Aquino makes historic visit to MILF camp

Angela Casauay
Two presidents before him also paid the MILF a visit -- but in entirely different circumstances

LASTING PEACE. In this file photo, President Benigno S. Aquino III welcomes MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to Malacanang Palace. Malacanang photo.

MANILA, Philippines – He will go where no other president has gone before and he’s going there in peacetime. 

President Benigno Aquino III will set foot on the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the first time on Monday morning, February 11, and share the stage with MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to launch “Sajahatra Bangsamoro,” the government’s social welfare services program for MILF communities.

A fluvial parade will greet Aquino as he makes his way to the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) in Sultan Kudarat, where future leaders of the Bangsamoro are trained to develop skills on good governance and leadership.

It’s a fitting venue for Monday’s visit as both the government and the MILF look forward to the completion of the comprehensive peace agreeement on the new Bangsamoro political entity by March 2013. The pact aims that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

There will be festivities and games – a stark contrast from situations that saw two former presidents visiting MILF communities in the past. 

The top guns of the police and the military will also be joining the President in his much-awaited visit.

Aquino is not the first president to set foot in an MILF camp but he is the first one to do so in peacetime.


Remember Erap, Gloria?

In 2000, former president Joseph Estrada entered Camp Abubakar, the MILF’s once-impregnable camp, but in entirely different circumstances. He had gone there to herald the government’s bloody takeover of the area and hoist the Philippine flag. This resulted from Estrada’s all-out war policy against the MILF.

To celebrate, Estrada even brought truckloads of beer and lechon (roasted pork)a move that drew Muslim outrage nationwide.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also did her own groundwork. In 2003 when she was president, she visited civilians displaced from the gun battles in war-torn Buliok Complex. She also attempted to sign a peace pact with the group but failed to build enough peace constitituency for it.

After the outbreak of hostilities that led to the collapse of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains in 2008, the prospect of lasting peace remained unclear. 

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte noted the various approaches to peace in Mindanao. “There have been different approaches from the past administration on how to attain peace. There was one that enforced all-out war, there was another who gave everything and it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In this case, the President himself has been trying to find the balance to successfully achieve that peace that we have all been yearning for,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

 

Before elections

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed in October 2012 only serves as the initial foundation for lasting peace. More work lies ahead. 

Although a target has been set, a final peace agreement has yet to be completed. Both sides are still in the process of negotiating the details of the annexes that will complement the FAB. 
 
Stakeholders are also awaiting the announcement of the members who will comprise the Transition Commission, which will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will replace the ARMM. 
 
Launched 3 months before the local and senatorial elections, the Sajahatra Bangsamoro is part of the social welfare component under the normalization process of the peace track. Part of it is the distribution of health cards, for example.
 
Sajahatra Bangsamoro will serve as a “confidence-building” measure towards both sides’ commitment to the peace process, MILF spokesperson for Sajahatra Bangsamoro Mike Pasigan said in a statement. 

“The good relationship between the two parties, if it continues, will definitely lead to lasting peace in which the whole country will benefit,” Pasigan said.  

The October signing of the FAB marked the first time for an MILF chief to set foot in MalacañangOn Monday, it will be Aquino’s turn to make his first visit to MILF’s turf. 

Should things go according to plan, it would not be the last.  – Rappler.com

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