DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 October) – Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, had predicted Sunday night that it would be an SRO (standing room only) at the signing rites the next day, the guest list running to 800, a fourth of that from the delegation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
October 15, 2012 will be remembered not just for the signing of the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) but also because Malacanang hosted for the first time in Philippine history, the biggest number of Moro men and women (including the MILF delegation).
Rizal Hall, the venue of the signing, was indeed so jampacked that government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, who entered the hall just before President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim did, could not find a seat. Not on the first row as would have been expected, not on the second.
NO SEAT. A bit dazed, if not amused that he couldn’t find a vacant seat (whoever was in charge of seating arrangements?), Leonen, who would sign the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on behalf of the Philippine government, stood on the aisle for several minutes until someone offered him a seat on the fifth row.
With Leonen was Dr. Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation, a member of the International Contact Group in the GPH-MILF peace process. He also stood until someone from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process offered him one.
Rood said Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, was “way in the back” on the left side of the huge hall, because of the same problem.
They had all come from the luncheon with the President, hence the late entrance.
AQUINO SISTERS. Kris Aquino, the President’s sister who stood as First Lady during the reception for the Malaysian Prime Minister, entered the Hall with Madame Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, the Prime Minister’s wife.
Not everyone knew Ms Aquino would be among the witnesses to the signing until a smiling Al Haj Murad Ebrahim acknowledged “Miss Kris Aquino,” ahead of Prof. Ekemelddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (formerly Conference).
Heads quickly followed the direction of Murad’s nod.
The President’s low-key sisters were there, too – Pinky and Viel. Ballsy, who usually does the First Lady functions, was reportedly abroad.
THANK YOU, GOVS. President Aquino acknowledged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, the ARMM Governors – OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman, Jum Akbar of Basilan, Mamintal Adiong, Jr of Lanao del Sur, Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao, Sakur Tan of Sulu and Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-tawi – and governors Emmylou Talino-Mendoza of North Cotabato, Miguel Rene Dominguez of Sarangani, Khalid Dimpaoro of Lanao del Norte, Adolph Edward Plaza of Agusan del Sur and Rodolfo del Rosario of Davao del Norte, also president of the Mindanao Confederation of Governors and Municipal League Mayors.
The President thanked the ARMM governors “for their support of this agreement and thank them in advance for the hard work they will certainly exert so that today’s signing leads to positive changes in their provinces.”
“With your support, it is now only a matter of time before your region truly fulfills its promise,” he said.
To the non-ARMM governors, the President said their presence “tells me that they will help our ARMM governors work even harder to obtain their goals.”
MINDANAWON LAWMAKERS, MAYORS. Mindanao senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino Pimentel III were also there along with Representatives Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao, Nancy Catamco and Jesus Sacdalan of North Cotabato, Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro and Leo Loreto Campos of Misamis Occidental.
Also present were Iligan City mayor Lawrence Cruz and North Cotabato mayors Loreto Cabaya of Aleosan and Manuel Rabara of Midsayap, and Mayor Ramon Piang of Upi, Maguindanao and the GPH panel . A few barangays in Aleosan and Midsayap that voted yes to inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite, are part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro.
FORMER PANELS. Among the first to enter Rizal Hall was a former Palace official who served in various capacities under the Arroyo administration — Mindanawon lawyer Jesus Dureza, government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003 and former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
Aside from Dureza, former government peace panel chairs Rodolfo Garcia and Ambassador Rafael Seguis were around. Also lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa who served as consultant and Ryan Sullivan, as secretariat head of the GPH panel for several years. Where was Silvestre Afable, another GPH panel chair?
Former GPH panel members Irene Santiago and Nasser Pangandaman were there. Another GPH panel member, Prof. Rudy Rodil had earlier told MindaNews he couldn’t make it as he could not anymore call off his appointment in Iligan City. (Same with Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo who celebrated the Indigenous Peoples Sunday mass in Kulaman, Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat province where Fr. Roberto Layson, who was assigned in Pikit, North Cotabato during the war years and who did much for inter-religious dialogue , is now parish priest).
The former panels put up the building blocks that helped the Leonen and Iqbal panels in finally coming up with what is now known as the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
GPH-MILF FAMILY. The panel members from both sides stood up to join Leonen and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed at the signing at 3:02 p.m. President Aquino, the Malaysian Prime Minister and Murad standing onstage behind them. The signing took all of three minutes.
Samira Gutoc, OIC Assemblywoman representing women, noted that the signing was at 3 p.m. “Three in the afternoon is also a time for Muslims to pray the mid-prayer of the day. Thank you Almighty. You are truly great,” she wrote.
The GPH-MILF family includes the International Contact Group (ICG), International Monitoring Team (IMT), Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH), Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), Civilian Protection Component (CPC).
Also part of the family are civil society organizations, their representatives smiling and crying and hugging and exchanging high-fives but all aware that they need to work harder to ensure the FAB is given the chance to succeed and to avoid the pitfalls that hounded the GPH-Moro National Liberation Front Final Peace Agreement signed also in Malacanang 16 years ago.
While many shed tears of joy, representatives of “bakwits” (internally displaced persons), a number of them wearing “Bantay Ceasefire” vests, shed tears of relief — that the signing would, this time, really mark the end of evacuations.
SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED. The men in the MILF delegation, among them members of the Central Committee and field commanders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, came in coat and tie and their kupya proudly worn on their head.
A female member of the MILF delegation said there were so many anecdotes about what to wear to the Palace, including anecdotes from field commanders, a number of whom rode the plane and saw Manila and Malacanan Palace for the first time in their lives.
It was a case of something new, something old, something borrowed, she said. And Moro brothers who were not on the guest list were only too willing to lend their suits to field commanders to wear to the historic event.
A number bought new shoes, others borrowed.
An MILF member narrated how younger MILF members gave up their seats in favor of the older members who wanted to witness the signing in Malacanang.
Manila-based photographers asked who among the MILF delegation were field commanders. But who could tell? They were not in their military uniforms. Some looked smart in their coat and tie, others looked a bit uneasy.
DAZZLING. Rizal Hall brightened up not only because of the klieg lights and chandeliers and the smiles of the audience but also by the dazzling colors worn by the Mindanawons, particularly the Moro and Lumad women.
GRANDFATHERS ALL. Murad and members of the panel and the Central Committee as well as the MILF field commanders were given VIP treatment by their host, the Philippine government.
A number of them grandfathers now (Murad, 64, is grandfather to six), they could never have imagined, as Murad would later confess in his speech, that they would see the interiors of Malacanan Palace, erstwhile symbol of Moro oppression.
MILF vice chair Jaafar was quoted in a report as having said that for a mujahideen, the Palace symbolizes the enemy.
“Malacañang is the seat of Moro oppression, more or less, because it is there where the actions and decisions of the Philippine state (that affected us) emanate,” he explained.
Murad was fetched from the Sofitel Hotel by a BMW car while the MILF Central Committee rode in a coaster. Murad was received at the Palace by Deles, the MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and the Central Committee by GPH peace panel chair Leonen.
The rest of the MILF delegation rode four buses of the Office of the President, each bus named after a President.
The erstwhile enemies of the state were received as honored guests in the Palace. Security checks had been discreetly made earlier in the holding rooms in their respective hotels so they did not go through public frisking when they entered the Palace grounds.
Earlier in the morning, Murad brought a miniature agong as gift to the President, demonstrated how it works and as the sound reverberated in the hall, said “this is the sound of peace. “ (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)