Gov’t, MILF sign historic peace plan

Ayee Macaraig
Amid the celebration, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front acknowledge that much work needs to be done

 

'MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENT.' MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (second from left) describes the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro as the most important document in this chapter of the MILF's history. He watches the signing of the peace roadmap along with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and President Benigno Aquino III. MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal and Government Peace Panel Chairman Marvic Leonen sign the deal in the presence of Malaysian Facilitator Tengku Dato'Abdul Ghafar. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau.

MANILA, Philippines – The hands that once held weapons in battle now sign a deal for peace.

The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made history as they signed a preliminary peace agreement on Monday afternoon, October 15, in Malacañang.

But both sides warned that hard work and challenges lie ahead.

For the first time, the rebel group led by its chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim stepped into the country’s seat of power for the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“I must confess that this is the first time in my life to step on the grounds of Malacanang. Never in my wildest dreams did I think of this,” Murad said in his speech. “I come in peace.”

President Benigno Aquino III thanked Murad’s statesmanship, saying: “Today, we sign a Framework Agreement that can finally seal genuine, lasting peace in Mindanao.” He added: “I empathize with our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters. I can only vow to work hard to see that the culture of impunity is dismantled.” Read Aquino’s full speech here. 

The President expressed the hope that today’s agreement would lead to “positive changes,” but conceded that “much work remains to be done to fully reap the fruits of this Framework Agreement.”

Government Peace Panel Chairman Marvic Leonen and his MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal signed the historic roadmap to peace in a ceremony witnessed by President Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Murad and members of the negotiating panels of both sides. Aquino announced the Malaysia-brokered agreement on October 7.

President Aquino “made Bangsamoro possible,” said presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles in her opening speech.

The signing comes after 15 years of negotiation between the two groups, and 40 years of conflict in Mindanao that killed over 150,000 Filipinos.

Murad cited previous attempts to address the problems of Filipino Muslims through “political palliatives and economic cosmetics.” The peace plan “puts an end to this adversarial relationship” between the government and the MILF.

Murad said the signing was particularly “touching” because it happened under the administration of the son of Cory and Ninoy Aquino who fought “on the same side with us” against the Marcos dictatorship.

“We pray never to see refugee camps again,” Murad said, “and the recurring wholesale violation of human rights that comes with oppression.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cautioned both sides that “there is still much to be done.” The roadmap “doesn’t solve all the problems” but rather “sets the parameters” on how both camps should move forward, Najib noted. He urged the government and the MILF to “continue to recognize their responsibilities in the coming months.”

“I look forward to the final peace agreement,” the Prime Minister said.

The parties signed a deal before an audience that included Prime Minister Najib and Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. Malaysia has been the host of the peace talks, while the OIC is an observer of the peace talks.

Also present were Philippine officials, including the top brass of the Philippine military and governors of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, representatives of the International Monitoring Team and the International Contact Group, members of the diplomatic corps, military officers, humanitarian and civil society organizations, religious leaders, and peace advocates.

The government and the MILF have hailed the agreement as an “unprecedented milestone.”

Aquino, Najib and Murad praised the efforts of the negotiating panels led by Leonen (government panel) and Iqbal (MILF), as well as members of the International Contact Group that monitored the peace negotiations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Japan, and the United Kingdom, as well as nongovernment organizations.

'I COME IN PEACE.' MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says never in his wildest dreams did he think of setting foot in Malacañang. Murad says a negotiated political settlement is the most civilized, practical way to solve Moro question. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

Commitments

By signing the deal, the two parties commit to establish a new autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Aquino describes ARMM as a “failed experiment,” mired in poverty and corruption for years.

Under the agreement, the MILF dropped its bid for an independent state and commit to “decommission” its 12,000 armed forces.

The two parties said the agreement sets the principles, processes and mechanisms that will shape the relations between the central government and the Bangsamoro.

Yet many details particularly the annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and the timetable for the “decommissioning” or disarming of the MILF forces will still have to hammered out by the end of the year.

A final peace agreement is eyed before Aquino’s term ends in 2016.

“I am deeply honored and overjoyed to be in this place, at this time,” Deles said. Before the signing, however, Deles told the Agence France-Presse: “We feel a certain kind of relief now that we have reached this stage, and trust we are on the right path. “We are also challenged, because we are still facing difficult tasks ahead.

HISTORIC MILESTONE. The Philippine government, the MILF and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak hail the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro but stress the need to deliver on the commitments made. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

Long road to peace

The Framework Agreement was the product of the 32nd round of exploratory talks between the government and the MILF, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from October 2 to 7.

The deal, however, took years in the making and follows many failed attempts at peace.

Almost exactly 4 years ago on the day of the signing, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the MILF and the Arroyo administration for lacking consultation with stakeholders.

Under the Estrada presidency, the government waged an all-out war against the rebel group.

The Ramos administration signed a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MILF broke away from the MNLF in 1977.

The two panels said the framework agreement builds on the “experiences and lessons learned from the past negotiations.” Aquino and Leonen urge the public to join the national debate on the deal.

'DEVIL IN DETAILS.' President Aquino says the government is committed to laying out the details of the peace roadmap in the annexes to be hammered out by the end of the year. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

‘New and more challenging stage’

While historic, the panels and observers stressed that the signing of the Framework Agreement is just an initial step in ensuring peace. Much work will have to be done before a final peace deal is reached.

The Framework Agreement outlines the following steps:

1.     Creation of the Annexes by the end of the year

2.     Formation of a 15-member Transition Commission through an Executive Order

3.     Drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by the Transition Commission, which the President will certify as urgent and supported by Congressional resolutions

4.     Promulgation and ratification of the Basic Law  

5.     Creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Authority with ARMM deemed abolished

6.     Creation of a ministerial form and Cabinet system of government

7.     Replacing the Bangsamoro Transition Authority with officials elected in 2016

In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, Lawyer Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, discussed the mixed sentiment about the roadmap to peace.

Bacani said the political, legal and economic interests of the institutions involved may be obstacles to the implementation of the agreement.

“These institutions are the Philippine Congress, Supreme Court, Moro revolutionary fronts, traditional, religious and political leaders in the Bangsamoro areas. This arena is a big minefield that scares me to no end,” wrote Bacani.

The parties admitted as much. In a statement after the announcement of the deal, Leonen said, “The truth is our work does not end here; it has become more complicated.”

In a statement on October 7, Murad said the peace deal ushers in a “new and more challenging stage.”

“The peace ahead that the negotiation has made possible requires collective effort to build on the gains of the negotiation and to nurture them until finally justice and development reign in our homeland,” said Murad. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com


Read the full text of President Noynoy Aquino’s speech: Agreement paves way for enduring peace in Mindanao

Read the full text of the Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the establishment of the new autonomous political entity, Bangsamoro, that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

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