Yesterday’s signing of the agreement to establish a Bangsamoro Political Entity brings an P8.5 billion support package to that troubled part of the south, brought tears in the eyes of hardened MILF fighters camped in Cotabato, and earned assurance of further assistance from a “partner for peace.”
President Benigno Aquino III, in a speech, described the signing as “the beginning of a comprehensive agreement that will map out the detailed steps, detailed commitments, and detailed programs that will lead to the fulfillment of our long-term goals.”
The financial assistance, earmarked as part of a transition investment support plan, he added, is a show of commitment to “giving the region its rightful share, not just now but each and every time, confident that it will redound to the benefit of all citizens.”
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, for his part, described the agreement and its signing as “historic” and expressed confidence and hope that it will lead to a “just and enduring peace in the Bangsamoro homeland.”
It was the rebel leader’s first visit to Malacañang Palace, the country’s seat of power, where he and Malaysian Prime Minister Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak were given a red carpet welcome.
“Never in my wildest dream since I was a child, or when I joined the Bangsamoro struggle more than 40 years ago, that one day I will see the interior of this building,” the chairman said, even as he detailed how the struggle began.
“We have seen the loss of our traditional Moro sultanate, the starvation of our sovereignty as a free Moro nation, and consequently our relegation into a state of captivity that eradicated our Bangsamoro identity, and reduced our ancestral homeland into small parcels of gerrymandered territories called provinces,” he said.
This, he added, led to “the marginalization our people within a larger dominant Philippine society that verily took cognizant, if at all, of our forebears and unbroken struggle for freedom even before the Philippine republic saw the light of the day in 1898 and 1946.”
President Aquino acknowledged “the system’s failure to provide avenues for understanding and effective redress of grievances” as having resulted in the “vengeance and violence” that long defined parts of Mindanao.
“We understand all too well the cycle of suffering that our people have had to go through for the past two generations. We have seen children torn from their homes, and communities, driven away from the land they have tilled,” he said.
“I understand the temptations that can be borne of anger. I myself lost my father to an oppressive system; I myself thirsted for justice, and was deprived of it then by the dictatorship. I empathize with our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters,” he stressed.
Partner of peace
Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, for his part, said the framework agreement is a chance to ensure that the Bangsamoro people will enjoy the dividends of peace which, he added, they rightly deserve.
“It is my great hope that this agreement brings about a new time of moderation; where the practice of religion and the right to a peaceful existence are never again in conflict,” he said.
“For decades, Malaysia has been home to those who sought refuge from this conflict. Thousands fled in search of safety. Generations have grown up on our shores, far from the land of their ancestors. It is our abiding hope that the agreement gives them a homeland again. For Mindanao, there can be no more lost generations,” he added.
He assured that Malaysia, which facilitated the peace talks that resulted in the drafting of the framework agreement, would stand with them to make this agreement work as a partner for peace.
The state-run Malaysian news agency Bernama describes yesterday’s pact as the “mother agreement” that serves as a roadmap for the creation of the new Bangsamoro entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
According to the report, Malaysia is willing to offer training and education so that the “children in Bangsamoro could aspire to a future that their parents could not.”
Quoting the prime minister, Bernama reports that Malaysia is likewise ready to help build institutions in Mindanao, so that the society that grew in Bangsamoro is stronger than before, and help in land development, so that farmers in Bangsamoro who were formerly freedom fighters “could reap the harvest of peace.”
But, the prime minister warned, the framework is not an endpoint but a beginning.
Just a starting point
“It does not solve all the problems,” he said. Rather, “it sets the parameters in which a lasting peace may be found.”
“I hope all sides continue to recognize their responsibilities in the coming months, as they work towards a final peace agreement,” he said.
“Much work remains to be done in order to fully reap the fruits of this Framework Agreement. We have commitments to fulfill, people to lead, and dreams to achieve,” President Aquino said for his part.
“I am confident that our faith in each other, and in the Filipino people, will not waver, and in fact will only grow even stronger in the years to come,” he added.
He cited to begin working on a more comprehensive agreement that enables “our partners to transform themselves to a genuine political party that can help facilitate the region’s transition towards a truly peaceful and progressive place.”
“I ask the entire nation, and the entire world, to join me in imagining a Mindanao finally free from strife, where people achieve their fullest potential. A child in Lamitan will be offered the same education as a child in Quezon City; the sick of Patikul will gain access to the same healthcare as those in Pasig; tourists visiting Boracay will also have Sulu in their itineraries; a businessman will earn a profit whether he sets up shop in Marikina or Marawi,” the President said.
MILF Chairman Murad, for his part, called on other groups engaged in the Bangsamoro struggle to support the framework agreement, saying this “is not the time for discrimination” but a “time for unity, the time for all of us to think, act and speak as one Bangsamoro.”
He called the framework agreement as the most important document in the chapter of our history – “a landmark document that restores to our people their Bangsamoro identity and their home land, their right to govern themselves, and the power to forge their destiny and future with their very hands.”
For their part, the Catholic Bishops in Mindanao are monitoring the development with “vigilant optimism, citing the need for “continuing consultations with all stakeholders.”
In an emailed statement, they raised the pandemonium that followed the 2008 failed signing of the Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain.
“In the aftermath of that rejection, we recall the efforts of the Bishops-Ulama Conference to sponsor a year-long series of multi-sectoral consultations to uncover the underlying factors for promoting a culture of peace in Mindanao,” the statement entitled, “Towards Building a Just and Lasting Peace in Mindanao,” reads in part.
“A formal peace agreement is not the end of peace-building; rather it is just the beginning of much hard work in concretizing the meaning of Sincerity, Security, Sensitivity, Solidarity, Spirituality, and Sustainability in our various communities in Mindanao,” the same statement reads.
In Cagayan de Oro City, local business leaders hailed the signing, calling it a breakthrough in the peace process and gives hope for the peaceful closure of the protracted conflict in the island.
“We welcome this development with optimism that finally Mindanao will be able to realize its vast development potentials and make this island truly a haven for flourishing businesses,” Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Industries president Jerome Soldevilla said in a phone interview, Monday.
In a phone interview, local industrialist-businessman Elmer Francisco, for his part said that “every step towards peace is always good not only for business but for our country as a whole.” (Reported with Cong B. Corrales/knr)