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PIA Press Release

MILF leadership must compel its forces to stop harassing activities - Ermita

Manila (14 August) -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) hierarchy should compel their ground commanders to stop harassment and other activities that undermine the ongoing peace process in Mindanao, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

He said that government forces have finally dislodged some 200 MILF members from the 15 barangays in North Cotabato that the latter had forcibly occupied.

At his weekly media briefing in Malacanang, Ermita said he was told by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro that government forces had "driven away the MILF renegades from occupied barangays."

When contacted by Ermita, Teodoro was in Pikit supervising the military operations in the area.

According to Teodoro, police forces will remain in the area to ensure the safety of about 15,000 displaced families who are slowly trekking back to their homes.

"He (Teodoro) is hopeful that within two days a great majority (of the evacuees) will have already returned to their homes," Ermita said.

He added that government forces were continuing mopping up operations to ensure that breakaway MILF bands no longer pose a threat to the communities in North Cotabato.

"The action of the government as ordered by President Arroyo resulted in driving them (MILF members) away. The national government will not stand idly by and not do something to defend our hapless citizens," Ermita said.

The armed clashes between the renegade MILF guerillas led by Commander Datu Umbra Kato and government forces started last Friday after the rebels illegally occupied certain areas in Midsayap, Aleosan and Pikit, all in North Cotabato.

Last Thursday, the military issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the MILF to vacate the areas they had occupied following last month's sporadic encounters in the towns of Aleosan, Libungan, Midsayap, North Kabuntalan and Pigkawayan.

The fighting forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

Ermita said authorities have launched an investigation into the MILF takeover of the villages, and charges would be filed against Umbra Kato, the leader of the defiant MILF command, if evidence warrants.

"If he is found not to have followed orders from the MILF hierarchy in conducting depredations" such as marauding, burning of houses and even confiscating the harvests of hapless civilians, charges will be filed against him, Ermita said.

He said the MILF leadership should demonstrate that it is sincere in wanting peace in Mindanao by ordering its commanders to stop activities that undermine the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.

"As a sign of confidence building, the MILF hierarchy must order all their forces in Mindanao to stop harassing isolated detachments of the police and military. Para maipakita nila na interested pa rin sila sa pagsulong ng peace process," Ermita said.

He said that to avoid "miscommunication," the MILF hierarchy should also stop the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group from using MILF areas as safer grounds whenever they are hunted down by government forces.

Asked about reports that the military had discovered landmines planted by the renegade MILF members, Ermita said the MILF must not resort to such activities as it would create an international uproar.

The international treaty against the use of landmines was ratified in 1997 in Ottawa, Canada by more than 150 countries, including the Philippines.

Ermita said the MILF leadership should order the immediate dismantling of the landmines and refrain strictly from using the outlawed explosives.

"Otherwise, it will not only be the Philippine government that would be running hammer and thongs against them, but they will get sanctions from the world body -- the United Nations. So I wish that they will voluntarily dismantle those landmines," Ermita said.

The GRP and MILF peace panels and members of the International Monitoring Team are now monitoring the situation in North Cotabato to ensure that peace is maintained in the area.

The military has linked the MILF attacks to North Cotabato's opposition to its inclusion n the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) under the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain.

The MILF, however, denied that they had illegally occupied the villages, claiming that government militias had attacked them and even linked clashes in other areas in North Cotabato to land conflict and clan wars.

On Aug. 4, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) directing representatives of the GRP and the MILF "to cease and desist" from formally signing the MOA on Ancestral Domain of the BJE based on the petition of North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacadalan, North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piņol, Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat, Zamboanga City 1st District Rep. Ma. Isabelle Climaco, and Zamboanga City 2nd District Rep. Erico Basilio Fabian.

Ermita said the Office of the Solicitor General has already submitted to the SC and the petitioners copies of the final draft of the MOA, and that the High Court has scheduled an oral argument on the issues raised by the parties involved in the case on Friday (Aug. 15).

He also quoted leading constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas who said that there is nothing to worry about the MOA on Ancestral Domain as it is "just a piece of paper" and would not lead to a separate Bangsamoro state in Mindanao until Congress acted on it and a plebiscite was held in the area. (PIA-MMIO) [top]

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