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MILF central committee forms group to counter ISIS

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim speaking before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

MANILA, February 22, 2018–Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said their central committee has formed a group to counter the efforts of ISIS extremists.

Speaking at the annual Prospects for the Philipppines Conference sponsored by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), Murad said they have already lost 24 of their men in armed encounters with local extremists and foreign elements who have entered the Philippines through the “porous border in the south” particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia.

“These foreign nationals are not only Malaysians and Indonesians because there are some Middle Eastern people who have come in,” Murad said.

He added their intelligence operatives in the southern part of Mindanao reported the entry of one Canadian Arab Muslim who arrived early last January. Asked how they came across the information, Murad said they have people on the ground who utilized assets to verify the reports.

“This half-Canadian half-Arab Muslim joined the Abu Sayyaf,” Murad said. Violent extremism requires cooperation among neighboring countries and people.

Mr. Murad said they met with Indonesian authorities who also expressed concern about extremism as the latter vowed to work with the Philippines and Malaysia because there exists a need to curb the growing influence of extremists which may affect the three countries.

He said they are sharing information with the Philippine military and police since they signed the agreement with the government.

In his keynote address, Mr. Murad said “the imminence of peace in the country, especially in the Bangsamoro, appears bright” as early signs seem to show the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

“However, like most seasoned revolutionaries, we welcome the same with guarded optimism as past efforts to implement signed peace agreements ended in dismal failures,” he added.

Murad, who succeeded MILF’s founding Chair Salamat Hashim who died in 2003, said they signed peace agreements including the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro ICAB) which provided the political solution to the Bangsamoro Problem in Mindanao. He said they manifested their adherence to the ceasefire agreement which was boosted by the symbolic decomissioning of 75 weapons which included crew served weapons and 145 of their combatants.

“We have complied fully with the United Nations’ guidelines on the prohibition of child soldiers that led to the delisting of the MILF from the roster of organizations employing child soldiers,” he further said.

He underscored the need for the government, the legislature in particular, to pass the pending bills for the Bangsamoro Basic Law because the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro through the BBL happens to be the product of 17 years of negotiation.

Murad said they faced many challenges and as a result of repeated failures of government to implement peace agreements.

“To recall, the failure to implement the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 resulted in the split of the Moro National Liberation Front and the rise of the MILF,” he said and added the failure to implement the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) resulted to the birth of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“In our case, the failure to sign the 2008 Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) gave rise to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the failure to pass the BBL from 2015-2016 led to the birth of the now infamous Maute Group that ultimately led the Marawi seige last May 23,2017.

Mr. Murad admitted his group has been under tremendous strain from the challenge of keeping the faith of its members to the peace process “that appears to have no end in sight.”

“The campaign against the MILF leadership has been pursued persistently by radical elements from within and without,” Mr. Murad added as extemists would cite the failures of the government to implement previous agreements and pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

He explained many people especially the young are “attracted and drawn” into the ranks of the extremists like the Maute Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.

However, he admitted the USIS do not care about the Bangsamoro’s national liberation agenda as “they are in pursuit of jihad on global scale or everywhere.”

In closing, Mr. Murad said the fight against violent extremisim in the Philippines is real because “as the battlefields in the Middle East are cledared, and the bases of ther ISIS are constricted, we will increasingly find them in our midst as they seek new strategic grounds where the hold of the government is weak such as Mindanao.”

“We know we cannot decisively win the war against extremism if we cannot win the peace in the halls of Congress,” he argued. He added “the peace agreement must be implemented and the BBL must be passed so that we can then show a concrete and demonstrable results of the peace process after 18 years.”

“While colonialism divided us, but today, our people have the great resolve to correct the past by addressing the historical injustice committed against us,” Chairman Murad concluded. (Melo M. Acuna / Bicol Times)

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