From GMA News (Apr 11): WikiLeaks: Moro Islamic Liberation Front had underestimated Aquino
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which would later praise President Aquino's leadership on the peace process, had doubted his ability to "understand the complexities" of the Mindanao conflict as he was nearing victory in the 2010 elections, according to a confidential US embassy cable to Washington DC in February 2010.
The cable, written by US Charge d'Affaires Leslie Bassett, was one of some two million confidential communications by US diplomats made accessible by a new WikiLeaks search engine for state department archives.
MILF leaders lamented that none of the presidential candidates in 2010 appeared to take the peace process seriously, but only then-Senator Aquino was singled out for criticism by name.
"(The peace process) is too complicated for Senator Aquino to understand," MILF peace panel member Michael Mastura was quoted by the embassy cable as saying at a meeting between a US diplomat and the MILF in February 2010.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace Panel Chairman, was also at the meeting, which took place in Mastura's house in Cotabato City during the final months of the national political campaign when then-frontrunner Noynoy Aquino was being attacked by his critics as a mentally unstable intellectual lightweight.
Just months after Aquino's victory, Iqbal would begin engaging in secret peace negotiations initiated by Aquino, culminating in the Bangsamoro peace pact. The "framework agreement," signed in Malacanang in October 2012, is considered one of the crowning glories of the first half of Aquino's six-year term.
Interviewed by blogger Raissa Robles in 2011, Iqbal had confirmed that the 2010 meeting between the MILF and the US Embassy had taken place. Steve Rood, the country representative for the Asia Foundation in the Philippines who was listed in the cable as among those at the meeting, also confirmed in a text message on Thursday that the meeting occurred.
"Listen to how we feel"
The cable, based on notes taken by US embassy political officer Michael Pignatello who was the lone US diplomat at the meeting, recounted how the MILF representatives pleaded for greater US involvement in the peace process, complaining of a lack of commitment from the government of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The cable narrated: "'Listen to how we feel,' Iqbal implored. 'The Filipinos are the rulers,' he continued, 'and we (Moros) are slaves. It is a lopsided relationship.'
"Because the U.S. erred in including Mindanao in Philippine territory when providing the Philippines with its independence, the U.S. 'owed' the Moros its assistance."
The cable described the MILF leaders as "very unhappy" with the Arroyo administration and its "policy reversals," criticizing its chief negotiator Rafael Seguis for not listening, "since he appeared to be texting on his phone during negotiations."
The embassy cable quoted Mastura as making a threat to "Balkanize" Mindanao if it lost patience with the peace process, referring to the ethnic conflict in the Balkan states in Europe in the 1990s that resulted in violence.
"Please do not allow us to do that," Mastura reportedly told his American visitors. He also mentioned that the MILF was being urged by unnamed forces to assassinate then-executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and North Cotabato Vice Governor Manuel Pinol, both identified as having "made a career out of opposing peace in Mindanao."
"Moot and academic"
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, refused to comment on the contents of the cable.
“As a matter of policy, we don't comment on supposed internal communications of foreign governments,” Valte said in a text message.
Palace communications chief Ricky Carandang added that they they don't comment on “purported cable leaks.”
“Look how the negotiations are going right now,” he noted, referring to the progress in the peace talks.
For a Moro affairs scholar, Mastura's statements are now “moot and academic” since the MILF and the Philippine government have both reported productive talks.
“It's a totally different ballgame now,” Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas said in a text message.
UP Institute for Islamic Studies Dean Julkipli Wadi agreed, saying there is “nothing controversial” about Mastura's statements.
“There's nothing controversial about it as GPH and MILF peace panels were still on opposite sides of the fence at the time,” Wadi said.
The US embassy cable also reported the "atmospherics" at the dinner meeting, describing the host Mastura couple as liberal Muslims and Mrs. Mastura as an outspoken woman who does not wear a headscarf, countering impressions of the MILF as Islamic conservatives.
Nevertheless, the cable concluded with a cautious tone: "We have no basis to believe that the MILF would prove more capable than its predecessors of governing well."
It was held at Barangay Nuangan, Kidapawan City with the theme, “Peace Advocacy on Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) towards the Establishment of Peaceful, Just and Humane Society”. It was attended by Moro natives, settlers and indigenous people.
During his opening remarks, Nasser Mustafa, MILF Provincial Vice Chairman of North Cotabato emphasized the importance of participating in peace advocacies as a medium of letting the people understand the letter and intent of the FAB and the reasons behind why the Bangsamoro is asserting their right to self-determination The Bangsamoro people where oppressed and long deprived of their rights by past foreign and local colonial governments.
Professor Esmael A. Abdula, member of BLMI Steering Committee and guest speaker provided highlights on the FAB. He related the historical background of the Bangsamoro struggle and the peace process between the MILF and the GPH which has been dragging on for almost 17 years.
He stressed that the Mindanao question needs political solutions through peaceful and diplomatic means that will redound to peace and development in Mindanao. Moreover, the FAB, he said is seen by many as the ultimate solution to the Mindanao problem that will improve quality of life of people; builds harmonious social and cultural relationships among the Moros, indigenous people and settlers.
Hon. Atty. Greg Andolana, former Congressman of 2nd District, North Cotabato and faculty of the University of Mindanao, Davao City and the University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan, North Cotabato emphasized, that FAB is a done deal but there is a need to pursue and support the peace panels in completing the two remaining contentious annexes and sign a comprehensive compact agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) so that the Bangsamoro can take off.
He stressed that the tri-people in Mindanao should work hand in hand to support the FAB. In the event that Bangsamoro Basic Law is crafted by the Transition Commission, enacted into law by Congress, signed by President Benigno C. Aquino III and ratified by the people in a plebiscite it will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Region as new political entity.
Hon. Angel Japar, Indigenous People representative to the United Nations made a very encouraging message in order to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao. He said everyone should understand the essence of FAB. He encouraged the indigenous people to consolidate their efforts and support the FAB.
Bai Delhia Hassan, a known traditional leader described how the Moros and the indigenous people suffered from the hands of colonial and oppressive regimes. She said that land grabbing continued to haunt the Moro and indigenous people in North Cotabato. She cited the experience of their family and said that the land they own with in the heart of Kidapawan City was occupied by settlers. To get back their land she filed a complaint in court. After expending a lot of money, they finally won the case and repossessed their land. However, to her dismay, settlers continue to occupy her land, derive income from it but she is not given rental. The local government is mum on her plight and did nothing to act on her favor. The LGU instead continue to collect taxes from her otherwise her land will forfeited by the local government.
Brother Mads Tempolok, congratulated the organizers and encouraged the leaders of the tri-people to initiate the conduct of similar advocacy program in their respective communities.
The said Peace Advocacy was attended by more than one thousand people all from Bangsamoro, Indigenous people and from the Pilipino Settler, also present in the forum are from the Local Government officials, traditional leaders from the Bangsamoro and Indigenous People.
The forum ended, with good smile and hands shake indicate, that understand the FAB establish the culture of peace and justice. Every body hope to have dreams come true, when FAB get to be done and Bangsamoro Government should be realize.