The “detention” by Moro rebels of a military group led by Muslim convert Brig. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino last week stemmed from the repeated postponement of a proposed tripartite meeting with the government and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The proposed tripartite meeting was to tackle issues related to the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MNLF.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The “detention” by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of a group led by Muslim convert, Marine Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino in Jolo, Sulu on Feb. 2-4 stemmed from the repeated postponement of a proposed tripartite meeting with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The proposed tripartite meeting was to tackle issues related to the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MNLF.
This was revealed by Jolo Councilor Temojen “Cocoy” Tulawie in an interview with Bulatlat. Tulawie, who is also a convener of the Concerned Citizens of Sulu, was with representatives of the Geneva-based conflict-monitoring group Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in mediating in what has been described in some news reports as a “hostage drama.”
The holding of the Army general led Gen. Hermogenes Esperson, Armed Forces chief of staff, on Feb. 9 to order military meetings with Moro rebels to be held on “neutral grounds.”
Dolorfino, who also uses the name Ben Muhammad, went with Undersecretary for Peace Ramon Santos and 13 others to the MNLF’s Camp Jabal Ubod in Panamao, Jolo, southern Philippines morning of Feb. 2 to talk with MNLF representatives headed by Ustadz Habier Malik. The group included two colonels, a junior officer, nine enlisted men, and several members of Santos’ staff. In the afternoon of that same day, they were prevented from leaving the camp.
Tulawie told Bulatlat that Malik and his men held Dolorfino’s group as a leverage for demanding a definite schedule for the tripartite meeting proposed by the MNLF.
“General Dolorfino and his group were asked why the tripartite meeting had been postponed again, and Undersecretary Santos could not give any answer,” Tulawie told Bulatlat. “So they were prevented from leaving until the GRP and the OIC agreed to schedule a meeting for March 17. That will only be a preliminary meeting.”
The Jolo councilor pointed out that even the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shied away from describing what happened as an illegal detention.
“There were Marines and Army soldiers in Dolorfino’s group and they were not disarmed,” Tulawie said. “They continued the discussions in the camp until the government and the OIC agreed to schedule a meeting.”
Tulawie said the MNLF had been pushing for a tripartite meeting as early as before the original date of the 12th ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit, but it kept being postponed. “It had been postponed five times,” Tulawie disclosed.
This repeated postponement of the proposed tripartite meeting provoked the MNLF to hold Dolorfino’s group until a definite schedule could be agreed upon, Tulawie explained.*