MANILA – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sought last year for a “parallel dialogue” with the United States to support the ongoing peace negotiations at the time. The MILF also made an “impassioned plea for greater overall US involvement” in the negotiations, according to a confidential US Embassy cable released this week by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.
The MILF’s request for the “parallel dialogue,” which was made during a dinner meeting on Feb. 24, 2010, with officials of the US Embassy in Manila and The Asia Foundation, reflected the MILF’s concern about the Philippine government’s sincerity in the peace negotiations.
“Demonstrating the MILF’s dissatisfaction with negotiations, Mastura described the potential for an MILF backlash — but also noted how its current posture was somewhat restrained,” the cable said, referring to Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel. It quoted Mastura as saying: “We can still make trouble and Balkanize the area. Please do not allow us to do that.”
The meeting was between Mastura, MILF peace panel chief Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel secretariat member Mike Marasigan, US embassy political officer Michael Pignatello, Abhoud Linga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, and The Asia Foundation’s Steven Rood and Thomas Parks.
In that same meeting, Mastura also talked about people “urging” the MILF to assassinate then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and North Cotabato Vice Governor Manuel Pinol but told the Americans that the MILF “does not assassinate.”
The cable noted that “the flow of the conversation did not allow Poloff (Pignatello) to interject and explicitly voice opposition to the notion of assassinations, but everyone present seemed clearly to understand the USG (US government) would find such acts abhorrent.”
Aside from complaining about the Philippine government’s supposed insincerity in the negotiations, the MILF leaders also talked about a draft interim agreement that, although the cable did not explicitly say so, sounded like the “comprehensive compact” that the rebels would later propose to the government peace panel.
Last month, the government made a counter-proposal to the MILF’s proposal to create a “substate” for the Moro people, among others, but the MILF rejected it, saying the counter-proposal would prolong, not end, the conflict in Mindanao.
“Listen to how we feel,” Iqbal was quoted in the cable as telling the Americans. “The Filipinos are the rulers and we (Moros) are slaves. It is a lopsided relationship.” Iqbal explained to them that “because the US erred in including Mindanao in Philippine territory when providing the Philippines with its independence, the US ‘owed’ the Moros its assistance.”
Pignatello told the MILF leaders that while certain US-funded programs in Mindanao had been completed – such as those undertaken by the US Institute of Peace – “US engagement on the peace process had not. In the years prior to the MOA-AD, senior US officials consistently and privately engaged the most senior members of the Philippine government to encourage them forward in peace negotiations,” the official supposedly told the MILF leaders.
The MILF, in past public statements, had hoped that MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) would pave the way for “genuine autonomy” but this was scuttled in 2008 by the Philippine Supreme Court, calling it unconstitutional.
“Mastura’s and Iqbal’s forceful statements — the most heated language we have heard in recent months — demonstrate that the MILF continues to view itself as the principal victim in its quest for Moro autonomy, wronged by the US and history at the moment of Philippine independence, and struggling to reassert itself ever since in a region that has become home to increasing numbers of Christian migrants and that remains dominated by powerful Muslim clans,” the cable’s “comment” section reads.
“The MILF has previously sought US intervention in the peace process, but was unable to articulate that vision to senior US officials during several meetings in 2009 when they discussed the US role. While likely intended to increase pressure on the Philippine government, the MILF’s new idea for a ‘parallel dialogue’ could also be an attempt to create a counterbalance to the ICG, whose state members have no historical connection to the Moros and may therefore be perceived as inclined to side with the Philippine government,” it continued.
It said the US side would explore the “parallel dialogue” concept but noted that the timing may not be right.
The cable pointed out that the MILF may position itself as the answer to Muslim Mindanao’s problems. “At present, however, we have no basis to believe that the MILF would prove more capable than its predecessors of governing well,” it said.