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MILF Admits Getting Funds from Gov't


Oct 27, 2011-- ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday confirmed that it received P5 million from President Benigno Aquino 3rd as part of government support t its leadership program. Echague Isabela

The Manila Times broke the story on the P5 million in supposed financial assistance to the separatist MILF on Wednesday.

The Muslim rebel group, which is negotiating peace with Manila, said that the funding would be used for capacity-building programs for emerging Muslim leaders and professionals under the auspices of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI).

Malacanang admitted that President Aquino ordered the release of the money after his secret meeting with MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in August in Tokyo, Japan.

Its spokesman Edwin Lacierda, during a radio interview, also on Wednesday said that the President specifically instructed the government's top peace adviser Marvic Leonen to speed up the release of the P5 million after his one-on-one talk with Murad.

Leonen issued a statement also on Wednesday confirming that Mr. Aquino approved the appropriation of a fund for the BLMI.

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF deputy leader, said that the money was handed to the group during a meeting in Malaysia last August.

He added that the funding was agreed upon during the watch of President Gloria Arroyo and was just implemented by the Aquino administration.

"What's important here is to have an institution and training for Bangsamoro professionals," Jaafar said.

He doused fears by critics of the MILF that the money could be used --or was already used--to purchase weapons for the MILF rebels, citing proper accounting procedures on how the government funding would be spent for programs of the BLMI.

Besides the Philippines, the MILF said that Japan is also supporting the institute, having funded the construction of a building in the town of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao province under its Grant Assistance for Human Security Grassroots Project.

Jun Mantawil of the MILF peace panel said that critics of the peace talks could be behind media reports that the rebel group may use the money to buy guns.

"This malicious disinformation campaign is being done by those who want to sabotage the ongoing peace process and negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front," he added.

Mantawil said that the amount is intact and cannot be disbursed unless the accounting procedures are well established.

He quoted Leonen as saying that the BLMI "is envisioned to be a center of excellence and repository of knowledge in the discipline of human resource development that produces individuals of impeccable character, equipped with exemplary leadership and managerial qualities for the transformation of the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslims) people," when he handed the money to Murad.

"It is government's commitment to help in the development of future Bangsamoro leaders and managers who will utilize their political and socio-economic knowledge and skills to improve the situation in the Bangsamoro homeland."

The MILF said that it is committed to the peace talks with the Aquino administration despite a series of deadly clashes in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay provinces in southern Mindanao recently.

"We are convinced that the ongoing peace talks between the government and MILF since 1997 (are) the most civilized and democratic and best solution to resolve this politically-rooted problem. Along this line, the MILF continues to ask for support from civil society organizations and the international community (for the success of) this peace process," Jaafar said.

MILF should liquidate

To quell doubts that the P5 million was used to arm the MILF rebels, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the government will require the MILF to account for the fund.

"We will be expecting some report on the outcome of the P5 million, where it went. And we hope that the MILF will also clarify this part," he added.

Secretary Teresita Deles, the overseer of the peace process, also confirmed Lacierda's pronouncement.

"Maybe after a year, we will ask for a liquidation report. They signed a receipt and they know the requirements," she said.

Abigail Valte, Malacanang's deputy spokesman, said "The money was given in good faith to the MILF peace panel and we expect them to use this for social projects."

Deles' Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Talks (OPAPP) also on Wednesday insisted that the grant of P5 million was legal.

Leonen explained that the money was intended to establish BLMI, a plan that was discussed during negotiations at the 10th Formal Exploratory Talks in February 2006.

At the time, Deles was also the peace adviser of then-President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga.

BLMI was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that enabled it to receive assistance from donor institutions such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which gave funds for the construction of the building that will house the institute.

In 2000, Asia Foundation provided support for a series of workshops to draw up the vision and organizational structure of the BLMI," Leonen said.

"The P5 million is a commitment made by the previous administration. It is intended to fast-track the establishment of the institute," he added.

Lacierda said that the President described the surfacing of the P5-million check as "malicious" and meant to discredit the Aquino administration.

He claimed that it was part of the disinformation campaign against the administration.

The Palace spokesman said that Mr. Aquino was very disturbed when some sectors questioned the propriety of giving money to a rebel group that has waged war on the government.

"He called me and explained the P5 million. He said that the timing was malicious since it surfaced at the time when 19 soldiers were killed (in Basilan during an encounter with MILF forces)," he added.
Reports said there were text messages circulating among disgruntled soldiers that the MILF could have used the P5 million given by the Aquino government to buy guns and ammunition for the separatist rebels.

Act of treason

Lawmakers also on Wednesday questioned the release of the fund, with some callling it an act of treason.

"Under the Revised Penal Code, giving aid or comfort to the enemy of the state is treason. It should be investigated who gave the aid. Who are responsible? What is certain is the MILF is not with government, that is why there are peace talks," Rep. Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, who served as Justice secretary under then-President Gloria Arroyo, said.

Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, the vice chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that while the fund is for the benefit of the Muslims, the absence of an auditing mechanism is tantamount to misuse of the money.

"Who will audit the expenditures to validate the actual use of the money? If no requirement for audit was attached, Mr. Leonen may be held culpable because that would amount to a corrupt payoff and a traitorous behavior as well," Aggabao, a lawyer, told The Times.

Assistant Minority Leader Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales agreed,, saying that the release of funds to an armed group is a dangerous precedent.

Assistant Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Cibac party-list, an ally of the President, said that Mr. Aquino cannot be accused of committing treason since the intention of the monetary grant was noble.

"The aid is for peace so there is no treason," Tugna, also a lawyer, said.

Bad idea

Sen. Panfilo Lacson believed that the P5 million given by Malacanang to the MILF was a bad idea.
Although he said that the move could be construed as an act of goodwill and confidence-building effort on the part of the government, recent events showed otherwise.

Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, was referring to the clashes between soldiers and rebels the past several days.
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