The MILF

Article excerpt

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was one of the two major factions which split from the MNLF in 1977 in the aftermath of the Tripoli Agreement.8 Initially, it was a junior element in the Moro movement and more religiously orientated than militant. Its support came predominantly from the Maguindanao ethnic group, though its leader, Hashim Salamat, is Iranun, one of the smaller ethnic groups in Muslim Mindanao, with links to both the Maguindanao and the Maranao of Lanao.

In 1987, the Aquino government attempted to initiate talks with the MILF, but as the government became preoccupied with its negotiations with the MNLF, these talks petered out. Three years later, the MILF sent a delegation to a summit organized by the OIC but again nothing materialized.

During the early 1990s, the MILF appeared to have grown significantly in strength and militancy, augmented by defections from the MNLF. Permanent camps were established, first at Camp Abubakar in the province of Maguindanao, and then at Camp Bushra in Lanao del Sur, and the MILF were said to be undergoing a transition from a guerilla force to a "semi-conventional army". Camp Abubakar, and to a lesser extent Camp Bushra, were, in effect, small municipalities under MILF administration rather than military camps.9 During the Ramos presidency, there was a tacit agreement that the AFP would not attack the two camps. At the time of the 1992-96 peace negotiations, however, the MILF was not a party to the peace process. Not only was the MNLF the major faction of the Moro movement, and hence the principal target for a peace settlement, but it was Misuari and the MNLF who were recognized by the OIC. Consequently, in 1996 the MILF dissociated itself from the Agreement and vowed to continue the armed struggle for a Bangsa Moro.

In 1992, there had been talks between the MILF vice-chairman for military affairs, Al-Haj Murad, and Haydee Yorac, the chair of the National Unification Commission established by incoming President Fidel Ramos, but proposed peace talks between the government and Hashim Salamat did not eventuate. Soon after this, clashes occurred between the MILF and the AFP, principally over a controversial irrigation project in Carmen, Cotabato. Peace talks were revived in 1996, and a ceasefire was negotiated early the following year. In July 1997, a "general cessation of hostilities" was signed, and the following year the two parties finalized a General Framework of Agreement of Intent. A NGO-private sector fact-finding committee, headed by Fr Eliseo Mercado, was appointed to monitor the ceasefire, and the Philippine Government agreed to recognize some 44 MILF camps as "zones of peace and development", and to provide livelihood and economic programmes for MILF supporters in Mindanao. …