GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Claiming success with zero “institutional violation” of the ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during its watch, the International Monitoring Team said it will end its tour of duty in March grateful that both parties exhibited “professionalism and transparency.”

Malaysian Maj. Gen. Dato Abdul Rahim bin Mohd Yusuff, head of the IMT international mission also credited both the Philippine government and the MILF for holding on to the ceasefire for the first time since 2001.

Rahim said they will be replaced by another contingent of international monitoring body.  The incoming monitoring team will be the 8th batch to be deployed in the war-torn southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Brig. Gen. Gilberto Roa, GPH chair of Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), said except for minor issues such as public display of firearms by the Moro rebels, the terms ceasefire were largely observed by both parties.

In 2001, both the Philippine government and the MILF agreed to deploy an international monitoring team to ensure that the observance of a formal ceasefire following the eruption of all-out war declared by then President Joseph Estrada in 2000.

Violence again erupted in 2004 and then in 2008 after the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which would have given the MILF unprecedented autonomy over larger areas other than covered by the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The current IMT is the 7th batch of international monitoring group deployed here.  The IMT is composed of contingents from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.  Japan, Norway and the European Union also have representatives in the current IMT.

In a joint statement read during the 43rd GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) meeting and the 22nd Tripartite Meeting Wednesday (Feb 20) here, all parties to the committee said it will play a “significant role in the process of normalization as stipulated in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

The government and the MILF signed the FAB in in October last year ushering a new phase in the protracted negotiation to end the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao.

Earlier, GPH panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the CCCH could provide a “good model for security cooperation at various levels of engagement interfaced with political and development objectives.”

Von Al Haq, spokesman of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), however said it is still a long way to go before a negotiated political settlement between the government and the MILF is reached.

But he also said that the mood between the GPH and the MILF is now jovial and more optimistic following the signing of the FAB.

The 12,000-strong BIAF is the armed group of the MILF.

The MILF has repeatedly stated that the Moro question is a political issue and will need political solution.

The Philippine government said Congress will enact a law that will embody the provisions and spirit of the FAB.

President Aquino recently signed an executive order creating a transition body that will be composed of representatives from both the government and the MILF.

The president is optimistic a final peace accord will be signed before his term ends in 2016.