Close to 500 MILF members to visit Malacañang

The military declares a red alert in Central Mindanao

AT LAST. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are set to sign a final peace agreement on March 27, 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – When the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign a final peace agreement that aims to end the decades-old armed struggle in Mindanao on Thursday, March 27, hundreds of MILF rebels will troop to Malacañang for the event. 

Close to 500 members of the MILF will witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said Tuesday, March 25, in a Malacañang press briefing. 

This event will mark the second time that MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim is setting foot in Malacañang. More than a year ago, Murad was at the presidential palace to sign the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro

Asked why the historic event won’t be held in the Bangsamoro region, Deles said logistical concerns prevented the parties from doing so. 

At least 1,000 guests, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, are expected to attend the event. Malaysia brokered the peace talks between the government and the MILF. 

MNLF leaders to attend

Leaders of MILF’s rival group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), are also expected to attend the signing, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said. 

Abul Khayr Alonto, recently elected by 35 of the 39 surviving members of the original MNLF Central Committee as their head, is expected to be there.

Reports said MNLF members have chosen Alonto to replace MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, who is now facing charges over the bloody siege of Zamboanga in September 2013. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which serves as the third-party facilitator in the review of the 1996 peace agreement, still recognizes Misuari as the leader of the MNLF. 

Meanwhile, former Cotabato Mayor Muslimin Sema, the leader of another MNLF faction, has been invited but may not be able to attend. He is still recovering from a recent road accident

The signing of the CAB comes 18 months after the government and the MILF inked the initial Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which gives rise to a new political entity with greater political and fiscal autonomy than the region it will replace – the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

The CAB will consolidate all key documents signed by both parties – marking an end to negotiations that lasted for 17 years. The documents are: 

The entire negotiating panels of the government – led by Ferrer – and the MILF – led by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal – will sign the agreement, with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Datu Abdul Ghafar Tengku bin Mohamed signing as witness. 

Ferrer said the CAB will uphold the “recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people” and their “asipration for a meaningful autonomy.” 

‘Peace agreement the best gov’t has to offer’

Asked whether this will be the last peace negotiation with Muslim rebels – even as armed groups, including MILF breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters continue to exist – Deles reiterated that the deal is the best that the government has to offer within the confines of the Constitution. 

“I think we have a good enough platform to be able to say that. That this is giving it as far as it can go, as far as what is possible without making false promises, this is it; and we continue to hope that all the entire Bangsamoro will see it that way as well,” Deles said. 

The government signed a peace deal with the MNLF in 1996 before it entered into negotiations with the MILF. The implementation of the agreement is still under review. 

The MILF is the largest armed group in the country next to the military, but it is not the only armed group that remains in Mindanao. 

The military on Monday, March 24, declared a red alert in central MIndanao, according to Major General Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 6th infantry division.

“Our security forces have been very aware of the possibilities and are ready for all contingencies. But I think our call is really let the Bangsamoro have their chance for a peaceful and life where there can be sustainable development,” Deles said. – Rappler.com

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