Malaysia Hosts Philippines, MILF Meeting to Implement Peace Agreement

Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
160815-PH-bangsamoro-620.jpg Members of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front delegations join Malaysian officials in Kuala Lumpur to mark the start of meetings aimed at implementing peace between the two sides, Aug. 13, 2016.
Muzliza Mustafa/BenarNews

The Philippines government and representatives of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed on a plan to implement a stalled peace agreement following a two-day meeting in Malaysia – the first such meeting since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June.

On Saturday, the groups agreed to a two-phased implementation stage for peace in the region – the writing of a basic law followed by the decommissioning of MILF’s fighters, Malaysian facilitator Tengku Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

“For the first phase, we let the two parties involved decide how they want to shape the future of the Philippines. On the second phase, Malaysia might be involved upon request from the parties,” the Malaysian facilitator said.

Wrapping up the session on Sunday, government and MILF officials announced in a joint statement that they had agreed to meet regularly in the Philippines to pursue forging “a just and enduring peace” in conflict-affected areas on the southern island of Mindanao. They set their next meeting for Aug. 30 in Davao City, the Philippines, GMA News Online reported.

“The parties agreed on the substantive aspects of the peace and development road map,” the joint statement said. “In keeping with their firm resolve to build on the gains of the peace process so far, the parties committed to work collaboratively and cooperatively to ensure efficient and inclusive implementation of the GPH [Government of the Philippines]-MILF signed agreements.”

An agreement reached in March 2014 under the previous president, Benigno Aquino III, was held up because the Philippine Senate failed to approve the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), whose passage was needed to implement the deal.

The Senate balked on passing the BBL after 44 Filipino commandoes and at least 17 MILF fighters were killed in a gun battle during a police raid in MILF-claimed territory in January 2015. Afterward, Aquino’s government was criticized for the operation and MILF was accused of violating the terms of a ceasefire that followed the signing of the original peace deal.

Under that agreement, MILF leaders promised to lay down their weapons in exchange for the establishment of a southern autonomous region. MILF rebels have fought since the 1970s for autonomy for the predominantly Muslim Bangsamoro people of the southern Philippines.

Malaysia served as a facilitator in those peace efforts as well.

Transition commission expands

In another move to push for peace, the groups agreed to increase the membership of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, with 11 members to be nominated by MILF and 10 by the government. The commission, which is tasked with drafting a new BBL, will see its membership increase from 15 – eight from MILF and seven from the government.

The groups also decided to include Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari in the peace process.

Misuari is a former governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and has been a fugitive since an attack on Zamboanga City in 2013. In May, he helped Malaysian and Indonesian officials seek the release of Malaysian and Indonesian sailors by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

On Saturday MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim said the panel welcomed the inclusion of Misuari’s MNLF, and invited other southern Philippine militant groups to bring peace to the region.

“We need all the players on board. We welcome all, not only brother Misuari, but other factions as well. We want them to be involved.

“They were all part of the peace process before. Abu Sayyaf was part of it. They were members of MNLF. Also part of us was the seemingly radical group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Both had left MNLF and MILF,” Murad told a press conference before the meeting opened on Saturday.

Murad said the establishment of Bangsamoro government was crucial in preventing the Islamic State (IS) from gaining a foothold in Mindanao and in stopping militancy in the southern Philippines.

Philippines Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza, who led the government delegation, echoed Murad’s views.

“That is why we are coming together for Bangsamoro,” Dureza said.

Analyst: Peace deal will deny IS

The implementation of a peace deal would mean that Muslims in the southern Philippines would no longer see a reason to support extremists, according to security analyst Rohan Gunaratna.

“The implementation of Bangsamoro peace deal will deny the growth of IS-centric groups in Southern Philippines,” Gunaratna, who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told BenarNews.

In his opinion, it is essential for all parties in the Philippines, especially Malaysia, to support the peace process because IS in the Philippines would pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Southeast Asia.

“The resolution of the dispute between the north and the south will result not only in peace and security, but economic prosperity and development of Mindanao,” added Gunaratna, a columnist for BenarNews.


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