MILF rebels join electoral process

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CHOOSING THE BALLOT Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) file their registration to qualify for voter identification cards in Sultan Kudarat. AFP PHOTO

CHOOSING THE BALLOT
Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) file their registration to qualify for voter identification cards in Sultan Kudarat. AFP PHOTO

SULTAN KUDARAT: Hundreds of Muslim rebels lined up on Saturday to register as voters, keeping faith with a 2014 peace pact that was thrown into doubt after 44 policemen were killed in a botched terror raid.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, unarmed and wearing civilian clothes, had their photographs and fingerprints taken at a government building in the southern town of Sultan Kudarat to qualify for voter identification cards.

“They are all very eager to take part (of the electoral process),” Von al Haq, spokesman for the 10,000-member MILF’s military wing, said.

Some of the group’s members will be voting for the first time, he added.


“This is part of our preparations to lead our own government,” Al Haq said, referring to the Comprehensive Bangsamaro Agreement (CAB) signed by the group and the government in March 2014 in which the MILF committed to end an armed rebellion that has claimed 120,000 lives.

As part of the deal, the MILF is to disarm. But the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the measure that will create an autonomous Bangsamoro entity, remains pending at the House of Representatives and Senate.

Rey Sumalipao, regional head of the Commission on Elections, said he expects about 1,500 MILF members to register to allow them to vote in national and local elections.

Other MILF members are expected to apply later, he added.

Muslim rebels have been battling for independence or autonomy in the southern islands since the 1970s.

The peace process was thrown into doubt on January 25 when MILF forces and other armed groups ambushed police commandos going after Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, one of the world’s most wanted Islamic militants.

The fighting left 44 policemen dead and sparked a public backlash, causing Congress to suspend debates on the BBL.

The MILF returned some of the dead commandos’ weapons and pledged to go after other militants sought by the courts but rejected Aquino’s demand that it surrender those who took part in killings.

Rebel leaders said they will impose their own sanctions on those found at fault.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have since said they will resume discussions on the bill that they said would likely pass by mid-June.

Al Haq said the high rebel turnout on Saturday was proof they remained committed to the peace process.

One of the registration areas was in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, the headquarters of the MILF.

“We’re very confident that the peace process will continue,” he said, adding he last voted in 1986 before becoming a full-time guerrilla.

The MILF has formed and registered its own party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, in preparation for joining mainstream politics.

Closed door meet
Meanwhile, lawmakers and members of the government peace panel are set to meet to discuss the massacre of 44 elite police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January.

The closed-door meeting is seen as part of government efforts to save the BBL and have it passed before Congress adjourns.

Deputy Presidential Spokeperson Abigail Valte said the closed-door meeting has yet to be scheduled.

“This initiative is part of our stance that the government and the peace advisers are open to talking to Congress to address their concerns on the BBL,” Valte said in a radio interview.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. has earlier admitted that nobody can guarantee the passage of the BBL in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident. However, Congress leaders have said that the BBL may be passed by June.

“We have to put a target date. We can’t have a floating target. That [June 30] is the most generous target we can think of this moment. It looked like a good working target, but nobody can guarantee anything because the sentiments of the lawmakers on the SAF deaths are yet to be settled,” Belmonte told reporters.

Despite the measure’s bleak prospects, Belmonte believes that President Benigno Aquino 3rd can still convince his allies at the House to vote for the BBL.

“I do think that he still has political capital. The lawmakers are angry about what happened, but they trust him enough that he is still on top,” the House leader said.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants peace for our country. For all you know, if we pass this bill, it could still not work. That’s a possibility, but if we don’t do this [passage of the BBL], the possibility will become a probability. Every Filipino wants a peaceful country,” Belmonte said.

With AFP, PNA

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2 Comments

  1. a move to shaken those senators who challenged bbl. hoping di kayo matitinag mga senator sa mga iyan, mas marmi kaming tutol sa bbl!

  2. P, Akialamiro on

    Indeed, everyone wants peace, but NOT on appeasement! Are all our muslim brothers’ different groups agreeable to the representation proposed in the BBL? How about the allegations of Sen. Santiago?