MILF chair visits military headquarters in historic first

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 19 2018 01:28 PM | Updated as of Nov 19 2018 07:18 PM

MANILA - (UPDATED) For the first time ever, the leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front set foot on Monday inside the military's headquarters in Quezon City, in a sign of improving ties after decades of hostilities. 

MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim's courtesy call at Camp Aguinaldo comes nearly 4 months after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which grants wider self-rule to Muslims in the south. 

Ebrahim's visit reciprocates that of military Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez Jr., who went to MILF's Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao last month, said Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the military's public affairs office. 

Galvez, former chairman of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, welcomed Ebrahim to Camp Aguinaldo, saying his presence was a sign of the Moros' trust in the government. 

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Ebrahim said he had avoided military installations for 4 decades, after conflict in the south forced him to leave university without finishing his engineering degree. 

"To be very candid, during those years of war, I have talked only of destroying or neutralizing military camps and I never imagined during those dark days that I will one day step inside the military camp and be feted with exceptional honor by what what used to be our adversaries," he told reporters. 

He said he "cannot fully express my gratitude" for the military's welcome. 

The military earlier said it will discuss possible collaboration on intelligence with the Moro leader. 

The 2 camps however were unlikely to tackle the January plebiscite for the BOL, pending guidelines from the Commission on Elections, said military Spokesperson Col. Edgardo Arevalo. 

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

The conflict claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, although most of the deaths occurred in the 1970s and 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 law is the BOL. 

Duterte had banked on the law's passage to heal the "historical injustices" suffered by the Moros.
 
"We are optimistic that we will succeed inshallah in our pursuit for peace, development for our people, for our homeland and for our entire coutry," Ebrahim said of the law's upcoming plebiscite. 

With reports from Jorge Cariño and Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse