‘War is not an op­tion’: Is­lamic leader’s pledge on Moro rights

MILF vows to pur­sue peace­ful path to jus­tice, au­ton­omy


out of a 2014 agree­ment be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the MILF that rec­og­nizes the “just­ness and le­git­i­macy of the cause of the Bangsamoro peo­ple.”

For decades the group led an armed strug­gle to win self-de­ter­mi­na­tion for the Bangsamoro peo­ple, with the peace deal com­ing only af­ter 17 years of ne­go­ti­a­tion.

The agree­ment was ex­pected to pave the way for a Bangsamoro au­ton­o­mous po­lit­i­cal en­tity. But it has been four years and the Philip­pines Congress has yet to pass the law to es­tab­lish the re­gion.

De­spite the de­lay, the MILF lead­er­ship re­mains hope­ful that the BBL will be passed by Congress in May or be­fore Duterte’s next ad­dress to the na­tion in July.

In the Se­nate, Mu­rad said the group had held dis­cus­sions with Sen. Miguel Zu­biri, who spon­sored the bill in the up­per cham­ber. “(Zu­biri) was look­ing for­ward to fin­ish­ing the process in the next ses­sion of Se­nate which is in May,” he said.

Mu­rad said there were two ver­sions of the bill in the lower house — one by Speaker Pan­ta­leon Alvarez, which com­plies with the BBL crafted by the Bangsamoro Tran­si­tion Com­mis­sion (BTC), and an­other spon­sored by for­mer pres­i­dent and now Pam­panga rep­re­sen­ta­tive Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal Ar­royo.

“I spoke to her (Ar­royo) ... by phone and asked if it was pos­si­ble to with­draw her bill and just sup­port the Alvarez ver­sion. And over the phone, she told me, yes, she will with­draw,” said Mu­rad. “She gave her com­mit­ment and I hope that she will make true with that com­mit­ment.”

Asked about the ef­fects of the de­lay on the BBL, Mu­rad said: “Of course, there is some neg­a­tive im­pact. There is frus­tra­tion among our peo­ple.

“But we are try­ing to con­tain the frus­tra­tion of our peo­ple, and we are also try­ing our best to push the peace process for­ward,” he said, adding that “the chances of pass­ing the BBL are still high.”

Mu­rad also ex­pressed con­cerns that “there is a pos­si­bil­ity of wa­ter­ing (the law) down.”

“In the lower house, we found out there are about 341 pro­vi­sions that were touched. There are some amend­ments, so we need to re­ally en­gage them,” he said.

A num­ber of con­gress­men also op­posed the BBL. “They are few, but they are more ag­gres­sive. That is why there are some chal­lenges.”

Should Congress fail to pass the BBL, Mu­rad said he was con­cerned that this would add to the Bangsamoros’ frus­tra­tion.

“They will feel that there is no more chance of pass­ing the BBL. Be­cause this pres­i­dent is the first who openly sup­ports the BBL.

“He is the first pres­i­dent from Min­danao who re­ally un­der­stands the prob­lem of the Bangsamoro and has ac­cepted the in­jus­tices against the Bangsamoro,” said Mu­rad.

“So if (the law) can­not be passed within his ad­min­is­tra­tion then that will re­sult in a strong sense of frus­tra­tion among the peo­ple,” he said.

This sense of in­jus­tice could lead to more peo­ple join­ing rad­i­cal groups. “That is what we are con­cerned (about),” he said.

Asked about the MILF’s op­tions if the BBL is not passed, Mu­rad said the group would not re­turn to vi­o­lence.

“War is not an op­tion,” he said. “The real so­lu­tion is po­lit­i­cal.”

Mu­rad said the or­ga­ni­za­tion would con­tinue its four-point pro­gram of strength­en­ing, mil­i­tary buildup, self-re­liance and Is­lamiza­tion.

“We will see what is the ap­pro­pri­ate step. But we have al­ready in­vested so much in the peace process. So what­ever hap­pens we will try to pro­tect the gains of the peace process,” he said.

How­ever, the MILF was also pre­pared to take a de­fen­sive stand, Mu­rad said.

“De­fense, it can be. We will con­tinue our ac­tiv­i­ties, but if gov­ern­ment troops at­tack us, we have no op­tion but to fight back. But we will con­tinue our ac­tiv­i­ties as an Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion­ary or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said.

“It’s not an op­tion, but we are ready for it. Hope­fully, it doesn’t hap­pen that the BBL fails be­cause that will re­ally strengthen the cam­paign of the ex­trem­ists.”

Mu­rad said the Bangsamoro Is­lamic Free­dom Fighters group was formed af­ter an agree­ment on an­ces­tral do­main failed in 2008.

“We were to­gether. But af­ter the non-sign­ing, every­body was frus­trated. And there was an out­break of hos­til­i­ties.”

Un­til there was a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion, “fight­ing any group will not suc­ceed,” he said.

Al-Hajj Ebrahim Mu­rad

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