MILF awaits tack of Aquino in Mindanao peace efforts

MANILA, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be watching how the new administration of incoming President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will pursue the peace process in Mindanao, the Muslim separatist group said.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim separatist rebel group pushing for the establishment of an Islamic state in large parts of Mindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, said the next stage of the protracted peace talks will depend on how the Aquino administration intends to deal with the issue.

“The peace process depends on them, whether they want to talk or whether they will adopt the war policy. If they adopt the war policy, we will defend ourselves,” said Iqbal.

Previously, Iqbal expressed doubts about a peace pact with the new administration, citing that Aquino is surrounded by people who are “spoilers” of the peace process, including vice-presidential running mate Manuel “Mar Roxas II, and former North Cotabato vice governor and losing gubernatorial candidate Manny Piñol.

“Piñol is no longer in position, but Roxas is still influential. Ultimately, what will matter here is the interest of big businessmen, warlords and mining companies,” he said.

Roxas and Piñol both strongly opposed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which would have been a major breakthrough in the peace talks with the MILF.

Iqbal said it is normal for a revolutionary group like the MILF to wage its cause through war, but the negotiation track is a better option.

“In war, we cannot win over the government, we also cannot be beaten by the government. It is very destructive to both sides, so it is better if we go for a negotiation track. I hope that negotiations do not take forever, there should be an effort to accelerate the peace process and finally resolve this,” he said. 

While the MILF claims it has the arsenal to sustain an all-out war against the Philippine armed forces, the group, for now, prefers to wait for the next step that will be taken by the Aquino administration.

“We have already proven that we can sustain war, we can resort to highly mobile tactics which will be difficult for the government if a confrontation ensues. We can dictate the terms of the war, when we will attack, where we will attack, and what arms to use,” Iqbal said.

The Philippine military estimates the MILF forces to number around 12,000, but Iqbal, refused to confirmed this.

Last week, the European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald said the EU has agreed to participate in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) assisting the peace process in Mindanao.

MacDonald said the details of EU’s participation will be firmed up as soon as the terms of reference have been agreed with the parties in the peace talks.

The IMT, with peace talks broker Malaysia as head of the team, was initially deployed in 2004. It later added Japanese economic experts as part of the team.

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