Not all MILF fighters understand peace plan: Iqbal

By Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2012 06:34 PM | Updated as of Oct 16 2012 06:49 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Not all Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters understand the framework agreement of the MILF and the government.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted the dynamics contained in the Framework Agreement have not quite cascaded down to fighters on the ground. "

"Admittedly, there is some communication problem. Not all MILF understand the nuances of the Framework Agreement. That is why after this, we will go to the ground and explain to them," he said in a joint press briefing in Malacañang.

Iqbal refused to comment on how the fighters have received news of the gradual decommissioning of their forces, saying the matter is still to be discussed within the MILF.

He said the MILF abandoned its earlier call for separatism for practicality.

"There is no compelling reason [why we opted for autonomy instead]. But we have to balance idealism with reality. I have been in the struggle for 40 years. I will be the first to say that I want peace more than anyone. I want honorable peace," he said.

Iqbal and Dean Marvic Leonen, chief peace negotiator for the Philippine government,downplayed the possibility that the peace process could be derailed by the forces of Nur Misuari's faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), or by Ameril Umbra Kato's breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Iqbal said the BIFF "has no legitimacy" in the Moro region, and that "it will fade away."

Leonen said the Armed Forces of the Philippines had already dislodged the Kato breakaway group from Camp Omar in Maguindanao, and that warrants of arrest have already been issued against the members of the "lawless group."

As for claims of Chairman Nur Misuari that some 17,000 MILF fighters have defected to the MNLF, making them a force to reckon with, Iqbal said: "There is a little bit of an exaggeration there. And now he is even speaking of more than a million fighters. Even the government forces do not have that."

Leonen said the government is not worried about Misuari's threats either.

When asked what he knew about the MNLF's actual numbers, he said: "Certainly not the numbers he is projecting to the media. As far as Nur forces, it is nothing we are too bothered about. We listen to his comments, and we address his comments squarely."

Leonen implored the media to take time to gather the sentiments of the people on the ground, to get a feel of the true desires of the Bangsamoro people.

New demands

Leonen said Misuari added new demands to the table, when negotiations had already closed to make way for final implementation. He refused to elaborate on Misuari's new demands.

He also said it is up to Misuari to explain why he is saying that the Philippine government has abandoned the MNLF and the Final Peace Agreement for the new Framework Agreement with the MILF.

"I think that it something you can ask the Misuari faction. In fact, you can ask Misuari himself. We have already put out an agenda consistent with the Final Peace Agreement. The delays henceforth have been coming from the MNLF," he said.

Iqbal also debunked some of Misuari's statements, especially when asked about the MNLF chief's claim that the Bangsamoro cannot live without a gun.

"That is a sweeping statement. Who will be in need of a firearm when all is peaceful?" he asked.

On questions whether they think Misuari still has the numbers to derail the framework negotiation with the MILF as the former rebel leader claims, Iqbal said: "Anyway, the day of reckoning is forthcoming. He has filed his Certificate of Candidacy for ARMM Governor. If he has the numbers, he will win. Let's wait for that."