implementing panel are meeting from time to time to ensure that the peace agreement (CAB), and its annexes are implemented, Angkal further explained. 

Prof. Abdullah Adam supplemented the explanation of Angkal and said that the MILF is certain that just, and dignified peace could be achieved once the BTC draft BBL is passed into law.

How about the other existing armed groups who are also fighting against the government for same cause; like the MNLF, and the Maute/ ISIS terrorist group? Has there any possibility that the MILF could unify these groups to join in the Bangsamoro new political entity?

For your information, the MILF Central Committee had already created an Ad Hoc Committee on Unity and Reconciliation Chaired by Chairman Jaafar to address the following: disunity among the Bangsamoro, family feuds, and the likes. 

In fact, the MILF and the MNLF had signed twice a Unified Declaration supporting the ongoing GPH-MILF peace process, and the passage of BBL. 

No less than, Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the MILF, and then MNLF Chairman Muslimen Sema who signed the said unified declarations in 2015, and 2016 at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Adam replied.

Under Executive Order No. 08, signed by President Duterte on November 7, 2016, the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission, there are three (3) MNLF Commissioners, namely; Atty. Ferdaussi Abbas, Atty. Omar Yasser Sema, and Hatimil Hassan; two (2) Indigenous people’ Commissioners Romeo Saliga, and Melanio Ulama, and one (1) Christian Commissioner Dr. Susana Anayatin, the rest are members of the MILF, CC, Adam emphasized.