MANILA, Philippines - Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiators on Monday 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).
Mohaqer Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, said the BIFF "has no legitimacy" in the Moro region, and that "it will fade away."
Marvic Leonen, chief peace negotiator for the Philippine government, echoed his counterpart's statement.
Leonen said the Armed Forces of the Philippines has already dislodged the Kato breakaway group from Camp Omar in Maguindanao and warrants of arrest have already been issued against the members of the "lawless group."
As for claims of MNLF 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 of the actual numbers that the MNLF has, Leonen 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 urged the media to take time to gather the sentiments of the people on the ground to get a feel of what the true desires of the Bangsamoro people are.
When asked why Misuari is projecting an impression that the Philippine government has abandoned the MNLF and the Final Peace Agreement for the new Framework Agreement with the MILF, Leonen said, "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."
Leonen added that Misuari has added new demands to the table, when negotiations have already closed to make way for final implementation.
He, however, refused to elaborate on what the new demands are.