A leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has warned Malacañang against negotiating with an impostor, who claims to have come from its ranks, in a planned resumption of a tripartite meeting to accelerate the peace process in Mindanao.
The meeting will bring together the MNLF, the Philippine government and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Ustadz Pendie Colano, the overall chairman of the Selatan State Revolutionary Committee, a sub-wing of the MNLF, on Monday said Datu Abul Khayr Alonto is parading himself as chairman of the MNLF Central Committee when he is not even a member of the organization.
Colano said President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s acceptance of Alonto as a panelist in the tripartite meeting was meant “to destroy the leadership of the MNLF.”
According to him, Aquino “did not even evaluate or validate information from the concerned MNLF organization if [Alonto] is a legitimate member of the MNLF.”
Colano called Alonto a liar who, like Aquino, wants to divide the MNLF, a rival of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which recently signed a peace agreement with the government.
The President, he said, took advantage of Alonto’s “divisive” act to crush the leadership of the MNLF.
Originally scheduled for September 16, 2013, the tripartite meeting was postponed indefinitely.
The meeting aims to review the 1996 peace deal between the Ramos administration and the MNLF, which has since tried but failed in its armed battle against Manila to stamp its authority over a swath of Mindanao, including the autonomous region there.
If the tripartite meeting pushes through, Colano said, the MNLF wants Major General Ariel Bernardo to be appointed as a government panelist from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
Bernardo, the commanding general of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division,
said in an interview also on Monday that he welcomes the endorsement, but pointed out that it is the government that picks members of the OPAPP panel.
The official is set to retire from military service in July this year.
Bernardo once served as chairman of the government’s Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities in Mindanao during peace talks with the MILF that eventually produced the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
Reacting to a report published recently by The Manila Times, he said the CAB “will not put peace in jeopardy because it is the duty of the government to harness things out for a better understanding and reconciliation for the welfare of all people in Mindanao, especially the MILF and the MNLF, including the stakeholders of this peace agreement as we don’t want to go back to zero with this noble effort of the government.”
Meanwhile, Palace officials on Tuesday gave assurances that there will be no outbreak of violence over the recently concluded peace deal with the MILF amid reports that thousands of the group’s fighters have defected to an anti-government faction of the MNLF.
Reacting to The Manila Times’ report that at least four MILF commanders have chosen to rejoin the MNLF because of their refusal to surrender their firearms to the government, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said they have yet to hear about such “defection.”
Nevertheless, the two officials virtually admitted that the “confusion” on the grassroots level with regard to the CAB and its four annexes is due mainly to the lack of sufficient information, which they are beginning to address.
“We have received no such report. For one, which MNLF did they join since there are MNLF [factions]that are expressing support for the CAB? The truth is that there are MNLF commanders/communities talking to OPAPP [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] regarding the transformation of their communities to peace and development communities inclusive of gun regulation,” Deles said.
The Times reported on Tuesday that MNLF commanders, along with thousands of their men, have joined the MNLF for two reason: because they do not want to give up their high-powered firearms and ammunition and that they support efforts to reclaim Sabah.
Colano said each MILF commander has 1,000 combatants under him.
“So this means that if four commanders are not willing to lay down their firearms, 4,000 MILF fighters will merge with us. That is the reason why I have said that the annex on normalization will not be fully implemented because MILF forces, especially the followers of Chairman Ibrahim Murad, are against laying down their firearms,” he said.
Colano added that more MILF commanders will soon join the MNLF.
But Valte said they doubt Colano’s statement because he is from the MNLF.
“We would not comment on this yet considering that the source of the information, I think, was the MNLF. We will leave it up to the MILF to actually give a confirmation or a denial on this,” she told reporters.
She reiterated that even before the signing of the CAB, the panels made sure that all stakeholders were involved, especially in the gathering of their input for the crafting of the annexes.
“Both panels have endeavored to make sure that the contents of the annex on normalization will be acceptable to all stakeholders. They were very careful and very emphatic that all factors need to be taken into consideration,” Valte explained.
“So, hopefully, they will continue their work as far as informing other stakeholders about the contents of the annexes, which is why as a matter of assistance to both panels, as well as to the [OPAPP], we’ve put up the annexes as well as the CAB for the public to read, so that they can form their own opinions on the information contained there,” she pointed out.
Meanwhile, Deles sought the help of the people in Mindanao in “selling” the CAB to ensure its victory in the plebiscite.
“When they ask questions or clarification, we should grant it to them. That is their right and it is our obligation to answer to the best of our ability. To those who have already decided because there is enough basis for a decision, the call is do not just prepare your own vote but help sell this to others,” Deles said during her visit in Maguindanao on Sunday.
“By and large, what we have seen in the consultations [in these provinces]is a real interest, a real desire to have the best for the Bangsamoro,” she stressed.
Deles has expressed confidence that the five provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will stick it out in the envisioned Bangsamoro region, saying the government is expecting a growing legion of peace advocates campaigning for the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro government.
ARMM straddles the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The plebiscite for the envisioned Bangsamoro region will cover the existing geographical area of the ARMM; the six municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Pantar, Nunungan, Tagaloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte; 39 villages in North Cotabato; and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.