By JONATHAN DE SANTOS
THE government panel negotiating peace with Moro secessionists said the government is protecting the peace process and will apply the full force of the law against groups trying to derail it.
Panel members made the statement, even as they assured the public that they had never left Moro National Liberation Front chief Nur Misuari out of the peace process, been keeping Misuari updated on developments on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Misuari’s faction of the MNLF attacked Zamboanga City on September 9, with an estimated 158,000 people affected by fighting between government forces and the MNLF-Misuari faction, based on statistics from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Panel members said the crisis in Zamboanga is “an isolated reaction by just one group.”
“Misuari does not represent the MNLF, much less the Bangsamoro,” said lawyer Mehol Sadain, secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and a member of the government panel in talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
Another negotiator, former Agriculture secretary Senen Bacani, said the panel hopes there will be a convergence between the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with whom the government is currently negotiating peace. The MILF split from the MNLF in 1977 over ideological differences.
He said, though, that convergence is up to the two groups and is not something that the government can impose. He added most MNLF commanders are in contact with the government and have distanced themselves from the Misuari faction over its entry into Zamboanga City on September 9.
He added the peace process with the MNLF, which signed a final peace agreement with the government in 1996, is a separate track but that the group has not been excluded from participation in the Bangsamoro.
The government has been conducting an investigation on the Zamboanga crisis and another probe will cover the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group from the MILF.
According to data collated by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the BIFF has been involved in 48 “violent incidents” between July and September this year including firefights with the military and bombings in Cagayan de Oro and North Cotabato.
In late September, the BIFF abducted 15 civilians to use as human shields after attacks in Midsayap town in North Cotabato. BIFF members also bombed a transmission tower in Kabacan in the same province.
The panel said the attacks—22 incidents in September, up from 10 in July and 17 in August—“show a total disregard for human life and a willful desire to block progress” in the peace process.
According to an editorial on the website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, there have been attempts to “discuss major issues and concerns” between the two groups through the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
“We didn’t and don’t have the slightest intention of depriving our brothers from the MNLF of their rights to partake of the cake when it is ready for eating. But in the meantime, we urge them to help us or at least not stand on the way in this hard undertaking,” the editorial, published on September 8, also said.
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the two groups will vie for political power within Bangsamoro, the political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“What we want to achieve is if they want political power, they will get it through peaceful means,” she said.
“There will be space for all those who want to participate based on fair rules. We are optimistic that the Bangsamoro will grab this opportunity and will transcend personal, tribal, or organizational interests to bring about good governance for our people,” Yasmin Busran Lao, a member of the peace panel and presidential adviser on Muslim concerns, said.
A Transition Commission, which the MNLF had been invited to join, is still working on a Bangsamoro Basic Law that the panel hopes to present to Congress by early 2014. That law will have to pass through the legislative mill and then voted on in a plebiscite.
In the meantime, the government has been helping train the next generation of Bangsamoro leaders. “When you ask for a power, you have to know how to be accountable and responsible for that power,” Coronel-Ferrer said.
“The best thing for them (BIFF) is for the peace talks to collapse and harvest (followers) from the discontent that will come with that,” Coronel-Ferrer said.
“We will not give them the pleasure (of doing that),” the panel chair said, adding the MILF will not allow talks to break down either. “No turning back na ito,” she said.