Sat. May 25th, 2019

Top MILF leader visits Camp Siongco for the first time


Hadji Murad Ebrahim and Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana met on Sunday in Camp Siongco. (John Unson)

MAGUINDANAO — The figurehead of the Moro Islamic Liberation visited Sunday the Army’s Camp Gonzalo Siongco in Maguindanao, his first since the MILF came to fore in 1980.

Units of 6th ID and MILF forces figured in hundreds of bloody encounters since in a showdown that waned only when the group’s peace process with Malacañang gained headway in recent years with the help of Malaysia as a third party facilitator.

Hadji Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF’s central committee, entered Camp Siongco at past 10:00 a.m. Sunday on invitation of 6th ID’s commander, the battle-scarred Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.

“This for me is very historic. This is my first time to enter this military camp,” Ebrahim, 71, told officials of 6th ID while in Camp Siongco.

The 6th ID’s engagement with Murad was meant to sustain the cordiality between the MILF and officers of the division and its component-brigades and battalions scattered in central Mindanao.

The MILF has more than 30 government-recognized enclaves in the region, covered by its July 1997 interim ceasefire accord with Malacañang.

“Our enemies are oppression, injustice and exploitation, not the military as an organization. The armed conflicts we had were only circumstantial because the military is part of the government’s defense structure. We were never enemies,” Ebrahim told 6th ID officials.

Ebrahim started as a guerilla in the Moro National Liberation Front in the early 1970s.

He and the Egyptian-trained cleric, Salamat Hashim, bolted from the group and organized the MILF shortly before 1980 due to irreconcilable differences with MNLF’s founder Nur Misuari.

The meeting of Ebrahim and Army officials in Camp Siongco was also attended by representatives from the 1stMarine Brigade based in the seaside Lebak town in Sultan Kudarat, where there is also a strong MILF presence.

The event followed the approval last year by the bicameral committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, or Republic Act 11054.

The BOL was premised on two peace compacts between the government and the MILF — the 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and, subsequently, the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Sobejana said he was elated with Ebrahim’s positive response to their invitation for him to meet the officials of 6th ID and its units deployed in central Mindanao inside Camp Siongco, located near the Cotabato Airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.

A Moro officer in 6th ID, Col. Markton Abo, who is the division’s civil-military relations officer, and their spokesman, Major Arvin Encinas, helped Sobejana facilitate the reception honors for Ebrahim.

Ebrahim and Sobejana have agreed to cooperate in ensuring the safety of the January 21 plebiscite for the BOL, an exercise that would seal its fate.

The Commission on Elections shall administer the plebiscite in all five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in parts of North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte and in the cities if Isabela in Basilan and Cotabato.

The BOL, once ratified via the January 21 plebiscite, shall pave the way for the replacement of the now 29-year ARMM with an MILF-led Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or BARMM.

John Unson

John Unson, The Philippine Star's writer and the president of the Kampilan Defense Press Corps (KDPC) based in Sixth Infantry Division (6th ID) at Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.