MANILA, Philippines – To be recognized as the Bangsamoro. That is a dream for many who spent decades fighting for justice. For the fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, it’s an emotional moment.
Natashya Gutierrez reports.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front member Rasid Ladiasan sits alone, away from his group.
He says he wants to be on his own to take in the magnitude of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the MILF and the government.
Ladiasan joined the MILF in 1996 when he was just 23 years old. 18 years and four kids later, he’s at a loss for words to explain what he feels.
RASID LADIASAN, MILF MEMBER: It’s really unexplainable. The feeling that you could only feel when you think that everything has turned right. That everything that you have done in my modest capacity were all worth it. And that cannot be explained by any word.
Ladiasan is only one of nearly 600 MILF members who flew from Mindanao to Manila to witness the historic event. They arrived yesterday via 3 chartered flights through Philippine Airlines. They enter Malacañang in good spirits, smiling and donning their traditional headpiece, flaunting their identity with pride.
Mindanaoan music plays while traditional dancers perform before the signing. It is a celebration of their culture, but above all, it is a celebration of their success.
When their leader Al Haj Murad Ibrahim takes the stage, he emphasizes the significance of the signing, which marks the end of their decades-long struggle.
AL HAJ MURAD IBRAHIM, MILF CHAIRMAN: The CAB is the restoration of our identity, powers and resources of the Bangsamaoro. These 3 things unjustly taken during the colonization are now returned to us.
The Muslims in the audience are emotional. They smile, they cry, they applaud, overwhelmed by what the signing means.
Ina Ambolodto who grew up in Mindanao says she too was overcome with happiness, remembering her own sufferings.
INA AMBOLODTO, MINDANAOAN: I could relate.
It took the MILF 17 years before agreeing to a peace pact with the government. They acknowledge there will be obstacles and challenges, but today the focus is on the promise of the future. Ladiasan, who dedicated almost half his life to his search for justice, is optimistic.
RASID LADIASAN, MILF MEMBER: I don’t have any reservations. I have the personal commitment and the people have the commitment too. The nation has the commitment to peace, to meet in peace and prosperity together because this will be better for all of us.
President Benigno Aquino III vows his government will do its best to ensure the Agreement is implemented while Murad too promises to do his part. The goal is for the Bangsamoro to establish its own government by 2016.
To the people of Muslim Mindanao, the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is personal, emotional. The air of hope is almost palpable in the signing: from bullets to books, from war to peace, the parties to the historic signing swear this is the dawn of prosperity for the Bangsamoro.
Natashya Gutierrez, Rappler Manila.