DAVAO CITY—The rival separatist groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front met with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte here late Friday and agreed to “improve” the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law and support the planned shift to a federal form of government.
MILF Chairman Ebrahim Murad, MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and Abul Khayr Alonto, leader of the Alonto wing of the Moro National Liberation Front, held a “brother to brother” meeting with Duterte at the Hotel Elena to discuss the Bangsamoro agenda.
After a two-hour tripartite meeting, Jaafar said the MILF was open to amending controversial items in the BBL which was defeated in both houses of the 16th Congress because of provisions that were deemed to be unconstitutional and more divisive to the people of Mindanao.
“What the President-elect promised is to implement a Bangsamoro government,” MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar told The Standard in an interview.
“The bottomline here is, the MILF and MNLF is working to reach a common approach, common procedures, common solutions to resolve the Bangsamoro issue. We believe, we are positive that this is possible,” Jaafar said.
Alonto, who leads one of three MNLF factions, echoed Jaafar’s optimism and said the federal system being espoused by Duterte can be effective in addressing the concerns of the Bangsamoro people.
“A federal system could very well put in place a government of transparency and accountability, and effectively address the peace and order problems,” Alonto said. “In this aspect, the MNLF and MILF are united in solidarity with the president-elect.”
Jaafar said both the MILF and the Alonto wing of the MNLF are willing a “convergence” of the peace deals they have reached with the government.
The MNLF, then represented by founder Nur Misuari, signed Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and a final peace agreement in 1996 while the the MILF concluded a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014.
“There is a move among leaders of the Bangsamoro to converge some important details of these two agreements. There are provisions between the two that are almost the same. We’re just checking on the certain provisions that aren’t matched and build a common ground,” Jaafar said.
“The talks between the leaders of the MILF and MNLF continues,” he added.
“We don’t have any objection to the implementation of the federal system but we could help better in the Duterte government if he will implement a Bangsamoro government,” Jaafar said, adding that the MILF remains hopeful the government would implement the BBL.
“It’s more practical to implement first a Bangsamoro government because I think a new system of government, which is federal, has to undergo legal processes that includes amending the Philippine constitution,” Jaafar said.
Jaafar said since leaders of the incoming Duterte administration are saying that it may take six years to implement a federal system of government, it may be easier to implement a Bagsamoro government in Moro areas first.
“Our position is that it needs to be fixed in the BBL to reach that common goal. We will enhance and strengthen and enhance the BBL,” he added.
Alonto declined to comment on the MILF’s position that the passage of BBL should come first before the change in the form of government but conceded that the “good things” in the BBL would be retained in the proposal to establish a federal system.
“I don’t want to talk about BBL. I’m talking about a united government,” Alonto said, conceding however that the BBL can serve as a “template” for the envisioned Bangsamoro government.
“We need the BBL and hopefully that will give us the distinct model to be the first state within the Philippine Federation,” Alonto said.
Jaafar, on the othef hand, said Duterte “knew very well” that he needs to pass the BBL under his administration to resolve the ongoing conflict.
“[Duterte] will pass the BBL. Because if he will not pass the BBL, you cannot implement the Bangsamoro government. He understands this. He’s a lawyer,” he added.
“The way we look at it, it’s also the priority of the president to resolve the Bangsamoro issue because he is with us, he’s in Mindanao. He’s the mayor of Davao City.”
“I think, with due respect to all other leaders, he is a national leader who understands the situation of the Bangsamoro people and he understands the claim that he also has Bangsamoro blood,” Jaafar said.