MANILA -– “Battered but not yet out!”
This was the strong statement made by Mohaqer Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Friday night in the aftermath of the bloody Mamasapano incident that killed 67 people, including 44 police commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) in Maguindanao last Jan. 25.
Eighteen MILF rebels and five civilians were also killed during the 11-hour gun battle that shattered the 1997 ceasefire agreement between the government and the rebels.
Iqbal statement coincided at the book launching marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehesive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) held at the Baluarte San Diego Gardens in Intramuros, Manila.
The two books launched by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) were “Getting to Peace” and ”In Defense of the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The killing of the 44 SAF troopers who were tasked to arrest wanted international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir hiding in Mamapasano, an MILF stronghold, has shattered the peace process and putting at risk the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before Congress.
Iqbal admitted that the BBL “is battered but it is not yet down (and) I think there is now some sort of recovery” with the hope the BBL would be passed by Congress.
“On the part of the MILF, we keep on moving, moving and moving,” Iqbal said his extemporaneous speech at the book launching.
“A year ago we started a journey to realize the dream of the people in Mindanao,” he added.
Iqbal also said he has been involved in the peace negotiations for the last 15 years to find a just and lasting solution to the Mindanao conflict.
He said the Mamapasno incident was “tragic and unfortunate.”
“On behalf of the MILF we are so sorry that many lives have died,” Iqbal said.
In a related development, President Benigno S. Aquino III on Friday formed a council of respected community leaders that would help work out the passage of the BBL.
Named as members of the council were Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., business magnate Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Ambassador to the Vatican and Malta Howard Dee, and youth leader Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.
A National Peace Summit is expected to be held soon to discuss the BBL and to help the Filipino people understand the proposed law that would establish a new autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao.
The President said that members of the council “will dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that will not incite anger and hopelessness. This way, the BBL can be improved.
They will write a report that will be made public, so that everyone may be informed, and so that more of our countrymen may understand the matter. In this manner, we will be able to advance a reasonable decision as regards the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”