Aquino: ‘Peace won’t be snatched from my people again’

Natashya Gutierrez
President Benigno Aquino III says the new peace deal is a chance to end poverty and injustice in the Southern Philippines

SOUVENIR SHOT. President Benigno Aquino III poses for a souvenir shot with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), led by its chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim at Malacañan Palace on Thursday, March 27, 2014.  Malacañang Photo

MANILA, Philippines – “I will not let peace be snatched from my people again. Not now when we have already undertaken the most significant steps to achieve it.”

These were the words of President Benigno Aquino III during the historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on Thursday, March 27.

Aquino minced no words in slamming the critics of the peace process and made it clear that they “will be met with a firm response with righteousness and justice.”

While the President acknowledged “there will always be obstacles” to peace, he also emphasized that the opportunity presented by the peace deal should be seized as a  chance to end a “cycle of poverty, injustice, violence.”

He appealed to the Filipino people to support the agreement and to “do your part.”

“We thus call everyone to widen the avenues of trust…[and] contribute to the atmosphere of optimism that has become prevalent in Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

Aquino said doing so was the only solution to the decades-long struggle in Mindanao, adding he empathized with the people of the region.

“These people asked and have been asking a legitimate question: what did we do to deserve this?,” he said. “You don’t. No one does. The only correct action then is to stand up for your brother whose rights have been abused. Otherwise we are only condemning ourselves to suffer the same thing,” he said.

Aquino vowed his “administration will go all out” to ensure the agreement is implemented, and that a law that is “equitable, practical and empowering that serves the interests of the entire nation” will be reached.

“I look forward to that day in the not so distant future when we can sit back and enjoy a quiet sunset in Mindanao,” he said.

Seeds of trust

During his speech, Aquino also slammed his critics who questioned his decision to personally meet with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan, in  2011 to break the impasse in the negotiations.

Aquino was the first time for a sitting president to meet abroad with the leader of a rebel group. He wanted to show his sincerity in pursuing a final peace settlement with the MILF, and he and Murad were said to have instantly bonded during that meeting. He went to the MILF camp in Sultan Kudarat last year.

Aquino recalled the occasion which he credited as the moment when “the seeds of trust were planted.”

“[Murad] was prepared to come to the table not as an adversary but as a friend who shared a singular aspiration for peace,” he said.

“His points made it apparent that neither her nor any of his companions were out to consolidate power. They were seeking fair and equal representation in institutions and most of all, they wanted peace.”

Aquino said that by 2016, the MILF would have shed its identity as a military force, and will instead take on a new identity of being a political entity.”

“Today, we have proven that not only can our people dream again, but we are beginning to achieve our dreams,” he said. Read the full speech here. – Rappler.com