MILF 'cautious' about proposal to negotiate with Mautes

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Maranao religious leaders want the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to take on a bigger role in ending the crisis in Marawi City, hoping that the dominant Muslim rebel group would speak with the terrorists themselves. 

But it is a proposal that the rebel group talking peace with the government is being cautious about, MILF peace implementing panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal told Rappler.

"I think that is too much for us. The issue in Marawi, especially in relation to the Maute Group, is so sensitive. Any imbalance could mean something that is very hard to handle. We are very cautious," Iqbal said in an interview on Tuesday, June 27. 

"As to whether the MILF is willing to undertake that kind of responsibility, I don’t know," Iqbal said.

He said the MILF Central Committee has not discussed the proposal, and there has been no formal offer or request sent to them.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that Abdullah Maute, who acts as the commander of the terrorists in Marawi City, spoke with religious leaders on Sunday, June 25, and told them "his group is willing to withdraw from the city if the MILF would intervene for an end to the crisis."

The Maute Group also reportedly agreed to swap one of their hostages, Catholic priest Teresito Soganub, for their parents Cayamora and Farhana, who were arrested in early June at the height of the clashes.

The military has dismissed this proposal. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla cited the government's policy not to negotiate with terrorists. 

"The local religious leader-led talks with the terrorists last Sunday is one that was not sanctioned by government, the military, and our political leaders," the government said in a statement sent out by Malacañang and the military.

The religious leaders, or ulama, entered ground zero on Sunday, taking advantage of the ceasefire imposed that day to let the battle-fatigued city celebrate Eid'l Fitr.

The MILF has been working with the government in rescuing trapped civilians in Marawi City. The "peace corridor" that was put in place during the 2nd week of the clashes has facilitated the rescue of over 300 residents, according to latest statistics from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Iqbal said all of the MILF's actions will always have to be coordinated with the Philippine government. 

"Everything we do, especially important matters, have to be covered by terms of reference. There has to be prior understanding or agreement with the government of the Philippines, and if possible, with the President of this country," said Iqbal. – Rappler.com