Something is brewing in Mindanao which could be more serious than the breakout of infighting among members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with rumors swirling in Zamboanga City that the MNLF will declare a Bangsamoro independence from the Philippines on July 25 when Muslims break their fast in the yearly observance of Ramadan.
Residents of the Zamboanga villages of Sta. Maria and Paso-nanca noticed the display of Bangsamoro streamers, flags and posters outside the homes of MNLF mem-bers and sympathizers.
Close to 200 families were affected by ongoing skirmishes between the MNLF and the MILF in Sitio Leonard, Barangay Manubuan in Matalam, North Cotabato.
Mona Reyes, a health worker in Barangay Manubuan, has sought help from authorities amid the worsening conflict. Reyes’ house was razed after it was hit by a rifle grenade fired during the gunbattle.
Last Monday, an MNLF member identified as Larry Panga was injured during the fighting. Reyes said the renewed MNLF-MILF skirmishes triggered massive evacuations of residents from her village.
The evacuees, she reported, were housed temporarily at Manubuan Elementary School and Amas Elementary School in nearby Barangay Amas, Kidapawan City.
A senior member of the MILF Central Committee also appealed to MNLF leaders for unity and solidarity in the wake of progress in the peace negotiations.
“These achievements in the peace talks are for everybody and not for the MILF alone. We are inclusive and we make sure that whatever we sign with the government does not shortchange our people,” Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the MILF Secretariat, said in response to reports that some leaders of the MNLF particularly those in Sulu are trying to bring up the MNLF case to the United Nations. However, no details of the effort to involve the UN are available as of press time.
Ameen said the United Nations, in partnership with the World Bank, had entered into a technical assistance program with the MILF called the Facility for Advisory Support for Transition Capacities (FASTRAC). The exchange of letters between the UN-WB and the MILF was held in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao last April 29.
The deal will assist the MILF and the government to build capacity in addressing key issues for the Bangsamoro such as governance, justice, combatant transition and security.
Priority areas of support will be determined by the Transition Commission, MILF, and the Philippine government. FASTRAC will provide on-demand access to a pool of experts, training, policy advice, research and international exchanges.
Speaking at the launch of the new program in Camp Darapanan, United Nations Resident Coordinator Luiza Carvalho said, “FASTRAC will provide the Transition Commission and related institutions access to the best possible national and international expertise in moving forward with the peace process, especially in the drafting of the Basic Law that will reflect the Bangsamoro people’s aspirations for genuine autonomy while establishing the basis for efficient and accountable government.”
In addition to technical advice, FASTRAC will support community outreach and consultations to ensure that the new Basic Law reflects the views of communities across the Bangsamoro.
MILF chairman Al Haj Murad welcomed the launch of UN project saying that the MILF is committed to an inclusive peace process to bring security and prosperity to all in the Bangsamoro.
“Technical support of the UN and World Bank will give us access to ideas and practices that have been found successful in other parts of the world,” Murad said. “It will help us reach out to communities and facilitate local dialogue and consultation to secure broader ownership and help us draft the best possible Basic Law,” he added.
“Ensuring that the process of drafting the law is inclusive will be as important as the substance of the law itself,” Murad added.
Senior Supt. Jose Chiquito Malayo, Zamboanga city police chief, confirmed that “talks are spreading around about the MNLF declaring independence.” “From whom? That is what we need to find out,” Malayo said.
“We will continue monitoring and inspecting areas where there are reported hanging of some kind of flags and streamers,” he said.
But Habib Mudjahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, denied that their group would declare the independence of a Bangsamoro Republic on July 25.
“This is not true. It is just a propaganda designed to mislead our people and brothers on the ground,” Hashim said.
On July 9, more than a hundred MNLF members marched the streets of Lamitan City in Basilan demanding “independence.” The MNLF members ended their activity an hour later.
The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996. The government is negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a breakaway group of the MNLF.
Earlier this week, the MNLF said any agreement between the government and the MILF should be reconciled with the peace pact signed in 1996.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., meanwhile, vowed the swift passage of the proposed law that would abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and create a new entity called the Bangsamoro region.
Belmonte said that he does not see any stiff opposition to the establishment of Bangsamoro Region if the proponents can explain very well the details of the controversial wealth-sharing agreement.
“As usual, there will be pros and cons. But I am very confident that as long as it can be shown to us to be a reasonable thing and that would finally end the decades of conflict which is really one of the things that is holding back the development of our country,” Belmonte said in an interview.
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin, credited President Aquino for his commitment to attaining peace in Mindanao by establishing the Bangsamoro region to replace ARMM.
“The highlight for me was his commitment to the peace process. The call for Congress to support it and the assurance that what the Bangsamoro Basic Law will contain will be deliverable,” Turabin explained in an interview yesterday.
“I think for now, we should support the negotiations and applaud the fact that both parties reached an agreement, particularly on the wealth-sharing. It is not the time to be negative about the figures, as it will still go through the Transition Commission, Congress, and then ratification by the people thru a plebiscite. Let us be thankful that both parties continue to talk, eventually, it will be the people who will decide the fate of the Bangsamoro region,” Turabin pointed out.
Under the agreement of the government and MILF, 75% of the taxes collected by the central leadership will go to Bangsamoro region from the current 70 percent under ARMM.
With respect to natural resources, the Bangsamoro government will enjoy 100 percent of revenues from non-metallic resources (sand, gravel and quarry resources) and 75 percent from metallic resources.
In the case of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium, the Bangsamoro government and the central government would equally share the income.
But both parties committed to incorporate a review mechanism of this scheme in the Bangsamoro law.