Whether or not there is a final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), war could break out in Mindanao because of wrangling among large armed groups, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Ustadz Pendi Colano, chairman of the Central Mindanao’s MNLF sub-wing Selatan State Revolutionary Committee, said his group will not relinquish their territories in Central Mindanao composed of at least seven municipalities even if the government and the MILF sign a peace agreement.
On the other hand, Colano said the MILF has been massing forces, even recruiting young boys aged 14 to 16, to prepare for a massive strike in case the talks collapse.
Either way, the government has no other choice but to prepare for hostilities, because the MNLF considers the Framework Agreement as a “tool for war” and not a solution to the Mindanao conflict, he said.
Quoting MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, Colano said that President Benigno Aquino 3rd disrespected the peace efforts of the administration of former President Fidel V. Ramos with the MNLF.
“President Aquino’s action to put an end to the 1996 peace accord is a kind of a divide-and-rule tactics which is tantamount to the declaration of war on the MNLF, and we have no option but to declare independence in Mindanao,” he said.
Colano said Misuari had told his men that the agreement Aquino made with the MILF is a gross violation to the peace accord which was signed by the Philippine government and the MNLF in 1996.
“How can it [peace pact]be successful when President Aquino said in his [State of the Nation Address] that it would not be easy to resolve piece by piece the sensitive matters pertaining to the issue of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, and surely Aquino could not finish such signing of the agreement with the MILF,” Colano said.
While admitting that the peace that Aquino wants to achieve is a “noble intention,” the MNLF leader said it was a huge mistake for the government to abandon the provisions of the September 2, 1996 peace accord.
“If the Aquino administration fears the MILF’s threat against distorting the peace process, the more that Aquino should respect the larger forces of the MNLF which can call for war if the September 2, 1996 peace agreement will not be fulfilled. We can potentially declare war [even]against the MILF anytime we want if Aquino would continue to ignore our side,” Colano told The Manila Times.
Colano said the MNLF is “at all times ready for war” if the government and the MILF come to an agreement without considering the claims of the MNLF.
The MNLF, according to him, is determined to stop the signing of the agreement with the MILF “at all cost.”
“We were hoping that Aquino could help us realize our long-sought dream of accomplishing the 1996 peace deal but we sensed that there is no signal from this present administration toward that end. We are truly and indeed ready for war anytime at all cost just to stop the signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement,” Colano said.
He lamented that the peace pact with the MNLF was ignored by the administrations of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.
Colano said that the MILF’s claim of having control over several towns in Maguindanao and nearby provinces was a lie because “the MNLF occupies vast areas in Maguindanao” which are being encroached by the MILF, resulting in previous deadly clashes.
The 1996 agreement gives the MNLF control over Kauran, Dinaig, Shariff Aguak, Ampatuan, Liguasan Marsh, Lutayan, Buluan, Datu Paglas and many other municipalities in Maguindanao.
Colano said the MILF territories only include the towns of Bumbaran, Darussalam and Boldon.
He admitted that there is a brewing war between the MILF and MNLF over territorial control.
Recently, some indigenous and Muslim leaders were killed in a clash between the two groups.
The MNLF is said to control half of Central Mindanao, but the MILF wants to take over these areas on the pretext that the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement is about to be approved.
But an MNLF field commander who goes by the name of Sabiwang warned of heavy resistance from MNLF forces in these places.
“Resistance forces of the MNLF refused to accept the claimed territories of the MILF in Maguindanao for it seriously cannot be settled by just a mere peace agreement which could even result in war between forces of the so called Bangsamoro people,” Sabiwang said.
“MILF forces want to occupy the MNLF occupied area in Maguindanao. It will escalate into a serious war,” Sabiwang said.
Misuari was reportedly piqued when Aquino sent a letter to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General requesting a closure to the tripartite review of the 1996 accord.
“The intention of President Aquino requesting the OIC for the closure of GRP-MNLF peace accord is the worst move he made because this is the kind of action declaring war against the MNLF and he is not really sincere to the peace process,” Colano added.
He stressed that once the MNLF has declared independence, it should be taken to mean as a declaration of war against the government.
“Is this an act of achieving the long lasting peace in Mindanao that President Aquino wants or he just wants to make another history of war against the MNLF?” Colano said.
Misuari had warned that pursuing the closure of the MNLF peace accord will compel them to seek full independence. He said the OIC Secretary General has furnished his office a copy of the explanatory note submitted by Malacañang dated March 21, requesting the OIC for the closure.
The explanatory note urged the OIC to acknowledge that Misuari is “no longer the sole representative of the Bangsamoro,” and that it has to deal with the situation by tapping a more pluralistic representation.
The MNLF chairman also hit Aquino for turning his back on the promise of his mother—the late President Corazon Aquino—to provide an MNLF-led homeland to Filipino Muslims.
“His agreement with the MILF is a total betrayal of his mother’s promise to us after we help her catapult into the presidency. He was a witness to that as a young boy when we held a series of meetings with his mother and Butch Aquino,” Misuari said.
MNLF officials also claimed that the MILF had not stopped recruiting more men ever since the start of the peace negotiations during the time of Arroyo.
Colano said the MILF recruited minors as fighters.
This was confirmed by Sajid Akmad, 14, who is under training along with 25 other teenagers from the cities of Marawi and Iligan.
Akmad, who stands 5 feet and hails from Marawi, used to sell pirated DVDs to earn a living.
Akmad said he was recruited by a top MILF commander and was trained for three months.
Recruitment is more aggressive in the Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Jolo and Sulu provinces, Colano said.
He said the recruitment only proves that MILF will wage war if the talks fail and the agreement is not signed.