Tuesday, April 3, 2018

CPP/Sison: Prof. Sison: On the question of preconditions in peace negotiations

Jose Maria Sison propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Apr 3): Prof. Sison: On the question of preconditions in peace negotiations


The Hague Joint Declaration, framework agreement of the GRP-NDFP negotiations, requires that no side can impose on the other side any precondition that negates the character and purpose of peace negotiations. For instance, the GRP cannot precondition the peace negotiations with the surrender of the NDFP.

The GRP and NDFP as negotiating parties must comply with agreements already signed and approved by them, such as The Hague Joint Declaration, JASIG, Joint Agreement on the Reciprocal Working Committees, CARHRIHL and others. In resuming the peace negotiations, these agreements must be reaffirmed and followed. Obstacles and hindrances to the peace negotiations must be done way with.

The conflicting yet negotiating parties bring different positions on issues to the table in order to thresh out the differences and arrive at agreements. Having forged CARHRIHL, their most important task is to make the comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Since October 4, 2017 the back channel teams of the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels have succeeded in drafting the general amnesty proclamation for the release of all political prisoners listed by the NDFP, the agreement on coordinated unilateral ceasefires with a Joint National Ceasefire Committee and the parts on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED) of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

To ensure the continuity of the peace negotiations, there are mechanisms for submitting complaints about incidents or any issue deemed important by any side. The principals in the negotiations can avail of their respective panels and the Joint Monitoring Committee to present complaints of any kind and seek the appropriate response.

NDF/Sison: On the question of sincerity in GRP-NDFP negotiations

Jose Maria Sison propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Apr 3): On the question of sincerity in GRP-NDFP negotiations



The NDFP is sincere in engaging in peace negotiations with the GRP in order to obtain comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration.

These reforms and consequent peace are for the benefit of the Filipino people, especially for the toiling masses of workers and peasants who are the most oppressed and exploited and who therefore support the armed revolution.

When the reactionaries in the GRP demand sincerity from the NDFP, they mean the NDFP and all the revolutionary forces to surrender to the oppressors and exploiters of the people, accept the terms of capitulation and pacification and betray the Filipino people and their revolution.

Together with their imperialist masters, the reactionaries demand the outright surrender of the revolutionary forces and people or surrender under the guise of a protracted and indefinite ceasefire long before any comprehensive agreement on social, economic and political reforms.

Their objective is merely to clear the way for deploying military forces and pseudo-development projects, spreading counterrevolutionary intrigue, committing massacres and terrorizing the people in communities suspected of being involved in the revolutionary movement.

While mocking at the NDFP and its revolutionary forces as being insincere in peace negotiations, the reactionaries even boast that they do not need the peace negotiations because they are already supposedly making ¨reforms¨ through pseudo-development projects and the revolutionary forces are any way surrendering and being killed in large numbers.

Thus, the reactionaries keep on interrupting, delaying and even repeatedly terminating the peace negotiations in a vain attempt to extort what they euphemistically call an ¨enabling environment¨; namely, the surrender or political suicide of the revolutionary movement under the guise of a protracted and indefinite ceasefire.

These reactionaries seem not to realize that they are the ones who are proving themselves insincere with regard to fulfilling the mutually agreed aim of the peace negotiations, which is to address the roots of the armed conflict through comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace.

The reactionaries seem to forget that the NDFP has disengaged from the peace negotiations whenever it is thoroughly convinced that a particular regime of the GRP has no interest whatsoever in the substantive agenda of social, economic and political reforms and uses the demand for a protracted and indefinite ceasefire to block the basic reforms needed and demanded by the people.

The reactionaries seem not to realize that they are the ones prodding and pushing the NDFP away from the peace negotiations and challenging the revolutionary forces and people to intensify the armed revolution in order to further strengthen themselves and seek further advances towards total victory in the people´s democratic revolution.

The national spread of the CPP, NPA, the revolutionary mass organizations and the local organs of power is already a wide base for isolating, weakening and defeating an already rotten and ceaselessly decaying semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system of big compradors, landlords and corrupt officials beholden to a US imperialism in its post-primacy period in the global arena.


CPP/NPA-NCMR: Frustrate the Anti-People Oplan Kapayapaan!

NPA-North Central Mindanao Region propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines Website (Mar 29): Frustrate the Anti-People Oplan Kapayapaan!

Ka Malem Mabini, Spokesperson
NPA-North Central Mindanao

29 March 2018

“It is the people, not the things, that are decisive.”
Mao Zedong

In clenched-fists raised high, the New People’s Army (NPA) in North Central Mindanao Region (NCMR) salutes all the Red commanders and fighters on its 49th founding anniversary dated Marso 29, 1969. From an almost inconsequential count, being small and weak then, it gradually but steadily grew and spread throughout the archipelago. Today, it encompassed 70 provinces of the country, heeding the call of the Communist Party of the Philippines for launching intensive and extensive guerrilla warfare. It intends the dismantling and the seizure of the political power of the nation’s ruling system dominated by the big bourgeois compradors and big landlords.

The Marcos dictatorship’s ploy of “nipping the bud” in the ‘70s failed amidst the then thriving revolutionary movement. The succeeding “Operational Plans” since the ‘80s also tried and failed on their counter-insurgency tasks despite the US military advisories in Oplan Lambat Bitag 1 and 2, Oplan Cadena de Amor, Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2, and Oplan Bayanihan. On the same light, we can safely say that we can foil the Oplan Kapayapaan of the present.

In NCMR, the NPA this year, with the absolute leadership of the Party committee and its endeavor in performing its main tasks of contributing to the general call of the Central Committee, has attained resounding victories. It has launched 151 military actions , 132 of which are NPA-initiated.

Of those whooping actions include the raid of a CAFGU detachment in Km. 30, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, and of the Minpahaw and Binicalan CAFGU detachments in Agusan del Sur, the dis-arming of private army of the oppressive multinational plantations of Davco, Del Monte and Sumifru and the dismantling of their machineries which wreaked havoc to the people’s health and to the environment. These also include the raid on the town centers and cities such as the PNP station in Binuangan, Misamis Oriental and on Dasia Security Agency in Valencia City which revealed their despicable enemy intelligence, the surrender of paramilitary units with their firearms to the NPA, meting out punishment to and warning the dreaded bandits, those involved in illegal drugs and those into anti-social acts which begets approval from the masses, and the attritive ug annihilative actions against enemy troops such as ambushes, sniping and harassment operations which drown their morale.

On the one hand, we have trained through these actions several Red commanders and fighters with which the enemy has suffered all-in-all 141 killed-in-action (KIA) and 109 wounded-in-action (WIA). We also captured PNP/AFP personnel as prisoners of war (POW) and they were safely released according to international laws of war. On the other hand, 13 Red fighter sacrificed their lives to the revolution and 15 got wounded-in-action. Regarding the few civilians caught in the crossfire against PNP Bumbaran troops, we have undergone indemnifiction in accordance with our humanitarian responsibility and with the NPA Rules of Conduct.

Even if our troops encountered defensive actions in the region wherein we lost several firearms, the NPA arsenal has still replenished with a net of 107 or 74% increase from last year’s tally. Our high-powered rifles gained by 9% in consonance with the same increase in troops, people’s militias and self-defense units.

The NPA isn’t just a fighting army. It also builds the mass base and the organs of political power. It also helps in developing the economy of the masses by launching the agrarian revolution, raising their productivity, training them in medical and socio-cultural work, improving their political consciousness, thereby assisting the masses in handling the people’s democratic government through collective and socialist spirit.

At its core, the Oplan Kapayapaan of the US-Duterte regime is an anti-peace program. The stoppage of the peace talks, the branding of the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP consultants as well as the legal, democratic ug progressive groups as terrorists and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao would further ignite the people’s resistance. It simultaneously created pressing issues such as the fake surrenders of the revolutionaries, the destruction of the lives and livelihood of the masses, the non-compliance of the armed troops to human rights of women sector, for example, which this regime denigrates, the burdensome taxes, the creation of the US military base in Marawi City, the rising levels of poverty and criminality due to the anti-people policies, the destruction of the environment and the communities of the national minorities paving the way for the expansion of multinational plantations, including the mounting problems of Filipino migrants which the regime encourages in working abroad to quell the unemployment in the region and the country. Just like the Marcos dictatorship’s program before, the US-Duterte regime would expect the same fate.
With regards to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the CPP this December and the 200th birth anniversary of the great communist leader Karl Marx, the NPA must strive in an effort to multiply their gains. We enjoin all those nationalist especially the youth imbued with patriotic and anti-imperialist fervor, to come within our ranks and play the ever-widening roles which the armed revolution necessitates in frustrating the dictatorial regime.

The militarist solution of the US-Duterte regime through the purchase and use of high-end weaponry in order to frighten the struggling people such as the Moro, Lumad and other sectors would signal the resurgence of the revolutionary movement’s advance. It would be complemented by the development of the NPA’s politico-military capabilities, together with the people’s militias and self-defense units in the barrios, in order to offset the regime’s blood-thirst. History has once again proven the adage of Comrade Mao Zedong that “it is the people, not the things, that are decisive.” Nothing could stop the collective effort of the united people together with their true army in building their people’s democratic government in their project leading to socalism.

Long live the 49th anniversary of the NPA!

Long live the struggling peoples!

Frustrate the fascist US-Duterte regime!

Downright cowardly

From the Mindanao Times (Apr 3): Downright cowardly

Mayor Sara condemns NPA attacks

MAYOR Sara Duterte yesterday condemned the burning of heavy equipment by the New People’s Army in three different villages of Davao City on Black Saturday.

“The attacks were downright cowardly and indicate that the NPA is nothing but a terrorist group that deserves our collective rejection and condemnation,” Mayor Duterte said. “The NPA’s revolution is one designed to undermine our democracy and development through its brand of egregious violence and extremism.”

The construction of roads in Barangay Callawa in Buhangin, Barangay Fatima in Paquibato, and Barangay Dalagdag in Calinan are now temporarily stalled because of the attacks.

These road projects are being done by the City Government of Davao and the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to end the condition of chronic poverty in the said areas.

“The road projects could make the delivery of other basic services to the people faster — including health, education, agricultural development and livelihood,” the mayor said. “The said projects could change the lives of the people for the better.”

“The fresh atrocities reveal that the terrorist group only truly intends for people to continue living in a condition of poverty, which they could use as a capital in their propaganda against the government and to justify their presence in the communities where their influence and significance are waning,” the mayor said.

“And while at it, it is worth noting how this group’s recent attacks were also carried out as a retaliatory action to the refusal of the construction companies involved in the projects to give in to the pressure of extortion by the NPAs.”

The military and the police have already been tasked to conduct appropriate actions regarding this.

“Let me reiterate my previous appeal to the people of Davao and to our partners in the peace and development movement— let us support our soldiers and police and let us openly condemn NPA as a terrorist group,” the mayor said.

Strongest way

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza also condemned “in the strongest way the senseless destruction of heavy equipment.”

“The fact that the three consecutive attacks happened during the observance of Holy Week all the more angers us,” Dureza said.

“This unnecessarily squanders whatever gains we have been quietly getting lately in our common efforts with the CPP/NPA/NDF leadership to achieve just peace through the negotiations table,” the country top peace negotiator said.

“As we have been emphasizing, the presence of an enabling environment will be the sole determining factor for the resumption of peace talks. We are therefore saddened by the consequent setback these attacks bring to our efforts,” Dureza said.


Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan, the director of Police Regional Office XI, said the attacks once again showed that NPA’s “terroristic nature by attacking unarmed, helpless civilians.”

“Those were not military targets,” Gaerlan said. “Those were not involved in any military operation.”

He said the NPA doesn’t care about the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights (CARHRIHL) that they agreed.

The CARHRIHL mandates that civilians, especially those working for projects intended to the public, should not be attacked, Gaerlan said.

The police regional director said they received an intelligence report that communist group planned to attack military and police targets before its March 29 founding anniversary.

“But they were unsuccessful and could not carry out their plan; hence, they attacked the construction companies,” Gaerlan said.

He said the NPA doesn’t want President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

“They want burn, burn, burn,” he said.


Davao City Police Office (DCPO) director Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum said they are preparing charges against the perpetrators.

Tagum said some witnesses were able to identify some of the attackers.

“We have information already gathered that came from the barangay officials in the area,” Tagum said.

He said the refusal of the contractors to give to their extortion demand was the reason for the attacks.

“Because their demand was not granted, they burned (the equipment),” Tagum said.


Soldier in killing of superior to be dismissed immediately

From the Mindanao Times (Apr 3): Soldier in killing of superior to be dismissed immediately

THE SOLDIER who shot dead his squad leader inside their patrol base in Cateel, Davao Oriental on Black Saturday was automatically discharged from the service.

Capt. Ronel Legarde, the civil-military operations (CMO) officer of 67th Infantry Battalion (IB), said documents for the automatic discharge of Private First Class Mijohn Andol Silva is being prepared.

Legarde told TIMES yesterday that Silva is currently detained at the police station in Cateel while documents for the filing of the criminal case are being prepared by the family of the victim, Corporal Dominador Galvano.

Silva reportedly shot Galvano inside their patrol base in Crossing Malibago, Barangay Malibago, Cateel around 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Initial Investigation revealed that about 9 a.m. that day, the suspect asked permission from the squad leader that he and two other soldiers, identified only as PFC Alteveros and Private Valler, would be going to Aliwagwag Falls.

When the trio returned to their base that afternoon, Galvano reportedly cautioned Silva from returning to the base late and under the influence of alcohol.

Gunshots were later heard.

The victim sustained multiple gunshot wounds on his head that resulted to his instantaneous death.

Recovered from the crime scene were one unit M4 rifle with eight fired cartridge cases, 15 live bullets and one long magazine.


NFSW slams Army

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 3): NFSW slams Army

The National Federation of Sugar Workers yesterday condemned the statements made by 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Losañes, and spokesman Capt.Ruel Llanes “declaring the long-suffering farmers and farm workers of Negros as targets of their counterinsurgency campaign”.

This was by maliciously linking their efforts to ward off hunger through communal farming to the armed struggle being waged by the New People’s Army (NPA), a press release from the NFSW said.

The lies of these two outrageous officers, especially Llanes’ claim of a “source” within the so-called rebels “Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros,” would be laughable if not for the deadly implications they hold for the farmers and farm workers of an island that remains the epitome of the feudal nature of Philippine society, it said.

This is yet another attempt by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to suck up to the ruling elite by vilifying the masses and their legitimate struggle for land and food, the press release said.

Former DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, whose appointment was rejected by the landlord-dominated Congress with no resistance from President Rodrigo Duterte, was correct when he described Negros, which has the largest backlog of undistributed land under the government’s bogus agrarian reform program, as the “bastion of landlordism”, it added.

It is to ward off the inevitable hunger brought by the Tiempo Muerto that the farmers and farm workers have decided to launch a campaign to establish “Land Cultivation Areas” on properties covered by agrarian reform but which remain undistributed, and on idle lands, planting these to vegetables, banana, corn and root crops to feed their families, the press release said.

The goal of establishing the LCAs is for the farmers and farm workers to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor, it said.

The many LCAs established in Negros are a reflection of government’s failure to implement even its bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and are not, as Losañes ridiculously claims, a “land grab” by the rebels, it added.

“Losañes’ appeal to the “owners of these land-grabbed farms landlords to come out in the open and file charges in court against the rebels” is not only intended to undermine the legitimate struggle of Negros’ rural masses, it is also meant to ingratiate himself, in true mercenary fashion, with the landlord class,” the press release also said.

“We are extremely concerned that the 303rd IB’s Red baiting signals open season on mass activists and an impending spike in human rights abuses. Yet at the same time, the NFSW declares that we cannot and should not cower and, instead, must strengthen the unity of peasants and farm workers to advance the struggle for land, justice and freedom,” the press release added.


Rebels, residents yield 302 guns to Army in Maguindanao from January to March

From MindaNews (Apr 3): Rebels, residents yield 302 guns to Army in Maguindanao from January to March

At least 302 firearms have been turned over to the Army’s 6thInfantry Division from January to March under the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) or the ‘Balik Baril‘ program, Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said.

The latest to yield their firearms were Moro rebels and some residents of Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on March 31, he said.

During the turnover ceremony, the guns were received by Ampatuan Mayor Rasul Sangki and 1st Mechanized Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Lauro Oliveros.

The firearms yielded include a 60mm mortar, Minimi light machine gun, homemade caliber .45 pistol, an Uzi, two homemade caliber 9 mm, homemade KG 9, homemade 5.56 mm with attached shotgun, three homemade shotguns; homemade 5.56 mm M16 rifle, three homemade M79 grenade launchers; and a caliber 38 revolver.

Maj. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, Commander, expressed appreciation to the residents’ support to the government’s Balik-Baril program, especially when it was intensified in Maguindanao starting January.

Among those that implemented the program were local government units from the Iranun municipalities in Maguindanao, including Parang, Matanog, Buldon, and Barira, considered lairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


NPA rebels ambush comrades who surrendered to military in Mindanao

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 3): NPA rebels ambush comrades who surrendered to military in Mindanao

Two communist rebels who surrendered to the military were killed in an ambush staged by their former comrades in southern Philippines, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said the duo surrendered recently in Compostela Valley’s Montevista town and was being escorted by soldiers and two village officials when New People’s Army (NPA)  rebels attacked them and killing them.

“The attacks resulted to the death of two newly surrendered NPA who are members of the Militia ng Bayan in Montevista, Compostela Valley. The NPA terrorists ambushed the surrenderees and the soldiers accompanying them,” Brigadier General Bienvenido Datuin Jr., a military spokesman, said.

“The attack also endangered the lives of a barangay captain and a councillor who assisted the two former rebels. We believe that their former members are in possession of some knowledge that will expose the CPP-NPA-NDF,” he added.

Datuin said rebel forces also attacked posts in North Cotabato’s Pigcawayan town and in T’boli in South Cotabato province last week, but there were no reports of casualties on both sides, although soldiers recovered an automatic rifle left behind by the NPA.

He urged rebels to abandon their armed struggles and return to the fold of the law and live peacefully with their families. “We call on the remaining NPA members to wake up and instead join the mainstream society and work for peace and progress,” Datuin said, but at the same time called on the public to stay vigilant.

“We call on the public to be more vigilant and report to our units on the ground any presence of terrorists and criminals in their communities. The CPP-NPA-NDF respects no occasion, religious or not, in their conduct of armed atrocities,” he said, referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Just last Saturday, rebel forces raided Davao City - President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown – in southern Philippines and simultaneously torched heavy equipment used in government infrastructure projects in the villages of Callawa in Buhangin; Fatima in Paquibato, and Dalagdag in Calinan districts. The daring attacks stalled road construction projects in those areas.

There was no report of civilian casualties in the attack and it was unknown why the military and police authorities failed to prevent the raid considering the whole of southern Philippines is under an extended period of martial law.

Presidential daughter and incumbent mayor of Davao City, Sarah Carpio, has strongly condemned the rebel attack and branded the raid as “cowardly” and the NPA as a “terrorist group”.


Cops remain on heightened alert after foiled BIFF bombing try

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Cops remain on heightened alert after foiled BIFF bombing try

ALEOSAN, North Cotabato -  Police personnel across the province of North Cotabato have been placed on heightened alert even after the observance of the Holy Week, an official said Monday.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, North Cotabato police spokesperson, said the heightened alert status came about after the law enforcers foiled a bombing mission of suspected sub-leader of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in this town on Good Friday.

Tayong identified the suspect as Bads Basilan, an alleged bomber of IS linked Moro rebel armed group.

Basilan, a resident of Barangay Kudarangan, Midsayap, North Cotabato, was driving his motorbike without a license plate from Midsayap to Aleosan at about 7 p.m on March 30.

Senior Insp. Edwin Abantes, Aleosan town police chief, said police personnel conducting checkpoint in Barangay Dualing flagged down Basilan for inspection.

“He pulled his gun and shot a police officer as he tried to sped off but missed,” Abantes said, prompting other police officers to open fire on Basilan, hitting him in various parts of his body.

Abantes said policemen brought the suspect to the Aleosan District Hospital but died along the way.

Tayong said Basilan has a standing warrant of arrest for arson and murder charges issued by Judge Lily Laquindanum of Regional Trial Court Branch 24.

Abantes said a cal. 45 pistol, live and spent bullets, and a fragmentation grenade were recovered from Basilan.

Police are still determining where Basilan was supposed to set off the grenade.

Generally, the observance of the Holy Week in North Cotabato’s 17 towns was peaceful and solemn with no major untoward incident reported.


Maguindanao residents yield 15 loose firearms to Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Maguindanao residents yield 15 loose firearms to Army

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – A 60-mm mortar launcher and 14 other loose firearms were surrendered by residents and local officials of Ampatuan in Maguindanao.

Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, said the firearms were turned over by residents of Ampatuan, Maguindanao, led by Mayor Rasol Sangki, to Lt. Colonel Lauro Oliveros, commander of the First Mechanized Battalion, in ceremonies held at the town’s covered court last Saturday, March 31.

Oliveros said the surrendered firearms included one 60-mm mortar launcher, a light machine gun, a Barrett sniper rifle, a cal. 45 Uzi pistol, homemade shotguns and pistols, grenade launchers and cal. 38 revolver.

The 60-mm mortar launcher was the most powerful war material turned in by Ampatuan residents, followed by the cal. 50 Barret sniper rifle.

On March 26 and 27, residents of the towns of Mamasapano, Pagalungan, Datu Montawal and Shariff Aguak, surrendered 113 assorted rifles to the military through coordination with the local government units.

“These firearms were voluntarily surrendered by the residents who possessed unlicensed guns in response to the Army’s call for disarmament,” Dela Vega said, adding this is due to the prevailing martial law in Mindanao.

Dela Vega auded the residents’ response to the military’s campaign against loose firearms. Since January 1 to date, the Army’s 6th ID had collected 302 loose firearms in Maguindanao and the Army is expecting for more guns to be turned in by unauthorized gun owners.


MILF’s Jaafar hopeful on passage of BBL this year

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): MILF’s Jaafar hopeful on passage of BBL this year

The leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remains hopeful on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before the end of the year following the commitment of President Rodrigo Duterte of its approval.

This was expressed by Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) .

“The President committed to us the passage of the BBL before the end of this year. God willing,” Jaafar said in a text message when asked about the agenda of the meeting with President Duterte in Davao.

Jaafar said the MILF discussed with the President the future of the BBL in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

During the meeting, Jaafar said the MILF is keen on Senate version.

“In the Senate, BBL is much better than in the House,” Jaafar said without elaborating.

He added that the MILF requested for the meeting with the President to update him on the MILF’s position and concern about the situation of the BBL in the House.

In February, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri filed Senate Bill 1717 with a hope for a lasting peace in Mindanao and the whole country. Zubiri said, Senate Bill, No. 1717, under Committee Report No. 255, was a product of 11 public hearings and six technical working group meetings.

Zubiri said the new BBL gives the greatest latitude if not full autonomy to the Bangsamoro government that will be established, to assert their political and economic self-determination and pursue development programs for their people according to their peculiar historical, cultural, religious and national identities.

Zubiri was eyeing the submission of the approved bicameral version of the BBL before Duterte’s state-of-the-nation address in July.

On the other hand, the House considers the BBL as a “top priority legislation”.

The House is consolidating four bills seeking to provide for the BBL and the abolition of the ARMM.


SoCot mulls creation of new office for rebel returnees

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): SoCot mulls creation of new office for rebel returnees

The provincial government of South Cotabato is planning to create a new office that will handle programs and interventions for the province’s rebel returnees.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Monday the discussions are underway for the establishment of the proposed office, which would be placed under the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO).

She said they initially considered the need to create a provincial unit that will solely monitor the area’s rebel returnees and ensure that necessary interventions are properly implemented and given to them.

“Its primary mandate includes the implementation of resettlement and sustainable livelihood programs for returning rebels,” she said.

The other specific interventions are the processing of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth membership, provision of skills training and inclusion in government scholarship programs of the children of former rebels, she said.

The governor specifically cited technical-vocational training scholarships offered by the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority.

Fuentes said these interventions would be offered to both former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and Muslim rebel groups.

“Surrendering Muslim militants will have the same treatment with communist rebels as directed by President Rodrigo Duterte,” she said.

The governor said the local government will come up with a concept paper regarding the initiative and will later submit it to Malacanang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

She said the move is aimed to institutionalize the proposal and facilitate its possible replication by other local government units.

The PSWDO presently handles the processing of interventions for rebels returnees in the province through the national government’s flagship Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

CLIP reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and uplifts their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in the local development.

The program seeks to contribute in the achievement of the goal of permanent peaceful closure of all armed conflicts with non-state armed groups.

Since January, 20 former NPA rebels in the province have already availed of livelihood assistance under the CLIP.

The local government of South Cotabato has endorsed the inclusion of 18 more rebel returnees into the program.

Ties with Navy to remain even if Marines become independent arm

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Ties with Navy to remain even if Marines become independent arm

Despite proposals to make the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) an independent military branch, its ties with its mother unit Philippine Navy (PN) will remain.

"The PMC is always tied up with the PN, although it maybe it might become a separate branch of service but we will see to it that the umbilical cord is always there," PMC commandant Major Gen. Alvin Parreño said in an interview with PTV-4 Monday.

Earlier, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas filed a bill seeking to institutionalize the PMC as a distinct and autonomous arm of the military.

"We are amphibious in nature, we will be coming from the sea. We know that the sea is not an obstacle, but is a maneuver space for us so it's a different perception on our part when we are on the sea and we will develop some more in terms of doctrine, culture and many other things that pertains to the PMC," Parreño added.

The PMC head also expressed his gratitude to supporters of proposals to transform the Marines into an separate and independent service.

"Marami kaming nababasa sa mga Facebook na they are really supporting us at nakakataba ng puso yun (We saw on Facebook that many are really supporting us and it's really heartwarming). Pero gaya nga ng sinabi namin (But as we always say), the Commander-in-Chief always has the say and we will always follow the chain of command," he added.

Parreño earlier said that the PMC will remain a compact and hard-hitting force even if proposals for it to be named as the military's fourth independent armed service push through.

"We do not intend to be a big unit like the Army, and we don't intend to compete for resources from any other branch of service," he added.

The PMC is currently composed of around 8,000 officers and enlisted personnel spread around three maneuver brigades besides combat support and headquarters units.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has earlier dismissed outright proposals to separate the PMC from the PN.

"Number 1, Marines are expeditionary forces. In other countries like the US where we patterned ours, the US Marines are for overseas deployment. That is also true with the Royal Marines of UK. Both units are invasion forces embedded with their Navies. The Philippines on the other hand will not be invading foreign shores anytime soon or ever," Lorenzana pointed out.

Number 2, the defense chief said the PMC is basically a ground force and making them an independent service will mean that there will two ground forces, including the Army, in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

"Number 3, the PMC claims that they have particular skills like ship to shore operations. The Army could easily learn these skills," he added.

And Number 4, the PMC was envisioned as a light, hard, striking force to pursue pirates, smugglers upon its creation in 1950 by a General Headquarters orders.

"It was originally part of the Philippine Naval Patrol the forerunner of the Philippine Fleet. In short the PMC was envisioned as an adjunct of the PN and it was envisioned as a small force only," Lorenzana stressed.


Duterte wants to renew peace talks with Misuari

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Duterte wants to renew peace talks with Misuari

A week after meeting with Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) leaders, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he intends to talk again with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari to discuss road to "lasting peace".

Duterte revealed this in his speech during the distribution of the certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to 1,680 agrarian reform beneficiaries in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.

“So this week, I would be in conference with everybody and after that I will go back to maybe Jolo to talk to Misuari again if we can come up with an arrangement to arrive at a lasting peace,” he said.

The last time the President met with the MNLF founder was in August 2017 at the Malacanang Palace.

Last week, Duterte met with MILF Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim as well as with Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar and MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal in Davao City.

The meeting took place a day after Duterte visited Sulu where he urged the people to scrutinize the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is still pending in Congress.

“I am racing against time. The MILF is in a hurry and has placed on us the burden of a timeline and I have agreed to that period. I gave my solemn promise and I assure you I am working hard to meet the deadline,” the President said.

Since he assumed the presidency in 2016, Duterte has been pursuing the hands of peace with all Moro groups.

Like the MILF, Duterte had been pushing for the passage of BBL preferably before the ratification of the new Constitution that would pave the way for the shift of the form of government to federalism.

The President said he will talk with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III to get the Congress leaders to pass BBL hopefully within this year.

“I will tell him ‘Senator Pimentel, remember that we have a commitment to the Moro people. But at the same time, we’ll have an arrangement where everybody will be happy,” Duterte said.

“I don’t think that with the MN, MI and government or in joint venture with government can go wrong. We will see to it that justice is applied everyday, that fairness is observed,” he added.

While he is pushing for BBL, Duterte reiterated his opposition to the creation of regional armed forces or police.

“I will not agree to that. If we are all Filipinos, why you have to create an army. My army is your army. My police is your police,” he said.

Duterte said the MILF and MNLF members can be absorbed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

He reiterated that he will not become a dictator, as he promised anew to step down even before his term ends in 2022 “if we can perfect a federal that provides for an election for a president".

“Do not be afraid of a dictatorship because I will not be the one,” he assured.

Davao attack shows NPA lack of concern for dev't, economic growth

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Davao attack shows NPA lack of concern for dev't, economic growth

The New People's Army's (NPA) recent torching of engineering equipment used in constructing the Davao Bypass Road Callawa in Buhangin, Davao City clearly shows the rebel group's lack of concern for national development and economic growth.

This was stressed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin in a message to the Philippine News Agency late Monday.

"The recent burning of construction equipment intended for road widening once again manifest the NPAs non-concern for national development and economic growth," he added.

Also, Datuin said that such criminal and ruthless attacks all the more justify the terror tag on the group which continues to sow fear to the Filipino people.

"The remaining members should instead join the mainstream society and contribute for peace and progress," the AFP spokesperson stressed.

On Sunday, NPA members burned three "Howo" dump trucks, one backhoe, one "King Long" dump truck, operated by the Leonardo Trucking Services.


Mass surrenders, terror tag forcing Reds to push peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Mass surrenders, terror tag forcing Reds to push peace talks

The growing number of surrendering New People's Army (NPA) members and supporters, the sanctions and charges awaiting businesses supporting them and their looming terror tag are the primary reasons why the rebel group is now eagerly pushing for the resumption of the peace talks.

This was enumerated by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement Tuesday.

"First, their fighters and mass base are surrendering in droves. As of last count, more than 4,000 have done so nation-wide, with the bulk coming from Eastern Mindanao. More and more are returning to society because of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) and their desire to give their families a better future," Lorenzana said.

"Second, the President has given notice that any business found paying and helping the NPA would be closed. Rather than serve as milking cows of lazy insurgents, these establishments can cooperate with our authorities and enjoy the protection of our security forces without having to pay anything," the DND chief pointed out.

"Third, they are about to be declared by the court as a terrorist organization. They can no longer hide their sinister plans and actions by using their political ideology as their legal cover," he stressed.

Lorenzana also added that the NPAs are not really out for genuine peace during negotiations as they are using respite provided by the talks to strengthen their armed rebellion.

"Let us not delude ourselves because it is not. They will just use the peace talks with the government as their so-called democratic space to gain time and advantage to further their armed rebellion. Once their purpose is accomplished, they would create situations to break off the talks. They have done this many times in the past and that is the reason why we have not had any progress in the last three decades," he added.

The DND chief also said that he is flattered by the rebel accusation that he is the cause of the peace talks' stoppage.

On Nov. 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 360, ordering the termination of all peace negotiations and meetings with the rebel group.

The termination was an offshoot of the rebel atrocities and other acts of violence against civilians and security forces.

"This, I consider, is a fulfilment of my patriotic duty to stand and defend the people against their deceptive schemes and despicable acts," he added.


AFP condemns NPA's unprovoked Lent attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): AFP condemns NPA's unprovoked Lent attacks

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) strongly condemned the New People's Army (NPA) for conducting four attacks during the Holy Week despite its pronouncement that it would not conduct any tactical offensive during the Lenten season.

"We condemn in the strongest terms possible the recent attacks conducted by the Communist NPA terrorists that disturbed the peaceful observance of the Holy Week and caused death and destruction in several communities in the country," AFP public affairs office chief, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, said Tuesday.

The same unprovoked attacks targeted government troops, as well as civilians and properties, he added.

"One of the attacks resulted in the death of two newly-surrendered NPAs who were members of the Militia ng Bayan in Montevista, Compostela Valley. The NPA terrorists ambushed the surrenderers and the soldiers accompanying them. The attack also endangered the lives of a barangay captain and a councilor who assisted the two former rebels. We believe that their former members are in possession of some knowledge that will expose the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front)," Garcia said.

Aside from this, the NPAs also burned construction equipment, among them five backhoes, four dump trucks, and a bulldozer being used for the construction of a bypass road in Buhangin district in Davao City, causing millions of pesos in damage, he said.

"The burning of construction equipment intended for road construction once again manifests that the CPP-NPA-NDF is anti-development and anti-progress," the military official emphasized.

Garcia said such unprovoked attacks against the people and terror activities against communities only show the NPA’s true color and reinforce its terror tag.

"Two other NPA-initiated violence in the form of harassment against AFP detachments occurred in Pigcawayan, Cotabato on March 28, and T'boli, South Cotabato on March 29, targeting soldiers. Despite that, troops were able to recover one M-16 rifle in Pigcawayan while no government casualty was incurred in both incidents," he added.

In line with this, Garcia reiterated the military's calls for all remaining NPA members to rejoin mainstream society and work for peace and progress.


Duterte: Land reform to continue amid canceled talks with Reds

Duterte: Land reform to continue amid canceled talks with RedsDuterte: Land reform to continue amid canceled talks with Reds

President Rodrigo R. Duterte vowed to implement "genuine" land reform even if peace talks with communist rebels do not push through.

“With or without the talks between government and the communist, land reform will continue to be implemented. It will not end this way,” Duterte said during the distribution of the certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to 1,680 agrarian reform beneficiaries in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on Monday.

He stressed that as President, he is privileged to implement genuine land reform through “strong and decisive governance".

The President, meanwhile, urged state-run Land Bank to make credit and loans more accessible to farmers.

“I am urging the Land Bank to look for ways and means na makarating kayo doon sa farmers at anuhin mo man ‘yang pera na ‘yan, marami na ‘yan (where you can reach the farmers and whatever you do with the money, that’s a lot),” Duterte said.

Duterte described Land Bank as “almost like a commercial bank” and urged them to release the funds for farmers.

”Yang pera na ‘yan, bitawan na ninyo, give it to the farmers (That money, you should let go of it, give it to the farmers),” Duterte said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza earlier said it would take “the presence of an enabling environment” to resume peace talks.

Duterte started formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in 2016 but canceled them last year because of continued attacks of the New People’s Army (NPA) on government forces.

He issued a proclamation classifying the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization in December last year.


Marines to have better representation as independent service

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Marines to have better representation as independent service

Once the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) is formally transformed into an independent service, it will have more representation in higher military headquarters and clout in the acquisition of modern equipment.

This was emphasized by PMC Commandant Major Gen. Alvin Parreño said in an interview with PTV-4 Monday.

"Number 1 is the representation to higher headquarters. Number 2, is the (acquisition) of equipment in modernization, those are the first concerns namin kasi the people in the front line(s) are in need of those equipment," he said when asked on the possible advantages on the turning the PMC into an independent service.

Parreño also reiterated that he strongly supports calls to make the Marines an independent service as this is the sentiment of the officers and enlisted personnel under him.

"Definitely we are in favor and (this is) the clamor of every Marine deployed in many areas and I as their representative, it is my duty to express kung anuman ang (whatever) sentiment ng mga tao (of the people) under me," he added.

Earlier, House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas filed a bill seeking to institutionalize the PMC as a distinct and autonomous arm of the military.


Lorenzana nixes resumption of peace talks with Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Lorenzana nixes resumption of peace talks with Reds

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said he did not make any recommendations to President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the resumption of peace talks with the communist rebels.

"I have not made any recommendation verbal or written. He knows my stand. And if he asks me what my recom is I would say 'No, sir, I would not recommend resuming the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front)'," Lorenzana said.

Also, Lorenzana said he had been very vocal, spoken and in print, against any more talks with these terrorists.
"Nothing good will ever come of it unless we agree to all their unreasonable demands. Then they will call that progress and take ownership," the DND chief said. Lorenzana added there is reason for their unreasonable demands/conditions of the rebels.

"Example their CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms). So they can break off easily, anytime if we do not agree to any part of it and blame the government for being anti-something or whatever," he added.


Lorenzana belies Joma’s claim: There was no agreed truce last year

From GMA News Online (Apr 3): Lorenzana belies Joma’s claim: There was no agreed truce last year
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday belied the claim of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, saying there was no draft agreement on unilateral ceasefire between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in October last year.

"May I clarify that there [was] no agreed truce between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDFP," Lorenzana said in a statement.

The Defense chief also dismissed as "far cry from reality" the claim of Sison that he "obscures and denies the fact that against tremendous odds, the NPA has grown and gained strength nationwide from its modest beginnings."

"It proves that Mr. Sison is living in the past. If he doesn’t believe me, why doesn’t he come back and see for himself what happened to his class struggle? His Utopian ideology has been reduced to plain and simple banditry and extortion," Lorenzana said.

Sison, on self-exile in The Netherlands, earlier said the NDFP has positively responded to the expressed desire of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to draft a ceasefire agreement on October 4, last year.

"Thus, the GRP and NDFP back channel teams have already drafted an agreement on coordinated unilateral ceasefire to be monitored by a joint ceasefire committee of the GRP and NDFP at the national level," Sison said.

In House Resolution 1803, lawmakers crossed party lines and called on President Rodrigo Duterte to continue the peace negotiations and complete the comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms, which would lay the foundations of a just and lasting peace.

Duterte, on November 23 last year, signed Proclamation No. 360 terminating the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP, just two days before the Fifth Round of formal talks scheduled on November 25-27 in Oslo, Norway.

The President has also signed a proclamation formally tagging the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

The Trouble With Duterte's New Terror List

From the Diplomat (Apr 3): The Trouble With Duterte's New Terror List (By Mong Palatino)

The move has raised more questions than it has offered answers.

The Philippines’ Department of Justice (DOJ) has petitioned a Manila court to declare the Communist Party (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist groups. Though the move is far from surprising, it is nonetheless troubling as it comes amid broader questions being raised about the government under President Rodrigo Duterte.

The petition was filed two months after Duterte terminated the peace process with communists. The government has also listed around 600 persons who are alleged to be leaders of the CPP and NPA.

The petition reiterated Duterte’s earlier proclamation declaring the CPP and NPA as terrorists for engaging in the criminal acts of “murder, kidnapping, arson and other activities for purpose of sowing terror and panic.” The CPP and NPA are accused of being “organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.”

Even though the petition is still pending in the court, it has nonetheless dimmed the chances of restarting the peace process which was initially given a boost when Duterte came to power in 2016. Aside from describing himself as a socialist at the outset, Duterte maintained friendly ties with the CPP and NPA when he was mayor of Davao City for two decades.

But the collapse of the peace talks last year and Duterte’s order to wage an all-out war against the CPP and NPA led to intense clashes between government troops and rebels in the past several months, especially in Mindanao in the country’s south.

Naming the CPP and NPA as terrorists was already a subject of a presidential proclamation. But filing a court petition proscribing 600 persons as potential terrorists because of their alleged links to the CPP and NPA has never been done by previous governments. Earlier this year, Duterte had warned that he will order a massive crackdown on rebellion by arresting communists belonging to the alleged legal fronts of the CPP.

The terror listing could be intended to demonstrate the government’s commitment to fight terrorism and justify the extended martial law declaration in Mindanao. But curiously, it has never filed a similar petition against extremist groups whose terror activities forced Duterte to declare martial law in 2017 in the first place.

The terror listing has therefore raised more questions than it has offered answers about the government’s ‘war on terror.’

For instance, though the list included the peace negotiators nominated by the CPP and publicly-known leaders of the NPA, it also included activists, leaders of people’s organizations, a former legislator, and even a UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. It is revealing too that several dead persons and disappeared activists were also added to the list.

That leads to a reasonable follow-up question: is the list a credible resource to understand local terrorism or is it a hodgepodge of names cobbled together and designed to intimidate Duterte’s critics?

For the colleagues of UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is mentioned in the list, the government petition is an attempt to silence those who are exposing and opposing the human rights abuses perpetrated by state forces.

“The accusation against her comes after the public comments made, jointly with other Special Rapporteurs, in relation to the militarization, attacks and killings of indigenous Lumad (indigenous) peoples by members of the armed forces in Mindanao; this accusation is considered as an act of retaliation for such comments,” said Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, and Catalina Devandas Aguilar, chairperson of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures.

Corpuz herself described the inclusion of her name in the terror list as “baseless, malicious and irresponsible.”

But the DOJ is not backing down. “This list is a product of research and evidence supplied by police authorities and intelligence agencies. If they have evidence to the contrary, they should just answer the petition and the court will hear them,” said DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

Human rights groups are worried that the terror list could lead to more cases of extrajudicial killings targeting activists, community leaders, and other dissenters. It could also create a chilling effect on society by discouraging the people to challenge the policies of the state.

The petition comes amid broader concerns about Duterte’s tenure. It was filed at a time when the ruling party is aggressively pushing for constitutional reforms that would give more powers to the president, cancel the 2019 elections, adjust the term limits of elected officials, and allow foreign ownership of land and vital sectors of the domestic economy.

In other words, the terror listing of hundreds of activists and NGO leaders could be part of an insidious plot to subvert democracy, impose authoritarianism through constitutional reforms, and attack those who dare oppose the rule of Duterte and the ruling party.

Given all this, it would seem wise for Duterte and the DOJ to reconsider this latest legal maneuver to undermine the CPP and NPA. Instead, they should seriously study the suggestion of their allies in both houses of Congress who proposed the resumption of the peace process with the communists despite Duterte’s non-stop ranting against the Left and DOJ’s proscription petition versus hundreds of activists. That would be a move that would actually contribute to furthering the country’s peace and security.


Duterte: I am racing against time on BBL

From GMA News Online (Apr 2): Duterte: I am racing against time on BBL

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he is "racing against time" to have the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law passed in Congress owing to his commitment to Moro leaders.

Speaking at an event for land reform beneficiaries in Sultan Kudarat, the President said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose leaders had a meeting with him last week, "has placed on us the burden of a timeline."

"And I have agreed to that period. I gave my solemn promise and I assure you I am working hard to meet the deadline," he said.

Duterte met with leaders of the MILF, members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and the government peace negotiating panel on March 27 in Davao City, a day after he called for a dialogue with Moro leaders over the BBL.

During the meeting, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said Duterte vowed to relay to the Senate and House of Representatives his desire for the passage of the BBL that is compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro and "as close as possible" to the new draft law submitted by the BTC.

The President may also turn to executive action should Congress fail to pass the proposed BBL, a measure seen by several quarters as key to addressing the decades-long strife in Mindanao, according to Dureza.

The BBL aims to end decades of conflict in Mindanao by creating a political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"It has to be [passed] this year dahil 'yun ang usapan," Duterte said.

Duterte also said that he will ensure that "justice is applied everyday and fairness is observed" once the BBL is in place.

He then repeated his stand against the formation of separate military and police units for the proposed Bangsamoro region, saying the nation should only have one armed forces.


‘War not an option’: MILF leader vows to pursue peaceful path to justice, autonomy

From Arab News (Apr 2): ‘War not an option’: MILF leader vows to pursue peaceful path to justice, autonomy

The leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has promised the rebel group will not return to violence in its struggle to win self-determination. (Supplied)

The leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has promised the rebel group will not return to violence in its struggle to win self-determination for the Bangsamoro people.

 MILF chair Al-Hajj Ebrahim Murad told Arab News: “War is not an option. The real solution (to the problem in Mindanao) is political.”

In an interview to Arab News at the group’s camp in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Murad said MILF was “holding on” to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s pledges regarding the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), legislation that will establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region as a political entity.

 Murad revealed details of a MILF meeting with Duterte on March 27.

“We briefed him about our observation on the status of the BBL in Congress ... that the BBL is facing challenges, particularly in the House of Representatives. So we sought his advice on how we could move forward and also asked him to intervene so that the law will be passed as soon as possible,” said Murad.

 The president promised “that he will do his best in order to push forward the BBL,” Murad said.

 The Bangsamoro Basic Law came out of a 2014 agreement between the government and the MILF that recognizes the “justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people.”

For decades the group led an armed struggle to win self-determination for the Bangsamoro people, with the peace deal coming only after 17 years of negotiation.

MILF chair Al-Hajj Ebrahim Murad spoke exclusively to Arab News. (AN Photo)

The agreement was expected to pave the way for a Bangsamoro autonomous political entity. But it has been four years and the Philippines Congress has yet to pass the law to establish the region.

 Despite the delay, the MILF leadership remains hopeful that the BBL will be passed by Congress in May or before Duterte’s next address to the nation in July.

 In the Senate, Murad said the group had held discussions with Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. “(Zubiri) was looking forward to finishing the process in the next session of Senate which is in May,” he said.

 Murad said there were two versions of the bill in the lower house — one by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, which complies with the BBL crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), and another sponsored by former president and now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“I spoke to her (Arroyo) ... by phone and asked if it was possible to withdraw her bill and just support the Alvarez version. And over the phone, she told me, yes, she will withdraw,” said Murad. “She gave her commitment and I hope that she will make true with that commitment.”

Asked about the effects of the delay on the BBL, Murad said: “Of course, there is some negative impact. There is frustration among our people.

“But we are trying to contain the frustration of our people, and we are also trying our best to push the peace process forward,” he said, adding that “the chances of passing the BBL are still high.”

Murad also expressed concerns that “there is a possibility of watering (the law) down.”

 “In the lower house, we found out there are about 341 provisions that were touched. There are some amendments, so we need to really engage them,” he said.

 A number of congressmen also opposed the BBL. “They are few, but they are more aggressive. That is why there are some challenges.”

Should Congress fail to pass the BBL, Murad said he was concerned that this would add to the Bangsamoros’ frustration.

“They will feel that there is no more chance of passing the BBL. Because this president is the first who openly supports the BBL.

“He is the first president from Mindanao who really understands the problem of the Bangsamoro and has accepted the injustices against the Bangsamoro,” said Murad.

“So if (the law) cannot be passed within his administration then that will result in a strong sense of frustration among the people,” he said.

 This sense of injustice could lead to more people joining radical groups. “That is what we are concerned (about),” he said.

 Asked about the MILF’s options if the BBL is not passed, Murad said the group would not return to violence.

“War is not an option,” he said. “The real solution is political.”

Murad said the organization would continue its four-point program of strengthening, military build-up, self-reliance and Islamization.

“We will see what is the appropriate step. But we have already invested so much in the peace process. So whatever happens we will try to protect the gains of the peace process,” he said.

 However, the MILF was also prepared to take a defensive stand, Murad said.

“Defense, it can be. We will continue our activities, but if government troops attack us, we have no option but to fight back. But we will continue our activities as an Islamic revolutionary organization,” he said.

“It’s not an option, but we are ready for it. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen that the BBL fails because that will really strengthen the campaign of the extremists.”

Murad said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group was formed after an agreement on ancestral domain failed in 2008.

“We were together. But after the non-signing, everybody was frustrated. And there was an outbreak of hostilities.”

Until there was a political solution, “fighting any group will not succeed,” he said.