KUALA LUMPUR: Philippines’ presidential advisor Jesus Dureza on Saturday (Aug 13) reiterated the importance of implementing peace agreements in Mindanao, in order to ward off Islamic State militants from establishing a foothold in the Philippines.
The remarks came as representatives from the Philippines government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic liberation Front (MILF), began talks in Kuala Lumpur this weekend to craft out an enabling law after the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) failed to pass Congress in February.
The peace talks are the first under President Rodrigo Duterte, aimed at ending decades of violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Armed Muslim groups have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent Islamic State or autonomous rule in the south, which they regard as their ancestral home.
The conflict has condemned millions of people across Mindanao to brutal poverty and created fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and other hardline militants making remote areas their strongholds.
Speaking at the launch of the implementation phase of the peace agreements, Dureza urged all sides to stay the course.
"We can sign 100 peace agreements although if there is no development on the ground, no improvement of the people's lives, all of this will be all for naught,” he said. “Please stay the course with us.”
Participants in the peace talks process between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur on August 13, 2016. (MOHD RASFAN/AFP)
Both Dureza and MILF chief Murad Ebrahim welcomed Nur Misuari, chairman of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to come on board the peace talks. The Philippine Muslim separatists comprise three main groups - the MNLF and breakaway factions the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group.
They revealed that Nur Misuari, whose legal status yet been determined, is working with the panel towards decommissioning of armed militants in southern Philippines, including those formerly from the notorious Abu Sayaff Group.
Both agreed that prolonged conflicts on the ground has contributed to breeding of radicals, but maintained that there is no link between militants and the Islamic State terror groupings in the Middle East.
While there were some people in the southern Philippines inspired by the Islamic State jihadists, Ebrahim said: "If the peace process was successful, they (IS) will not garner the people's support."
“It will be one key effort in repelling these terror groupings,” said Dureza, adding that the Abu Sayyaf Group behind a series of kidnappings will be dealt with accordingly.
Malaysia, who has been hosting the peace talks for decades, said it will continue to play the role as a fair and honest broker as the search for the ever elusive lasting peace in south Philippines continues.
Leading a high powered team to Kuala Lumpur, Dureza is determined to carry out the mandate of President Duterte in ironing out the enabling law and have it passed Congress before the two-year deadline is up.