“Battered but not yet out!”
This was the statement made by Mohaqer Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Friday night in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident that killed 67 people, including 44 policemen from the Special Action Force (SAF) in Maguindanao last January 25.
The 11-hour gun battle in Mamasapano town shattered the 1997 ceasefire agreement between the government and the rebels.
The release of Iqbal’s statement coincided with the book launching marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehesive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) held at the Baluarte San Diego Gardens in Intramuros, Manila.
The two books launched by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) were titled, “Getting to Peace” and ”In Defense of the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The killing of the 44 SAF troopers who were tasked to serve an arrest warrant against international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was hiding in Mamapasano, an MILF stronghold, has shattered the peace process and put at risk the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress.
Iqbal admitted that the BBL “is battered but it is not yet down (and) I think there is now some sort of recovery” with the hope the BBL would be passed by Congress.
“On the part of the MILF, we keep on moving, moving and moving,” Iqbal said his extemporaneous speech at the book launching.
“A year ago we started a journey to realize the dream of the people in Mindanao,” he added.
Iqbal also said he has been involved in the peace negotiations for the last 15 years to find a just and lasting solution to the Mindanao conflict.
He said the Mamapasno incident was “tragic and unfortunate.”
“On behalf of the MILF we are so sorry that many lives have died,” Iqbal said.
Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the event, Iqbal said the MILF would stick to peace no matter what will happen on the proposed BBL.
“The way of peace will prevail over the way of war. It’s basic in the MILF and its basic in Islam that peace shall always be the agenda of the MILF, and we will stick to that no matter what happens. And the way of peace will stay until the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” Iqbal told reporters on Friday.
He stressed that the question now is not on how long the MILF will wait for the approval of the BBL but rather a “question of striving forward in the way of peace.”
Iqbal’s statement was also a complete turn around over the past pronouncements by the MILF that the non-passage or a watered down version of the BBL is not acceptable and may lead to more conflicts in Mindanao.
He also admitted that the leadership of the MILF has an assessment meeting on a post-BBL scenario but refused to disclose what has been discuss.
“Those are part of the whole process of the MILF leadership. They will always discuss things. Right now there is only one option and that is to push the BBL in Congress and to have it pass by Congress, meaning the only option right now is the option of peace,” Iqbal further said.
Asked if what would happen if the BBL is not pass into law, Iqbal said: “We will cross the bridge when we reach there. I don’t want to answer hypothetical question.”
The MILF, Iqbal stressed, is very optimistic that Congress would pass the BBL as it is.
“I think it would pass without being watered down because the call of the hour is peace, and peace can be achieved through the BBL, That is why we are hopeful and optimistic that Congress, despite the rumblings, will pass the BBL, he said.
Deles sees stronger BBL
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles on Friday expressed hope that the peace process will emerge stronger despite recent challenges it faced after the tragic Mamasapano incident.
“I admit we are bruised and feeling battered but we are here to proclaim we still stand firm [in pushing the peace process],” Deles, who was also in the book launch event in Intramuros, said.
“The past two months are psychologically and physically battering, but the last two weeks affirmed that the way we have responded made the process stronger,” Deles recounted the outpouring of support for the peace process from various sectors such as the academe, international community, business groups, and civil society organizations through statements of support and activities organized to advocate peace and push for the passage of the proposed BBL.
“The results will be a stronger process and a stronger BBL with more people on board,” she said.
The CAB was signed, she noted, after 17 years of negotiations between the government and the MILF.
The peace adviser recounted the events and the challenges that faced both negotiating panels before they finally signed the CAB in March 27 last year.
“We have gone through a difficult process of negotiation,” Deles said, adding that the challenges disprove those who claim the peace agreement was rushed and not carefully studied by the government.