Abp. Quevedo on GPH-MILF Framework Agreement: “realistic and doable”

­­­­DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 October) —  “What a wonderful news!” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said of the Framework Agreement reached by the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which he described as  “realistic, and doable” and would answer the “deep yearnings of the Bangsamoro to chart their own destiny in freedom as well as the hopes of the Filipino people for national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In a six-paragraph statement e-mailed to MindaNews Monday night, Quevedo said the agreement “answers many of my concerns about territory, religious freedom, right of private property, etc.” and that his concern about the need for the Moro National Liberation Front and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to be engaged in the transition from ARMM to Bangsamoro, the name of the new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM by 2016,  could be answered by the composition of the Transition Commission which is eight from MILF, and seven appointed by GPH.

Quevedo sent the peace panels negotiating in Kuala Lumpur a letter dated October 5 but received by them morning of  October 6,  urging them to “forge ahead with determination, patience, goodwill, sincerity and transparency” in their efforts to complete the framework agreement.

In his October 8 e-mailed comment to MindaNews, Quevedo  said offhand, some of the questions that “immediately come to the surface”  are: “I presume that proposals to amend the Constitution will be part of the Basic Law that will be certified as an urgent bill by the President — so how will these amendments be addressed by Congress?   How about the the rights and roles of Bangsamoro members who are residing outside the Bangsamoro territory?  Will Bangsamoro members, whether within or outside Bangsa Moro territory, be free to run for national political offices?”

“I am sure there are many more. But the wisdom of the framework agreement is that it is fundamentally an open-ended document and a significant advance from the ten consensus points. It serves as a launching pad for negotiations on remaining unresolved issues, with directions and parameters already generally set,” Quevedo added.

Stakeholders, not bystanders

What worked with the panels, he said, were “determination, patience, creativity, widespread consultation and transparency, mutuality of goodwill and sincerity, and the grace of God” which  “remain the key to a final comprehensive agreement.”

“ We are not bystanders, we are stakeholders and should contribute our views,” he said.

“In sum what an admirable work the two panels have done! May God continue to bless their efforts. Prayers and best wishes — in the Lord,” the Archbishop added.

As agreed upon, the Framework Agreement will be signed only after it has been published .

A copy of the Framework Agreement was immediately posted on the website of the Official Gazette of the Office of the President, within minutes after President Aquino addressed the nation on Sunday afternoon.

In his address, the President urged the public to participate in “free and public discourse.. before the final signing.”

In Pilipino, he said, “Everything will be disclosed; we have no desire to keep secrets. To the best of our ability, we have examined these agreements; we believe we have reached balance and common ground. As a result, we have rectified the errors of the past, and installed mechanisms to make sure they do not recur.”

In reading the Agreement, the President urged the public to “not think in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us.’ but rather as a ‘we’ united under a single flag.”

Dramatic progress for Cotabato City

Now predominantly Moro, Cotabato City where Quevedo’s Archdiocese is based, is among the areas proposed to form part of the Bangsamoro.

Both government and the MILF are optimistic that Cotabato City would vote for inclusion in the Bangsamoro in the next plebiscite.

The city used to be the seat of  Region 12, then referred to as “Central Mindanao,” until about a decade ago, when regional offices were transferred to Koronadal City in South Cotabato.

Since 1990, however, Cotabato City has remained the “provisional seat” of the 22-year old ARMM even as it  voted against inclusion in the ARMM in the 1989 and 2011 plebiscites.

Prior to the ARMM, Cotabato City was seat of the Regional Autonomous Government – one of two set up by the Marcos administration — from 1979 until the ARMM took over in 1990.

According for former ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo, the ARMM compound, inherited from the RAG, sits on 36 hectares of land although parts of it have been occupied by informal settlers. The present compound occupied by the Office of the Regional Governor and the other offices  — 22 devolved line agencies and about 10 regionally created offices — is around 15 hectares.

Quevedo told MindaNews in a text message Tuesday that if Cotabato City “agrees to be part of Bangsamoro and if it becomes the center of its government, then Cotabato City will progress dramatically.”

The archbishop explained that the transfer of  Region 12 offices to Koronadal “significantly reduced the political significance  of the city. Peace and order problems have affected the economy. Families displaced by armed conflicts have found refuge here. The demography has changed. A referendum now would surely result in Cotabato becoming part of the new political entity.”

Among the Catholic bishops and archbishops in the Philippines, Quevedo is the most exposed to the Bangsamoro peace process and has written extensively about it.

He served as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for two terms, within which two major wars between the GPH and MILF happened – the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in 2000 and the Arroyo administration’s 2003 Buliok war.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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