Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MILF rebels reject gov't autonomy offer, insist on sub-state in Mindanao

Philippine soldiers keep an eye on rebels on a mountainous area in Maguindanao province. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 23, 2011) – Philippine Muslim rebels rejected Tuesday a new government offer for a wider autonomy in Mindanao and insisted on a demand to create a sub-state in the restive, but mineral-rich southern region.

Manila proposed a wider Muslim autonomy to the MILF, but the rebel group said it would only agree on a sub-state in Mindanao.

Peace negotiators are in Malaysia for a three-day talks that began Monday, but there is nothing more significant for both sides, especially for the rebels, but to run its own affairs.

Marvic Leonen, the chief government peace negotiator, said the proposal is the position of the government and guided solely by national interest and based on consultations with the different stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process.

The MILF said there is nothing to fear with its proposal for the creation of a sub state because the powers over national defense, foreign relations, coinage and currency, and postal services are still the sole jurisdiction of the central government.

“The MILF’s formula to solve the Moro Question in Mindanao is very simple - it is far from complex. Let the Moros run their affairs; let them decide their own destiny. Let them succeed or self-destruct. Gone were the days when the government in Manila designed everything for them.”

“The most important element here is self-determination. Let them exercise this right to self-determination, which is enshrined and guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations. This is a right that cannot be foreclosed by any agreement or the subject of negotiation,” it said.

“There is nothing to fear in this proposal, because the sub state, as the name connotes, is still part of the Philippines. It has no army, except police and internal security forces, tasked to do policing within the sub state,” the MILF said.

The MILF has previously branded the five-province Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao as a failure. The region has been rocked by corruption scandals and remains as one of the poorest in the country.

It repeatedly called on the government to amend the Constitution that would allow the creation of a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao.

Aquino’s allies in Congress are now pushing for the amendment of the Constitution, saying, there is a need to change many provisions in the Charter that would benefit the country’s economy, among others. But there is a widespread fear among those opposed to the Muslim homeland deal that amending the Constitution could pave way for granting the MILF its demand for a sub state.

A failed Muslim homeland deal in 2008 resulted to attacks by rebel forces led by Ameril Umra Kato.

The Supreme Court declared the accord as unconstitutional.

The MILF has yet to decide on the fate of a renegade leader accused as behind the series of deadly attacks after the failed signing of the Muslim ancestral domain agreement.

Kato has split with the MILF and formed his own group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and is wanted by authorities in connection to the attacks in Lanao that killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians.

“The MILF Central Committee has not decided yet on what to do with Kato, but we will definitely act on this probably after Ramadan,” Von Al-Haq, a spokesman for the MILF, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the MILF considers Kato as a renegade and a hardliner commander. “He is a renegade now, we consider him a renegade. He does not follow orders anymore from the MILF and has formed his own rebel group,” Al-Haq said.

Kato has criticized MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim of betraying rebel forces after he agreed to a secret meeting called by President Benigno Aquino in Japan this month.

He said Ebrahim should have consulted his leaders before meeting with Aquino.

“Murad corrupted the rights of the Bangsamoro people,” Kato said.

Kato has repeatedly said that the MILF should pursue independence in Mindanao, home to some four million Muslims in a region of about 18 million mostly Christian inhabitants. (Mindanao Examiner)

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