Interview with MILF’s Iqbal on the current MILF-GPH ceasefire, peace talks

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — After their latest round of formal negotiations with the government of the Philippines in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, talked briefly with bulatlat.com to share his group’s take of the current state of their ongoing peace talks with the Philippine government. Iqbal mainly talked about the government’s failure, so far, to start the actual negotiations because it has not submitted its counterproposal to the MILF draft compact.

Without substantive discussions yet on the proposals in the MILF draft compact, which had been submitted four months before and which the MILF has been discussing with various sectors in Mindanao and Manila, the political settlement still remains uncertain. Iqbal also gave a peek into the situation of their current ceasefire. It appears that while they are talking peace with the government panel, AFP soldiers have been buttressing their “too many” detachments in Mindanao—massing troops and increasing tanks – particularly in four Muslim provinces.

Iqbal said their troops are “always on the defensive” because of their ceasefire agreement. If ever fighting breaks out, he said it would be the Philippine government’s fault.

Iqbal also told Bulatlat.com about how they view the continued attacks by the AFP and the Philippine government on three MILF commanders, who each carry bounties amounting to millions of pesos.

Iqbal said they are supportive, in principle, of the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government. Saying that in a very tactical situation such as when AFP soldiers are shooting at NDFP forces within their areas, “the enemy of your enemy is your friend.” Iqbal said it is “automatic” that they will help them (the New People’s Army) even without an agreement.

The following is the transcript of bulatlat.com’s interview with Mohagher Iqbal (July 2).

Question: What will the MILF do if the GPH peace panel still fails to give its counter-proposal agreement in the forthcoming talks?

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel: We will press them to submit their counterproposal. We are also telling them that the longer they delay the submission of their counterproposal, they are giving the wrong signal on the ground, and the hardliners (those against peace talks) are feasting on that. The burden is with the government. If ever a situation crops up in the ground and fighting breaks out with the military, it is the government’s fault.

Q: What are the conditions in your ceasefire agreement with the GPH? Are there free movements of MILF and AFP troops in the ARMM area for example?

Iqbal: It’s an agreement on cessation of hostilities. The ceasefire is dependent on how the peace negotiations go. There is a ceasefire while there are negotiations. If they show unusual troop movements, it might result in problems. Unusual being large massing of troops where there are no MILF troops or AFP detachments, without coordinating with us first or without proper endorsement. We might surprise each other and it could result in an armed encounter.

Q: Within the ceasefire agreement, is the AFP still maintaining military detachments in ARMM? Did the MILF notice some changes in AFP mobilization in the area?

Iqbal: The AFP still has too many military detachments in Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Maguindanao. And they continue to increase, along with their tanks. Some of these increases were done in coordination with us, some were just AFP assertions, without coordination with us.

First of all, we protested with the government about these continued AFP mobilizations, and they have to do something about it. They must coordinate with us. In response, they did coordinate with us in some of their mobilizations. In others they are in the process of asserting. You know Philippine soldiers.

We are preparing for any eventuality – in a revolutionary situation, you have to be prepared at all times. In case a firefight occurs, the important thing is that it would be their doing — We are always on the defensive. If that eventuality happens, at least, we stand on a moral high ground.

Q. How does the MILF maintain its strength?

Iqbal: As long as the problem in Mindanao has not been solved; we will expand; we will consolidate; we will organize committees and military units. That is not illegal. The ceasefire agreement is silent on that. It is our right to do that and the problem is not yet over.

Q. What is the MILF’s position on the Aquino government’s postponement of the ARMM elections this year?

Iqbal: That is internal to the (Aquino) government; we do not dip our fingers into it. If it is a government policy or program, we do not interfere with that. Concerning legal processes, such as the postponement of the ARMM elections, which do not affect the framework of the existing MILF negotiations with the government, we do not interfere. That’s internal to the government.

Q. Is there any member or leader of MILF who wants to have a stake or position in the matter of postponement of ARMM elections?

Iqbal: There is one: Eid Kabalu, who we removed from his post. That is his individual decision. We stripped him of all his positions and responsibilities in our military organization.

Q. Can Kabalu still return to the MILF?

Iqbal: Well, he is still a member of the MILF. But the moment he accepts a position in government then automatically, he’ll be stripped of his membership in the MILF.

There is always a second chance, if he would show remorse and not repeat his sins, he can still go back. But he will have to start from the bottom.

Q. What is the MILF position when the AFP branded three of its commanders as “rogues” and excluded them from the coverage of the ceasefire with the MILF?

Iqbal: Those three commanders had led the firefight against the AFP in post-MOA-AD in 2008. The AFP calls them as “rogue commanders,” but as far as the MILF is concerned, we do not treat them as rogue commanders. In fact we want to have those cases investigated. In Cotabato it was the Philippine soldiers who initiated the attacks; In Lanao it was us.

But we said there must be a third party impartial investigation, and the IMT (Internal Monitoring Team) was tasked to do that. We stand by our commanders and affirm that they are not rogues.

It would not be settled if the AFP continues to call our commanders rogues and we continue to say no, they are not. But the investigation was not consummated. Until now, the AFP still maintains that some of our commanders are rogues, and we maintain they are not. So it is a stalemate. Of course, as enemies, they will say that of the MILF even though they are good members of the MILF. That is the essence of war – and they are our enemy.

Q. What happens if the AFP attacked the so-called rogue MILF commanders?

Iqbal: We will defend them. We will stand by our commanders if they (AFP) attacked them.

Q. Any message for the Bangsamoro people and all those supporting the MILF’s draft compact for peace?

Iqbal: Well, there is only one practical way to resolve the problems in Mindanao— through a negotiated political settlement. We told the people in the Philippine government that in a war, no matter how justified, the people will still lose out. That is our call. There really is a pragmatic and very civilized way of solving the problem in Mindanao. And that is through a negotiated political settlement. Everyone should support that because that’s the most viable way of solving the problem in Mindanao.

If armed fighting breaks out, it will be the Philippine government’s fault. Essentially it is about who is the aggressor.

Q. How does the MILF stand with regard to the other ongoing peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP?

Iqbal: We’re always in support of peace negotiations whether it is undertaken by the MILF or the NDFP because we view the process as a better alternative to war. In principle we support the NDFP negotiations.

Q. Are you in talks with the NDFP about what to do in the event that fighting breaks out again between you and the AFP or between the forces of the NDFP and the AFP in your areas? Will you support each other, for instance?

Iqbal: Yes, that’s really automatic, in a very tactical situation the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Even if we say there is no formal agreement, it will boil down to that. ()

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