Aquino gives MILF health cards, projects

Rappler.com
The MILF chief says both sides have to sign the final peace pact to ensure the sustainability of the socio-economic program launched by the President

WAITING FOR PNOY. A young Moro stands at the entrance of the venue of Sahajatra Bangsamoro in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao as members of the PSG march to secure the area. Photo by Karlos Manlupig.

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III arrived here to warm a welcome of music and colorful flags by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a historic visit that sets the stage for the final signing of a peace agreement aimed at ending a 4-decade-old rebellion in this part of Mindanao.

In his opening remarks, MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told the President that while the “MILF stands ready as your partner in this journey,” the group knows that the socio-economic programs that the President launched Monday will only be “institutionalized” once a final agreement is signed by both sides.

“We welcome development,” Murad said. “We welcome the continuing partnership between the [government] and the MILF.”

Wearing his trademark yellow shirt, President Aquino launched here the Sajahatra Bangsamoro as part of confidence-building measures before the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF. The program includes the distribution of health cards, training scholarships and socio-economic projects to 11,000 MILF members and their communities.

Aquino said the MILF need not wait for the signing of a final peace pact to enjoy the fruits of the peace process. “Our goal is to  accelerate the transition of MILF communities steeped in armed struggle to a productive citizenry that buys into the national agenda, and contributes to our shared goal of equitable progress,” Aquino said in a mix of Filipino and English.

The distribution of the projects comes 3 months before the senatorial and local elections.

The MILF has been waging a rebellion for 4 decades now. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attemped to strike a peace deal with the group, but lack of consultations with various sectors led to its collapse.

President Aquino said the “first seeds of trust” were planted in Japan, when he decided to meet with Murad — against the advice of some.

He said he was also warned against paying the MILF a visit here because of security concerns. But he claimed he fully trusts them.

In October 2012, the Aquino administration and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that sets the stage for the creation of a Bangsamoro region. Both parties hope to sign a final deal in March; they 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. – with reports from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com