MILF’s ‘sub-state’ draws mixed reactions

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The proposal of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for the establishment of a Bangsamoro “sub-state” continues to generate mixed reactions across Mindanao, ranging from conditional acceptance to wariness and suspicion and to outright opposition.

Representative Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar of Zambonga City’s first district said the government peace panel should “respect the territorial integrity of the local government units whose constituents had voted [to stay] out during the last two plebiscites” on the composition of what is currently the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Salazar also urged the government panel to conduct the negotiations “within the [ambit of the] Constitution” and to be transparent about it.

She recalled that when she asked government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen for a copy of the government proposal, she was told that it was confidential.

“I didn’t pursue it because I respected their request for confidentiality, but I would like to remind them to put into consideration the interest of the people, the voices of the people and that we have one Constitution in negotiating with the MILF,” said Salazar, who claimed she had  a copy of the MILF proposal for a sub-state.

“Now since the MILF has defined their version of what sub-state is, we also want to know from the Philippine panel what’s their version of a sub-state is,” she said.

Salazar’s view was supported by Rep. Erico Basilio Fabian of Zamboanga’s second district.

“Everything that is being discussed about peace plan with the MILF must be within the framework of the Constitution,” Fabian said.

Senator Gregorio Honasan said during a visit here on Friday that it was important to know the substance of the MILF proposal before critics reject it.

“We have to make a conclusion on the basis of complete information.Since details have not been shared with us – and we hope they are forthcoming – I would advise against passing judgment immediately,” Honasan said.

But he agreed that what was needed was “peace, and not appeasement.”

“What we do not want is to set a dangerous precedent that will entail social, political and economic cause,” Honasan said.

He said the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Coucil will be meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

In Cotabato City, a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front said it had no problem if the MILF’s quest quest for a sub-state would include areas defined in the 1976 Tripoli agreement.

The agreement, signed by the Marcos government with the MNLF, identified the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan and the cities therein as part of the Moro autonomous region, subject to a plebiscite.

Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslim Sema, chairman of an MNLF faction established after Nur Misuari’s arrest, said they did not see any problem with the government granting the MILF control of the 13 provinces and at least 10 cities under a peace deal.

“[But] if the area is ARMM alone, it is an absurdity for the MILF to negotiate for the same area already covered by the 1996 Final Peace Agreement,” Sema said.

He said that in fact, the MNLF shared the same aspiration as the MILF, the betterment of the Bangsamoro.

Sema said this same aspiration was the driving force behind efforts to reunify the two Moro factions.

But for Misuari, the word “sub-state” was “like a multi-bladed thing” that could mean independence.

“I have this impression that they are creating a quasi-independent state that can easily be transformed into an independent state based on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain or MOA-AD,” Misuari said.

He said it was sad that while the MOA-AD had been rejected by the Supreme Court, “some key leaders, those who were in Tokyo, showed clearly that their hearts and souls were still focused on MOA-AD, and my impression is that the government is committed to give the MOA-AD.”

Zamboanga del Norte Governor Rolando Yebes said he would support the proposed sub-state “as long as they don’t ask for total independence from the Republic of the Philippines and they will follow our Constitution.”

In Sarangani province, Governor Miguel Dominguez said the ARMM should be maintained as a vehicle to advance the development of the Moro region.

He said the ARMM should not be blamed for the state of the Moro people because “the people who have led the ARMM have failed its people. It isn’t ARMM that failed its people,” he said.

In Kidapawan City, the former governor of North Cotabato, Emmanuel Piñol, said he was not against the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF because this would end the decades-old conflict.

Speaking over the radio station dxND, Piñol said he believed that a peace deal was the only way to boost the development of Muslim areas.

But he said that a sub-state should not be allowed because it would become a precedent for other sectors to ask the government for their own territory.

“I hope the negotiations will focus on the development of Mindanao so that peace, which was very elusive can be achieved,” Piñol said.

In Koronadal City, South Cotabato Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes questioned the demand of the MILF for a sub-state, asking how different it would be from the ARMM.

“I am not opposing any negotiation. I want a clarification, like what’s the difference between the MILF’s sub-state and the present autonomous region? If there’s abuse of authority, what’s the hand of government there? In the case of weapons, what’s the safeguard? On the issue of loans… if leaders in the sub-state can’t pay, what will happen?” Fuentes said.

For other Mindanao officials, a Moro sub-state appears to be synonymous with an Islamic state, which was why they were opposed to it.

Digos City Mayor Joseph Peñas said, “As long as it will be confined to areas known to be dominated by our brother Muslims I will support that.”

“I don’t have any grudge with our Muslim brothers. We treat them as equal to our Christian brothers since we are all Filipinos, but there’s no reason why this peaceful place, where Muslims and Christians are living harmoniously, to be included in the proposed Islamic state,” Peñas said.

(Reports from Julie Alipala, Edwin Fernandez, Aquiles Zonio, Jeoffrey Maitem, Eldie Aguirre, Nash Maulana, and Williamor Magbanua, Inquirer Mindanao)

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