Moro rebels jubilant over Obama reelection

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Nov 09 2012 09:59 PM | Updated as of Nov 10 2012 05:59 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Moro rebels in the southern Philippines are delighted over US President Barack Obama's reelection.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said they welcome Obama's success and described his victory over Republican challenger Mit Romney as "decisive."
"The Bangsamoro and the United States share a common vision for better Mindanao where just peace, progress, and development are in the pipeline after the signing of the celebrated Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro," Murad said in a statement published on the rebel group's website
"The MILF is particularly grateful for the expression of support to the Agreement from the Obama administration through US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and for the attendance of US Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas, to the historic signing in Malacañang Palace last October 15," he added.
Another Moro rebel leader,  MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, said Americans made the right decision in voting for Obama. 
“Sinabi ko na tama ang decision, dahil bagamat may mga pagkakamali man si Obama, mas marami pa rin ‘yung mga nagawa niyang kabutihan. In behalf of the Bangsamoro people, the MILF leadership, and Chairman Alhaj Murad Ibrahim, binabati namin si Pres. Obama," Jaafar said.
The US government had taken an active role in the peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government.
A confidential US embassy cable published by Wikileaks quoted former US Ambassador Kristey Kenney as saying that rebel troops armed with guns and rocket launchers even had a 2-kilometer-long honor guard for American diplomatic officials who visited the MILF's main camp, Darapanan, in 2009. 
"Men young and old in Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) camouflage uniforms stood at intervals in formation on the two kilometer stretch from the main road to the camp's Bangsamoro Development Agency office, with guns and rocket launchers at their sides," cable 09MANILA2110 said. 
The cable, dated October 19, 2009, revealed that then US chargé d'affaires Leslie Bassett and other US embassy officials met Murad, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, other high-ranking officials, and commanders of the rebel group at the heavily-guarded camp in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao in February 19, 2009.
Bassett was accompanied by US Agency for International Development (USAID) acting mission director Elzadia Washington, defense attaché Col. Tony Senci, and political officer Michael Pignatello, according to the confidential cable sent by Kenney.
'Friends of the Bangsamoro'
Kenney quoted Murad as having said that "the US is the only country we feel can push peaceful resolution of the (Mindanao) conflict."
"We look for a more active role of the U.S. in order to push the peace process," Ebrahim added. "You are aware of the background of the problem.  The influence of America in the Philippines (is one that) no other country can match."
"In a surprisingly  frank and revealing comment, Murad expressed concern that development assistance alone, absent political advances, could 'purge the insurgency' of its momentum, further demonstrating the need for development and political progress to go hand-in-hand," the cable said.
"In a 90-minute meeting attended by top MILF Central Committee members and MILF armed forces commanders, Chairman Murad encouraged the US to move beyond its substantial development assistance to provide more political support to the peace process," it added.
US officials then told the rebel group that they support a peaceful solution to the conflict. 
"[Basett] also reminded Chairman Murad of the need for the MILF to take action against terrorism in Mindanao and urged him to support efforts to rescue a recently kidnapped Irish Catholic priest," the cable stated.
Murad called the Americans the "friends of the Bangsamoro," and thanked them for supporting the peace process, "embodied in exchanges of letters during the past six years with US officials."
During the meeting, Basett told Murad that the US sees MILF's commitment to peace "at face value." She said the rebel group must reject terrorism "not just in words, but in deeds, as well."
She told the MILF leaders that US troops deployed in Mindanao under the Visiting Forces Agreement between Washington and Manila only allows them to train and support Philippine government troops.
"US forces were not participating in combat operations or operating unilaterally," the cable said.
No to terrorism
The US officials also asked the MILF to prevent terrorists and kidnap-for-ransom groups from operating in the region.
MILF peace panel senior member Michael Mastura, who attended the meeting, said Washington should train its sights on Indonesia and not the Philippines when it comes to terrorism.
"Mastura noted that the MILF had a clear position against terrorism and insisted that Indonesia, not the MILF, should be the target of US terrorism concerns.  The issue of security and counterterrorism was, after all, separate from the MILF quest for autonomy, and had more to do with the Indonesians who came to Mindanao than with the MILF," the cable said.
Mastura also claimed that the MILF had signed an agreement with the Philippine government to go after terrorist groups operating in rebel-held territory.
In October, the MILF and the Philippine government signed a landmark peace framework plan aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency that has killed 150,000 people.