MANILA — Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles on Thursday emphasized that the best way to disassociate legitimate revolutionary movements such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from terrorist groups is to engage them in a peace process.
“Aalalahanin lang natin yun, yun po ang sinabi na ang pinakamabisang paraan na mai-disconnect mo ang isang revolutionary movement at ang terorismo is through the peace process (Let us remember that it’s said that the best way to disconnect a revolutionary movement from terrorism is through the peace process),” Deles said during the third day of the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident.
Deles issued the statement in response to the manifestation of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano in which he cited a letter of the U.S. government sent during the Bush administration which warned the Philippine government of the possible link between the MILF and the terrorist network of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Deles clarified that the U.S. government fully supported the move of the Philippine government to engage the MILF through the peace process.
During the Feb. 10 Senate hearing, the peace adviser noted that the MILF’s “disavowal of terrorism” was an explicit demand of the Philippine government prior to the resumption of peace talks with the rebel group in 2003.
According to Deles, this “was monitored by the Philippine government, by our intelligence, as well as the international community.”
The peace process is part of the government’s national security policy. The decision on whether or not to pursue peace talks with the MILF or any other non-state actor is determined by the continuing assessment and recommendation of the Cabinet Security Cluster.
Deles noted that, throughout the globe, other revolutionary groups which are now fully integrated in their respective countries through the peace process have been previously tagged as terrorist groups as well.
“Let me also just mention your honors that IRA (Irish Republican Army) was labeled as a terrorist movement, ANC (African National Congress) of [Nelson] Mandela was also a terrorist movement, FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) in Colombia where there are negotiations now ongoing that may lead to an agreement where they will become part of the government was also a terrorist movement,” Deles said in a bid to explain the context on the current southern peace efforts.
“Yun po yung ating sinasabi na kailangan titignan lagi ito in a narrative. Ang evolution ng revolutionary movement ay hindi napapako sa iisang sandali…at ang gulong ginagawa mo ngayon ay dapat naaangkop doon sa kalagayan nito ngayon (This is what we’ve been saying that we should always look at this [peace process] in a narrative. The evolution of a revolutionary movement does not stop in a moment… and the movement that happens should be seen in the context of current realities),” she added.
MILF against terrorism
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who attended the hearing, said that their organization has a standing policy against all forms of terrorism.
“We have made a solemn vow to fight terrorism in our areas. Terrorism is inconsistent with Islam and has no place in the orientation and principles of the MILF,” he said. “Our previous actions bear witness to our commitment against terrorism. To tag the MILF as a terrorist group is unfair.”
Iqbal also appealed to the Senate to let the investigation take its course to prove that the MILF is not coddling terrorists.
“The MILF did not harbor [terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir alias] Marwan or [Abdul Basit] Usman. The MILF has no links with these terrorists and terrorist organizations. Marwan and Usman were in areas outside the MILF-controlled areas,” he said.
Senators also agreed that the paramount long-term solution to prevent the repetition of the Mamasapano tragic incident is to address the complex problem in Mindanao by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“It’s important that we stay the course on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, a former military officer, said.
Honasan said that he understands the public sentiment over the Mamasapano incident, and the call of some quarters to launch a full-scale war in retaliation for the death of the 44 police special forces. However, he cautioned that it is unwise to succumb to emotions and stop the entire peace process.
“We cannot inflict [a halt to] the peace process. The long-term cost might be too high to bear,” he advised.
The same point was also raised by another former military officer, Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV who said that the southern peace process is very “crucial” especially since the two parties have already signed a peace agreement and is currently on the implementation stage.
Iqbal expressed the importance of moving forward with the BBL to ultimately address the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people and make future Moro armed movements irrelevant.
“Pag napasa ang BBL, wala na pwedeng lumaban sa gobyerno na may legitimate cause kasi na-address na lahat (When the BBL is passed, there will be no more rebel group that will fight the government with a legitimate cause because it would have already been adressed),” he said.
He appealed to the public to understand the Bangsamoro struggle and noted that the future “Bangsamoro government will give us the chance to rule ourselves, but still under the government of the Philippines.”
Iqbal said that once the peace process is completed, the MILF will become a social movement and no longer a revolutionary organization.
“We are committed to peace. We have been in negotiations with the Philippine government for 17 long years. Our present partnership with Pres. Aquino has been durable. There has been no recorded armed hostilities between the government and the MILF since 2011. We signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. Each of these agreements is a testament to our commitment to pursue our objectives through peaceful means,” he said.
Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the MILF will undergo a phased decommissioning process or turnover of firearms and forces parallel to the implementation of the provisions of the agreement such as the passage of the BBL and other milestones in the roadmap to the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.
Part of the objectives of the southern peace process is to answer the century-old clamor of the Bangsamoro people for their right to self-determination, and to transform the MILF armed combatants to productive civilian lives.