MILF not sincere in peace talks, Erap says

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Oct 24 2011 12:36 PM | Updated as of Oct 25 2011 06:24 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Former President Joseph Estrada on Monday said he advocates an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) because the Moro rebels have shown no sincerity in hammering out a final peace agreement with the Philippine government.

Estrada said it is his personal opinion that any peace negotiation with the MILF should be finished in 3-6 months especially since the Moro rebellion has been ongoing for 40 years.

"Up to 6 months, that's it. The government must always negotiate from a position of strength. We are the government and we must represent the people of the Philippines. Will the military wait another 30-40 years? No. That is why [the country] is being left behind," he told "Headstart" host Karen Davila.

Asked if he believes that the MILF is showing sincerity in pursuing peace, he said: "None whatsoever because they have only one agenda: To have their own sub-state."

Estrada said the peace and order situation should be the President's first priority even more than the fight against corruption.

“We cannot move forward unless there is peace and order in the country. We have to protect the lives of our citizenry and the image of our country. Corruption is eternal. It is easy to check corruption as long as there is certainty of punishment,” he said.

He added that he is confident that the Armed Forces could eradicate the MILF because the military already did it in 3 months’ time during his term.

Estrada said he declared an all-out war against the MILF in 2000 because the rebels kept breaking the agreement while peace talks were ongoing.

The former president said during a 3-month deadline for the talks in 2000, the MILF took over Talayan municipal hall in Maguindanao, bombed a ferry and laid siege to Kauswagan.

"I went there directly to Kauswagan and I saw 6 kids, about 4-5 years old, and they were burned to death. And 4 soldiers were killed. This was the time I decided, this is the end. I will declare an all out war in Kauswagan," he said.

Church, US tried to stop ‘all-out war’

Estrada’s decision to declare war was immediately opposed by the Catholic Church and US government.

The former president said Jaime Cardinal Sin sent 2 bishops, Orlando Quevedo and Ricardo Vidal, to try to persuade him to change his mind to no avail.

To emphasize his point, Estrada said he even showed the 2 prelates a video of MILF rebels beheading a soldier in public after he was told to pray.

Meanwhile, he said US Defense Secretary William Cohen went to Malacañang to personally hand-deliver a letter from US President Bill Clinton. The letter asked Estrada to “desist from an all-out war” while promising that the US government would help modernize the Philippine military.

Again, Estrada rejected the plea, saying that he could no longer recall his order.

The former president said the all-out war allowed the military to take over 46 camps including the main MILF camp, Camp Abubakar, in just 3 months.

Why did he place so much emphasis on the war? Estrada said that unlike the New People’s Army, the MILF was always after a sub-state of their own.

“As far as I am concerned, I will never allow the dismemberment of our country. Someone asked me why I put priority in the MILF when NPA has been there for 40-50 years.  I said the end game of the NPA is to overthrow the government but our country is intact. These MILF want to dismember our country,” he said.

“Ang liit-liit ng bansa natin bibiyakin pa nila. As commander-in-chief, we must protect the territorial integrity of our country at all cost. That is one of the reasons why I did the all-out war,” he added.

US interest in MILF


Estrada said all the gains made during his all-out war against the rebels were wiped out after he was removed from office in 2001 and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allowed the MILF to retake the camps.

Estrada said the MILF were back in their camps a month after his ouster. In May 2001, American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.

The former president also noted that the US government has shown uncommon interest in the GRP-MILF peace talks.

“First, why did President Clinton send his national defense secretary to personally hand carry his letter if Mindanao wasn’t important to the Americans? The White House could just call the US embassy here and tell the ambassador to see me. Why did he send his defense secretary to travel 10,000 miles just to hand me his letter?” he asked.

He also noted that after he was removed from office, the US appointed Kristie Kenney as ambassador to the Philippines. He said Kenney spent 60% of her time in Mindanao.

On the other hand, he said President Arroyo allowed US Marines to stay in Zamboanga after Congress ordered the Clark and Subic US military bases shut down.

Estrada said the US government supported the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) that would have allowed the MILF to have 9 provinces as a sub-state. He said Kenney was at the signing of the agreement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Estrada said the MOA-AD was the worse thing that former President Arroyo had ever done. “For me, it was the worst thing a president could ever do. That is treason. It’s worse than…graft and corruption and cheating in the election,” he said.

Wikileaks cables prove US involvement

Estrada said WikiLeaks cables also proved that the MILF is looking to the US to help in the peace negotiations.

One Wikileaks cable, dated October 19, 2009, revealed that then US chargé d'affaires Leslie Bassett and other US embassy officials met MILF leader Murad Ebrahim, vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, other high-ranking officials, and commanders of the rebel group at the heavily-guarded Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao last February 19, 2009.

In the cable, Ambassador Kenney quoted Ebrahim as saying: “We look for a more active role of the U.S. in order to push the peace process.”

Another leaked cable, meanwhile, quoted MILF peace panel senior member Michael Mastura as saying that the MILF wanted a “parallel dialogue” with the US government.

Estrada said the cables showed that Ambassador Kenney fully supported the signing of the MOA-AD that would create a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in 2008.

He said one reason for the US government’s interest in Mindanao was because they needed a place to bring their troops in Southeast Asia.

“They know the future enemy of the US is China and we were able to remove their bases in Clark and Subic,” he said.

Asked if the MILF grew because of US support, he said: “Of course. You could see it in the MOA-AD. It's a good thing that the Supreme Court acted fast to declare it unconstitutional. If it pushed through, what would happen? We’d need a visa to go to Mindanao.” (Eds. note: No visa would have been required if the MOA-AD had been implemented).

More expensive not to declare war


In the interview, Estrada said the recent MILF attacks are making the Philippine government look weak in the eyes of its neighbors.

“It shows weakness. They can get away with it. I think in less than 2 weeks, 44 have already been killed. Should we let this go?” he asked.

He also denied that the all-out war made him unpopular in Mindanao, noting that he had the highest number of votes in Mindanao during the 2010 presidential election.

He said not retaliating would be even more expensive for the government as kidnappings and attacks continue and foreign governments advise their nationals not to travel to Mindanao or even the rest of the Philippines.

He added that it makes no sense that the national government could not even enter MILF-controlled territories.

“In the first place, Mindanao is not owned by the MILF, Muslims and Christians. It is owned by the Filipino people. You cannot claim ownership without the authority of the Phjlippine government. Will we allow them to camp there and we cannot enter? That is against the law."