Al Haj Murad, on the podium at right, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), addresses officials and Muslim rebels during a signing ceremony for a tentative peace agreement with the Philippine government Monday Oct. 15, 2012 at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines. Muslim rebels and the Philippine government overcame decades of bitter hostilities and took their first tentative step toward ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies with the ceremonial signing of a preliminary peace pact Monday that both sides said presented both a hope and a challenge. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)]

COTABATO CITY, OCTOBER 22, 2012 (Xinhua) - The secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Monday that it will run after a rogue group consisting of their former comrades in southern Philippines after it has forged a peace deal with the government.

MILF spokesman Von Al Haq told Xinhua in a phone interview that members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) will be declared outlaws once the agreement is signed next week.

[PHOTO -This photo taken on Monday shows MILF rebels raising their rifles during a ceremony at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao province to coincide with the signing of the framework agreement that day. While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has announced that its members will not lay down arms before the peace agreement is concluded, the government on Tuesday maintained that all weapons should be decommissioned even before the implementation of the peace pact. “The normalization process will be done in phases and we will see gradual and steady decommissioning taking place. Thus, even before the implementation of the agreement, arms will be put beyond use,” Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Teresita Deles said. But Mohagher Iqbal, the chairman of the peace-negotiating panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said on Monday that his group would not lay down its weapons until a final peace accord is in place. The laying down of arms is in the last stage of the implementation of the agreement. AFP PHOTO]

"We cannot act (yet as the) agreement has not been signed. (But) once we reach a final agreement, the BIFF is automatically ( categorized) as lawless elements," said Al Haq.

"Our efforts (to pursue the BIFF) will be coordinated with the military and the police," he said.

The rogue BIFF is led by Ameril Umbra Kato, a former commander of the MILF's 105th Base Command. The group is said to be the mastermind behind the attacks on civilian communities in the southern Philippine province of North Cotabato in 2008 following the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the MILF.

In August, Kato's men staged simultaneous attacks against government military detachments in the region, occupied a national highway for almost a week and harassed civilian communities.

The Philippine government and the MILF declared on Sunday that they have agreed on a framework agreement that would pave the way for a "final enduring peace" in Mindanao.

After the details have been worked out, the framework agreement will be signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III and leaders of the MILF on Oct. 15.


MILF gave up claim to Palawan—Aquino By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Giving up its claim to have Palawan included in their so-called Bangsamoro autonomous region was one of the “significant concessions” that the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gave during negotiations for a framework peace agreement, President Aquino said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Club of the Philippines, Aquino disclosed the decision of the MILF negotiating panel to give up the inclusion of Palawan’s southern municipalities to the soon-to-be-expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“I think it is a significant concession on the part of the MILF,” he said.

The President noted the MILF claim that there were people in Palawan who could trace their ancestry to the areas they claimed as belonging to the Bangsamoro, the rebels’ preferred term for the Muslims of Mindanao.

Significant concessions

Aquino said the significant concessions by the Muslim rebels included, besides the “limited area to be covered by the new Bangsamoro territory,” the agreement for the population in the region covered to give their consent through a plebiscite.

“So it is indicative of their desire to really achieve a just settlement to the lingering issues which have taken almost two generations already of our countrymen. I think it should be pointed out that it is a very mature perspective and it is a very doable perspective in terms of delineating the territory that they would want to be part of the new political entity,” Aquino said.

The issue of the substate status for the Bangsamoro region was also dropped in favor of autonomy, he said.

“That has been translated into an asymmetrical relationship. Initially, they wanted an expansion of their territory. They now recognize that perhaps it would be best to afford that opportunity to opt in, but not to demand so many, great addition to their territory,” he said.

“It makes me therefore optimistic. I will not say that we guarantee that we finish all of the details soon, but we are more focused on achieving a consensus rather than be caught in a dogmatic ideological battle where nobody wins,” Aquino said.

After signing on Monday the framework agreement that will serve as a road map to ending the 40-year Muslim rebellion, the MILF and government panels will meet again in Kuala Lumpur next month to negotiate the annexes of the comprehensive peace agreement.

The governor of Palawan, Abraham Mitra, said yesterday he “shared the nation’s hopes and prayers for a final peace settlement” in Mindanao following a preliminary framework agreement signed last Monday that sets the road map to peace.

Final drive

“The final drive towards ending the Mindanao conflict has just begun,” said Mitra in a press statement in the wake of the President’s speech. “We commend the panels of both the government and the MILF for recognizing that peace is an imperative in our time.”

Although the framework agreement will not immediately yield peace dividends, Mitra said it represents a “historic breakthrough in our generation” for a final Mindanao peace deal to emerge.

On wealth and power-sharing between the national government and Bangsamoro region, the President said “there will be a balance between their needs,” on wealth sharing, without giving details.

The power-sharing was “clearly defined already,” he said.

The creation of a regional police force of Bangsamoro has yet to be resolved by both sides.

This touchy issue was discussed when Mr. Aquino met with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim before Monday’s signing.

The President said the government has largely resisted the continued existence of a Bangsamoro armed force.

“But that will be contingent also on their ability to defend themselves, the trust that will be engendered, the policing and so on and so forth. I think it would be unfair at this point to (agree) to specific timelines given that there is still (the question) as to who takes over the internal security,” he said.

Eventually, Muslim rebels would become “farmers, fisherfolk, efficient farmers,” he said.

The President also denied discussing the Philippine claim to Malaysia’s Sabah state when he met with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday.

He said the territorial dispute with Malaysia over Sabah was “dormant at this point in time unless you can claim it.”

Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, the military adviser to the government negotiating panel, yesterday said that the government and the MILF should find “closure” after fighting each other for years.

Finding justice for all the victims of the war, both from the Armed Forces and the MILF, as well as the civilians caught in the crossfire, has yet to be discussed by the peace panels, he said. With a report from Nikko Dizon


EDITORIAL - Another clash in Maguindanao (The Philippine Star) Updated October 22, 2012 12:00 AMComments (1)

Last week, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, clashed in a Maguindanao town. The encounter forced dozens of families to abandon their homes and seek refuge with relatives. Local officials emphasized that the clash had nothing to do with the signing of the framework peace agreement between the government and the MILF, which the BIFF is opposing.

The clash may not be directly linked to the signing, but the reason for the encounter is one of the reasons why people in the least developed regions of Mindanao turn to banditry and insurgency. And while the clash last Friday was not in furtherance of secession, it was no less deadly: the feuding groups lost a fighter each while three others were reportedly wounded.

Reports said the two groups fought over control of a farming district in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao. Control over land has long been a source of conflict in Mindanao, and feuding clans and groups have always used armed force to stake their claims. The violent feuds have derailed development efforts in some of the country’s poorest regions.

The clash should prompt security officials to improve the enforcement of gun laws in the conflict areas of Mindanao. The peace process should not be a hindrance to this effort. MILF leaders know who their bona fide members are, and who are the rogue elements that peace negotiators have said would be dealt with as peace and order problems.

Only MILF members can hold on to their weapons and ammunition even as they are supposed to prepare for decommissioning in line with their commitments under the framework peace agreement. The police and military must do their job and help pave the way for sustainable peace. The government must also stop both the MILF and BIFF from shaking down farming communities for alms or contributions to their groups. This is no better than the communist New People’s Army’s extortion of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, with those who refuse to pay seeing their property destroyed.

Security forces should not wait for peace agreements to be finalized before restoring peace and order in conflict areas. They must do their job, and prevent more killings and the displacement of non-combatants.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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