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Zareenah’s ‘bapa’

The little girl in a red T-shirt with the words “You’ve got to give it some love” ran around the mini-conference room at the headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. At one point, she even scampered up the stage where MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Orlando Cardinal Quevedo were leading a “conversation” with members of the media from all over Mindanao and Manila.

I wondered to myself: “What member of media brought his daughter to such an important event?”

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Turns out it wasn’t a media person responsible for the girl’s presence but her grandfather, whom she calls her “bapa,” Murad himself. The girl is four-year-old Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim, the second to the youngest of the MILF chairman’s nine grandchildren. “They are all closer to me than to their own fathers,” declared Murad with a fond smile, although his aides whispered that of the nine, Zareenah is his decided favorite.

Chairman Murad has two sons, both of whom also fought in the trenches in the decades-old struggle waged by, first, the Moro National Liberation Front, and then by the MILF, which Murad and many other Moro leaders set up in a breakaway from the MNLF in 1984.

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In an article in the MindaNews website, Carolyn Arguillas said the impromptu “photo op” with the chairman and his favorite grandchild was the first time Murad allowed himself to be photographed by the media with one of his grandchildren. Arguillas, though, quoted a member of the MILF peace panel’s technical committee who said that “whenever the grandpa faces the camera during interviews, this cute granddaughter would tell him: ‘Mag artista ka na naman (You will be an actor again)?’”

Zareenah’s presence prompted the media to inquire what his dream is for her. His dream, Murad said, is for all children in the Bangsamoro “to live a life where they can enjoy their life.” People of his generation, and even the next, he noted, did not enjoy their childhoods, spending “the best years of our lives” in the struggle, something “we do not want for our kids.”

(Indeed, the next day, I met two Moro women who told of their own youth spent in the struggle, one of whom began operating as a courier at age 12.)

* * *

ZAREENAH, her siblings and cousins, and all the other children looking toward their future in the Bangsamoro, as well all the other children living in this land, are the true inheritors of what will be the consequences of the embattled peace process.

“It would be ideal,” Murad told the media, “if the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as it is, is passed during the Aquino administration. We don’t want to fail our people.” But if the BBL is not passed before 2016, or is passed without addressing the basic issues contained in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Framework Agreement, “we will demand for the CAB, the framework and its annexes, which were signed by the Philippine government, to be implemented.” In what form would the BBL be acceptable to the MILF? “It would have to be in accordance with the CAB and the framework agreement and annexes,” Murad declared.

Their preparations have not stopped at this, said Murad. Already, they have begun the process of having the United Bangsamoro Justice Party registered with the Commission on Elections. Though at present composed of “nonorganic” MILF sympathizers with no active roles in the organization, the party, said Murad, could be a possible alternative venue for Bangsamoro participation.

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DO he and his allies truly expect the BBL to be passed before the 2016 elections? While stressing that “we’re working very hard to see the BBL passed during this administration,” Murad said that if this is not possible, “we hope the next president will not be antipeace.”

Much more is at stake in the outcome of the negotiations for the BBL’s passage than just an end to the MILF’s armed struggle. There is, as well, the threat of radicalism from Islamist groups, “one reason we want the peace process to succeed now.”

There are groups around the proposed Bangsamoro area agitating for a more militant Islamist agenda, said Murad, and it is his hope that “the success of the peace process will prevent any radical elements from gaining more adherents.”

They are confident they can “continue to hold on to our members,” Murad said of the MILF leadership, as well as the other leaders of other Moro groups supportive of the peace process. (These include some factions of the MNLF and also, surprisingly, even the Abu Sayyaf.) But they are keeping a wary eye, too, on the new emerging radical groups who could “capitalize on the failure of the peace process.”

But at the moment, Murad said, “people still see some hope for peace.”

Murad having just come from a visit to Mamasapano, it was inevitable that some in the media group would ask what impact, in his view, the January killings had on the peace process and the prospect of the BBL’s passage. “Nobody wanted it to happen,” he said, “and what is important is that we seek ways to prevent another Mamasapano, to strengthen coordination between our forces and that of the military and police.”

In the last three years before Mamasapano, after all, there were, save for a few minor skirmishes, no major violations of the ceasefire between the MILF and government forces. There is no reason to doubt that this stability would hold in the transition period before the creation of the Bangsamoro entity. That is the hope, resolve and expectation for Zareenah and her cohorts, and her bapa and his friends will have much to do to see it fulfilled.

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TAGS: Camp Darapanan, MILF, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Murad Ebrahim, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim, Sultan Kudarat
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