Bangsamoro transition body tiptoes around Sabah issue
An MILF negotiator from the indigenous community says not at this early stage of the TransCom, which formally began its work to create the Bangsamoro Basic Law that signals the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had led a secessionist movement for the past decades.
Datu Antonio Kinoc, a member of the MILF negotiating panel, cited on Wednesday a B’laan tribal saying that one doesn’t put two glass bottles together or else one might break.
“Instead, we handle the bottles one after the other,” said Kinoc, the MILF indigenous people’s representative who is part of the B’laan tribe based in South Cotabato.
While not part of the Transition Commission, Kinoc listened to the barrage of questions thrown by the media at the 15 members of the commission led by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, mainly about what the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, in crafting the Basic Law, could do to help resolve the long-standing Sabah issue.
It appeared that none of the commission’s answers, including Iqbal, could satisfy the reporters’ questions about the Sabah being claimed by the Sulu Sultanate, a major stakeholder in the Bangsamoro community.
The Sulu Sultanate revived its long dormant claim over Sabah, with the Royal Security Forces led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram arriving in the town of Lahad Datu last February.
The gunbattle between the Sultanate’s followers and the Malayian security forces has resulted in a number of deaths and arrests among both Filipino and Malaysian citizens.
There are also claims by displaced persons who have fled Sabah of human rights abuses by Malaysian authorities.
Therefore, why should Sabah be an issue alienated from the peace talks?
TransCom members answered that the issue of Sabah has not been ignored.
But commission member Hussein Munoz, the deputy chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) conceded that the Sabah issue was a “very difficult question to answer.”
“But we have not yet crafted the law. So as far as Sabah is concerned, as the chairman (Iqbal) mentioned a while ago, it is not an issue in the peace negotiations,” Munoz said.
He added: “It is a matter that involves a bilateral issue between the Philippines and Malaysian governments. It is not an issue in the peace negotiation.”
Iqbal also stressed that the task of the committee is based on what is mentioned in the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, the so-called blueprint for the peace deal between the government and the MILF.
Lawyer Johaira Wahab, the youngest member of the Transition Committee, gave the assurance that the group would not be working in a “vacuum.”
“It is not the intention of this body to ignore the realities on the ground. Of course, consultations will happen. We will talk to the communities, those who will be affected by the law. The people in the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan will be included in those consultations and all of these issues will be considered there,” Wahab said.
She added: “The reason why we are very careful in handling the Sabah issue is because this is the Bangsamoro transition Commission. This is not the Department of Foreign Affairs.”
“As much as we would want to comment on our personal stand on the issue of Sabah that is beyond our mandate as a group, that is beyond our mandate based on our personal appointments to the Transition Commission,” she said.
Beyond Sabah and back to the concerns on the peace deal between the government and the MILF, Iqbal said in his opening remarks that the MILF “views the Commission as its first initial partnership with the (government).”
“As such, it shall endeavor to reach consensus with representatives of the government on major decisions in the course of its work. We shall not work against each other but instead work with each other to address the Moro Problem, or more correctly, the Moro Question,” Iqbal said.
For her part, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that despite the many challenges faced by both panels, no one has been “defeated” and that with the Transition Committee, “We have moved forward.”
At the press conference, Iqbal stressed the need to finish the three remaining annexes on power sharing, normalization, and wealth sharing so that the Transition Committee would be able to discuss “substantive issues.”
But like Ferrer, he is optimistic that the annexes would be signed soon, following a sudden postponement of the 37th exploratory talks reportedly because President Aquino first wanted to review the three annexes.
The MILF said the negotiations could no longer afford any delay.
But Iqbal said he remained confident because “the gains we have achieved so far are really tremendous.”
“We see that we have partner in government in the person of the President himself…. We need to surmount the obstacles,” he said.
Asked if the Transition Commission would see the need to amend the Constitution, Iqbal said the issue “cannot be settled now.”
“The position of government is that the flexibility of the current Constitution will accommodate the (provisions in the peace accord). But the MILF position is the current Constitution of the Philippines requires an amendment. But we will move forward and time will come we will see if there is a need to amend the Constitution or not,” Iqbal said.