- Special Pages
SULTAN KUDARAT: After watching two of his brothers die during four decades of fighting in the southern Philippines, Muslim rebel Abdulhamid Ganalan feels a planned peace deal could be surrender.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) leaders are set to sign an accord with the government on Monday that will aim to end the rebellion by 2016, but the guerrilla said he and his subordinates did not want to give up their arms.
“I will not agree. That is like full surrender,” Ganalan said from inside Camp Darapanan, the Milf’s administrative headquarters, when asked whether he would lay down his weapons as part of a peace accord.
Ganalan, who is a senior member of an Milf elite security detail guarding rebel chief Murad Ebrahim, said he had invested all his life in the rebellion and years of fierce fighting had taught him one lesson. “There is no surrender,” said Ganalan, who is in his 50s and whose wiry battle-scarred body is a testament to hard living on the war zone.
Ganalan said he and other rebels among the 12,000-strong Milf force had not yet learnt about the details of the agreement with the government, which President Benigno Aquino announced to international applause last weekend.
The “framework agreement” for peace would create a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines, which Muslims regard as their ancestral homeland predating Spanish and Christian colonisation that began in the 1500s. As part of the deal, the Milf would give up its quest for an independent homeland in parts of the southern region of Mindanao, which makes up about a third of the Philippines.
Its soldiers would also be “decommissioned”, although no details on how and when they would lay down their array of weapons -- ranging from World War II-era guns to M-16s and rocket propelled grenades -- were spelled out. During a long conversation this week in Camp Darapanan, where rebels and their families live inside a sprawling compound of coconut groves and corn fields, Ganalan said on the one hand he would respect the Milf elders’ decision on the peace deal. But Ganalan also expressed deep reservations about giving up a dream of independence that he had fought for so long to achieve and which he said was justified in the Quran.
“Regardless of whoever tells us what to do, if it goes against the Quran, we will not surrender,” Ganalan said. Even if peace is achieved, Ganalan retold stories of war that have caused emotional scars impossible to heal.
28-year-old Milf brigade chief Guiazakallaha Jaafar, who boasts of 3,000 fighters under his command, said he and his men believed their leaders would not order them disarmed without consensus from key officers. He likened himself to “a fighting cock without spurs” if he no longer had a weapon. Jaafar said they would consent to be transformed into a police force or a special militia unit under the envisioned Milf autonomy.
“They can make us into a police force, or village watchers, even militia units. But they cannot just take away our guns,” he said.