MILF chair says military is 'peace partner' in first visit to Maguindanao camp

Arianne Apatan and Rodney Ontolan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 13 2019 04:15 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2019 06:15 PM

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, embraces MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim in his historic first visit to a military camp in Maguindanao on Sunday. ABS-CBN News

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao - The leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Sunday dubbed the military as a future "partner" for peace and development in his first ever visit to the latter's camp here, after 4 decades of hostilities that left thousands killed on both sides. 

MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim's courtesy call at the camp of the 6th Infantry Division comes a week ahead of a Jan. 21 plebiscite that will determine the scope of the Bangsamoro region, created as part of a peace deal between his group and the government in 2014. 

Despite the long history of conflict between the 2 sides, the MILF did not consider the military or the government as its true enemy, said Ebrahim. 

"We are on the opposite side but personally we don't treat them as our enemy... Our enemy is oppression, our enemy is exploitation, injustice," he told reporters. 

"Now we have an instrument that created our partnership and we are very happy that maybe in the next years we'll be working together as partners of peace and partners of development," he added. 

Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, echoed the 71-year-old Moro leader's sentiment, adding that the his visit marks the beginning of joint endeavors. 

"For the longest time na nagkaroon tayo ng certain amount of animosity, nakikita na natin na hindi naman tayo magkakalaban, [but rather] partner towards the resolution of whatever problems," he said.

(For the longest time that we've had a certain amount of animosity, we still saw that we're not enemies, but partners towards the resolution of whatever problems.) 

"This will not be the last time that our chairman will be visiting. This is just the beginning... We are working together, we are united, we are one. There’s always light in the end of the tunnel." 

Sobejana was the first in a succession of 35 commanders of the 6th Infantry Division to welcome Ebrahim and other MILF leaders into Camp Kampilan. 

The military official was also the first leader of his division to visit the MILF's largest base, Camp Darapanan, back in August 2018. 

The MILF, the country's largest rebel group, has been struggling since the early 1970s for self-rule in Muslim Mindanao. 

The conflict claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, although most of the deaths occurred in the 1970s. Ceasefires put in place for the past decade to allow peace talks have largely held. 

The MILF in 2014 signed with then President Benigno Aquino a peace accord whose enabling measure is the Bangsamoro Organic Law. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had banked on the law's passage to heal the "historical injustices" suffered by the Moros. 

With a report from Agence France-Presse