By Carolyn O. Arguillas
PIGCALAGAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s 1st Vice Chair Ghazali Jaafar was laid to rest shotly before noon Wednesday under the shade of oil palms in his residential compound here.
Thousands flocked to the compound located in the midst of Jaafar’s oil palm plantation, to pay respects to the man who would have been Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament.
Prayers were offered at around 11:30 a.m. by the crowd that gathered in the compound, after which Jaafar’s body was carried by several men to the burial site a few meters away. At 11:37 a.m., the mat used to wrap his white-shrouded body could be seen passed around, over the heads of those who came to say goodbye, signifying his body had been interred.
The 75-year old Jaafar passed away at the Metro Davao Medical and Research Center in Davao City at 1 a.m., his chief of staff, Prof. Raby Angkal said through a text message sent from Jaafar’s mobile phone at around 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
Jaafar underwent a heart surgery last year, after RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte signed it into law.
He was brought to the MDRMC hospital in Davao City on March 10 and expired at 1 a.m. on March 13, Angkal said.
He said the cause of death was kidney failure.
Jaafar’s body arrived from Davao at around 7:30 a.m.
A number of those who condoled with the family had to walk several kilometers due to the traffic jam caused by hundreds of vehicles to and from the compound.
Great Moro Leader
In a statement, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process mourned the loss of “the great Moro leader Ghazali Jaafar” and “a man of peace.”
The statement said Jaafar “showed us his determination in leading the Moro people through the passage and eventual ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.”
“We will never forget that despite his health condition, Jaafar went the extra mile to join several campaign rallies to push for the realization of the Moro people’s aspiration for a genuine and meaningful autonomy,” it said, adding Jaafar “selflessly dedicated and devoted his life for others.”
The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) said Jaafar was “one of the pillars in the struggle for a peaceful and independent Bangsamoro,” who “strongly believed that peace can only be achieved if the Bangsamoro government will work to meet the expectations of the greater majority of the Bangsamoro people, be it Muslims or non-Muslims.”
The PCID said Jaafar’s death is “a big loss to the MILF and the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (Barmm).”
“While, he might not have lived to see the inaugural session of the Barmm, his contributions will long be remembered and treasured,” the PCID said..
Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (real name of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim), said “the entire MILF officers, members and sympathizers are very saddened for the passing away of Brother Ghazali Jaafar, the 1st Vice Chairman of the MILF and to be recommended for the Speakership of the BTA Parliament.”
Jaafar, he said, was “one of the pillars of the MILF leadership and had been with the Bangsamoro Struggle for around fifty years or more. We sincerely pray to Allah to reward his good deeds and accept his soul in His paradise.”
MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said they lost “one of the most dedicated leaders of the MILF and Bangsamoro people. My family and I express our utmost condolence and sympathy to the bereaved family of the departed leader.”
Ebrahim said the MILF’s Central Committee will meet before the March 21 inauguration, to decide on would replace Jaafar as BTA member and as Speaker.
Jaafar was Vice Chair for Political Affairs until the title was changed to “1st Vice Chair.”
He was the first chair of the MILF peace panel. He signed the general cessation of hostilities between government and the MILF in Cagayan de Oro City on July 18, 1997.
He chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2017 and oversaw the progress of the draft law until the Bicameral Conference Committee of Congress passed its substitute bill – RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Barmm.
Jaafar’s last public appearance was at the oathtaking rites of the BTA in Malacanang on February 22, 2019. He arrived on a wheelchair shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte entered the Rizal Hall, insisted on standing up when he took his oath along with 71 other BTA members, but fell on his back while conversing with President Duterte after the photo session.
Jaafar was not present during the turnover rites from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) to the Barmm on February 26 at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex.
In a sit-down interview on February 18, 2017, Jaafar said “there can be no peace if the Bangsamoro agenda is not addressed to the satisfaction of the greater majority of the Bangsamoro people. This can be addressed if maealize yung demand ng Bangsamoro people na meron silang gobyerno and government they will run for everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims alike and a democratic government and still under the Republic of the Philippines.”
Jaafar did not live to see the day of the inauguration of the Barmm on March 21.
In his last speech delivered at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex on January 18 during the “Peace Assembly for the Ratification of Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Jaafar appealed to “all my fellow leaders to be the unifying forces of our people.”
“Our personal political interests should not stand in the way of the collective interests of the Bangsamoro, settler communities and indigenous peoples, the overwhelming majority of whom are pinning their hope for peace and progress through the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” he said.