CAGAYAN DE ORO City, May 3, 2011â€”Leaders of a grassroots network of indigenous peoples, Bangsamoro and Christian peace advocates have attested that the commander of the newly-formed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has promised not to be a hindrance to the on-going peace negotiations between the government (GPH) andÂ the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
â€œ[Ustadz Amiril Umra]Kato will not stand in the way of the negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF,â€ said Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) presiding chairperson Bai Liza Nanapnay Saway in a letter to Dean Marvic Leonen and Mohagher Iqbal, chairpersons of the GPH and MILF peace panels, respectively.
The letter, which was also signed by MPC co-chairpersons Salic Ibrahim and Pastor Reu Montecillo and MPC secretary-general Mary Ann M. Arnado, shared to the peace panels of the two factions their impressions, insights and recommendations on the negotiations after meeting Kato on April 16, 2011 to help shed light on some apprehensions and speculations with regards to the recently-formed BIFF and its possible implications in the on-going peace talks.
According to the MPC leaders, Katoâ€™s only complaint against the negotiations is that it is taking forever.
â€œI am not against the negotiation. Against ako sa walang hangganan na negosasyon,â€ they quoted the BIFF leader in their letter to Leonen and Iqbal.
Saway, Ibrahim, Montecillo and Arnado reported that Kato â€œberated the long years of negotiations which have not produced any concrete result. He complained why up to now, the talks is still exploratory.â€
â€œSige lang exploratory. Ang tagal-tagal na pero hindi pa rin nila alam kung ano ang pag-uusapan,â€ they quoted him as saying, adding that the former commander of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), armed wing of the MILF, lamented that it seems that the facilitator and the government â€œare just fooling the Bangsamoro peopleâ€ because the facilitator â€œdid not do anythingâ€ despite witnessing â€œthat the government did not comply with the commitment in the MOA-AD.â€
The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which would have expanded the Bangsamoro autonomy after a plebiscite in the expanded areas, was about to be signed in Malaysia in 2008 when several local government chief executivesâ€”Mayor Lawrence Cruz (Iligan), Mayor Celso Lobregat (Zamboanga) and Gov. Manny PiÃ±ol (Cotabato)â€”protested and filed a petition before the Supreme Court, which eventually struck down the agreement as unconstitutional.
That botched signing of the MOA-AD led a disgruntled Kato to attack several villages in North Cotabato, and Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, commander of the MILF-BIAFâ€™s 102nd Base Command to attack Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte.
According to the MPC leaders, Kato said he has left the MILF to continue negotiating peace with the GPH â€œat kung maganda ang resulta, automatic, agree na kami.â€ However, Kato added that he is still cautious because of the alleged â€œdeceptionâ€ of the government.
The MPC leaders also reported that Kato has â€œalready moved far back in the interior, away from civilian communities and will not do anything.â€
â€œWe are keeping silent sa aming grupo. I will guarantee, wala kaming gagawin. Hindi kami mangungumbinsi. Kahit kamag-anak ko hindi ko kinukumbinsi. Kusang-loob silang sumamasa akin,â€ they quoted him as saying.
They said that Kato moved far back because the BIFF doesnâ€™t want to invite trouble, adding that his men are occupying themselves in farming.
â€œPumunta kami sa kabundukan para hindi kami masalakay ng gobyerno dyan sa mga area ng civilians,â€ they quoted him.
â€œBasing from this pronouncements, MPC is encouraged that the issues of Kato can in fact be satisfied by showing concrete results and delivering a political settlement that will address the root causes of the armed conflict in Mindanao. If this problem is solved in the negotiating table, then the Kato issue will simply become moot and academic. Judging from the five features of a political settlement that he envisions, it can be fairly stated that these are already contained in the Draft MILF Comprehensive Compact,â€ the MPC leaders said.
Kato broke away from the MILF early this year over issues such as the alleged revisionist policy the MILF leadership under Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and the abandonment of the Frontâ€™s original stance of independence.
Kato, in his early 70s, joined the MILF in 1993, five years after the late MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim returned from Pakistan in 1987. (Bong D. Fabe)