High hopes for peace-A A +A
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
DAVAO -- Hundreds of Muslims in Mindanao hailed Monday the signing of a landmark peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as they see it as the beginning of a lasting peace in southern Philippines.
The framework agreement, signed around 3 p.m. Monday in Malacanang, grants minority Muslims in Mindanao broad autonomy in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and crippled development.
The signing was witnessed on television by people all over Mindanao, a good number of whom joined rallies in support of the peace framework.
At the Freedom Park in Davao City, around 200 affiliates of the government and non-government organizations gathered as show of support on the actual signing of the deal.
The gathering was spearheaded by the Mindanao Peaceweavers, Mindanao Coalition of Development, Agong Peace Network, Mindanao People's Caucus, Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao, Initiatives for International Dialogue, and United Youth for Peace and Development, including various Muslim communities in Davao City.
Gabriel Palma, chair of the United Youth for Peace and Development Davao Region, said the rally is a solidarity action as they celebrate the milestone draft in the 15-year-old government-MILF peace negotiations, which they regard as the beginning of more challenges ahead.
He said the framework sets out the mutually agreed principles to guide both peace panels and put things in perspective as both thresh out the details in the substantive agenda of the talks.
The agreement will pave the way for the creation of a new Bangsamoro entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), which Aquino earlier described as a "failed experiment."
"We at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) support the signing of framework agreement. We are really glad that the government has finally reached that idea," said Bong Eliab, Ateneo de Davao University officer in charge.
Isabelita Solamo, of the Mindanao Coalition of Development, said that while the framework agreement is not perfect, she is asking the public to trust the representatives of the government and MILF.
"We are tired of war. After the signing, there will still be the great task of forging the agreement, thus we should all remain stalwart in our support so that the longed for peace will be achieved," Solamo said in vernacular.
Alim Jamal Munib, promotion program director of the Madrasa Comprehensive, said there is no reason to question the sincerity of both panels as others continue to do.
"Huwag na muna natin isipin yung sincerity. Nakikita naman natin yung effort nila so let us instead support them because if it's not for peace, no one would be here. So, I wish the best for all of us," Munib said.
Mussolini Lidasan, ADDU Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Studies and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, also congratulated the government and the MILF for this milestone.
Lidasan said they are hoping that the roadmap will ensure the inclusion of all that make up Mindanao and will pave the way for lasting peace.
Muslims in Cotabato City were also glued on their televisions sets as government negotiator Marvic Leonen and his counterpart from the MILF Mohagher Iqbal, together with Malaysian facilitators, signed the framework agreement in Malacanang.
“We laud the efforts of GPH (Government of the Philippines)-MILF peace negotiators with the initial step to renewed peace in Mindanao,” Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. said.
Under the framework agreement, Cotabato City is one of the areas proposed to join the new Bangsamoro entity together with Isabela City in Basilan, several areas in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte provinces.
“Here in Cotabato, I leave the inclusion of our area to the Bangsamoro political entity,” the mayor said.
“I have waited for this time to come, it's now a realization that we have now peace in Maguindanao,” said Abdul Ali, a trader who frequents this city to buy wares for his business in nearby Maguindanao province.
“I could now travel safe to Maguindanao without fear for my life from rebels crossing the highways at night,” he added.
Myrna Saling, a teacher, said she hopes that they could now have continuous classes in the barrios of Maguindanao without fear of military and MILF clashes.
“It is the students who are always affected by the clashes. I pity them but now we see a new ray of hope with the forging of the framework settlement,” she said with a smile.
This developed as some 2,000 MILF rebels raised up their guns and fists in glee amid the chanting of “Allaho Akbar!” (God is great) that signified their all-out support to the signing, which was shown on television sets in Camp Darapanan situated in Barangay Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
“Our presence here is not a show of force but an expression that we like what is happening in the peace process. As many of my colleagues in the field, we are tired of fighting for decades. We would very much like to give peace a renewed chance,” said Tong Musa, a MILF sub-commander.
Mindanao is home to six of the 10 poorest provinces and 17 of the 20 poorest municipalities in the country. Armed conflicts since the 1970s have killed 120,000 people and at the height of the all-out war in 2000-2001, nearly a million persons have been displaced.
The World Bank estimates that the economic cost of the Mindanao conflict reached more than $10 billion during the years 1975-2002.
The framework agreement signed Monday is a roadmap to a final peace settlement that is expected by 2016, said President Benigno Aquino III on Monday.
He said establishing the Bangsamoro political entity will go through the full process of legislation in Congress and will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite.
Women Sectoral representative Samira Gutoc-Tomawis of the Armm Legislative Assembly said in a text message that the signing would be beneficial not only for the Bangsamoro but for the entire Filipino people.
“As a Mindanaon youth and woman, I have been blessed to witness a grand curve and confident turn to recognizing the Bangsamoro. However, as a youth, we must think, act and be heard in the drafting of the future,” Tomawis said.
She said the signing comes as a timely juncture in Philippine history “where openness is so heartfelt.”
But Prof. Nur Misurari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said in an interview Monday that the signing of the agreement will be tantamount to a death sentence to the MILF and a brazen surrender to the Philippine colonial government.
Annar Upahon of the Bangsamoro Youth and Anak Mindanao said, however, that they are thankful to Misuari because the beauty of the framework agreement was driven and inspired from the failed experiment of Armm.
Upahon said new peace pact will strengthen the previous peace deal with Misuari’s group.
“Nirespeto ng framework agreement ang naunang peace deal with the MNLF kaya walang dapat ipangamba ang MNLF, lalo na si Prof. Misuari,” Upahon said.
Armm is created through Republic Act 6734 in 1989. The MNLF settles for autonomy in 1996 when it signed peace deal with the government of then President Fidel Ramos.
Armm officer-in-charge Governor Mujiv Hataman, for his part, credited both the first and current Aquino administration for the breakthrough in the peace deal. He assured the public of a smooth transition to power in case parties would reach the summit of the peace negotiations.
Principally, both the government and the MILF panels agreed to hold subsequent discussions on the essential issues of: security aspect (ceasefire), rehabilitation and development of conflict-affected areas, and ancestral domain.
Hataman said the Armm under his steward had worked extensively on the second point, while the other two points were left to the negotiators of the both panels to hammer out.
In the framework agreement, the core territory of Bangsamoro will also include villages in the municipalities of Kabacan, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap of North Cotabato that voted for the inclusion in the extended Armm. (Ivy C. Tejano of Sun.Star Davao/Nicole J. Managbanag/Abigail Chee Kee Malalis/Annabelle L. Ricalde/Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro/PNA/AP/Sunnex)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 17, 2012.