From rebels to rulers, MILF faces new ‘struggle’ in Bangsamoro governance

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2019 10:10 AM

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Murad Ebrahim votes in the Bangsamoro Organic Law Plebiscite on Jan. 21, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Muslim rebels who once fought for secession have been cleared to help run a new self-governing region in the southern Philippines, their leader said Wednesday, admitting that governance would present “another level of struggle” for long-time combatants.

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is expected to take the role of chief minister of the 3-year transition government of the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

He will be joined by fellow MILF central committee members and front commanders, whose eligibility earlier came under scrutiny because of criminal cases that might still be pending.

“It is all cleared,” he told ANC’s Early Edition.

Abdullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo will also be appointed as one of 80 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), Murad said.

Macapaar led deadly attacks in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato in 2008 after the MILF and the government failed to sign a peace deal.

The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, raised fears that it would lead to the creation of a sub-state for Muslims in Mindanao.

“He will be appointed,” Murad said, noting that the National Bureau of Investigation had cleared Macapaar of any pending cases. 

NEW STRUGGLE

Murad said Macapaar, leader of the MILF’s 102nd Base Command, would initially serve as a member of parliament.

Depending on the capability and qualifications, members would be tapped for ministerial positions, the MILF chairman said.

The group is awaiting the amnesty proclamation of President Rodrigo Duterte within the year to facilitate the transition of combatants to civilian life under the “normalization phase” of the peace process.

Members of the BTA were supposed to take their oath in Malacañang on Wednesday but the ceremony was reset to Feb. 22, said Murad.

Forty one of them were nominated by the MILF while the rest were handpicked by the government.

The transition body is expected to take over governance of the old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao the following week.

Murad acknowledged the pressure of governing a region long beset by poverty and violence.

“We are in another level of struggle that is to transform from the revolutionary organization to governance,” he said, recalling that some MILF leaders where to countries such as Malaysia and Turkey for training.

“We know that it would not be easy for us.”

MARAWI REHAB

The BTA, he said, would still be using the old P32-billion budget for ARMM to deliver on the promise of improved education, social services, and infrastructure this year.

Congress allocated an additional P30 billion for the new government’s operations, but Murad said the much bigger “block grant” would have to wait until next year.

The new region also stands to receive P50 billion in “special development fund” after 2019 to help rebuild areas devastated over years of armed conflict.

Murad said the new parliament would decide how to help rehabilitate Marawi, the Islamic city attacked by Islamic State-linked local terrorists in 2017.

The once bustling city was reduced to rubble as security troops launched airstrikes and engaged Maute terrorists in close-quarter combat for 5 months. 

“We will see what we can do on how we could be of help,” Murad said. “We are also talking with international community. We find that international donors are also very interested in helping rehabilitate Marawi.”