MALACANAN PALACE (MindaNews/15 October) – A new chapter in Philippine history unfolded Monday afternoon with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), putting an end to decades of what Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim described as “adversarial relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine nation.”
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said the agreement “not only marks a new chapter in our history; it now defines the very path we take as a people—one where opinions are heard and hope is shared; where understanding and consensus breed meaningful solutions for all stakeholders; one where every child is offered the opportunity to shape his own destiny.”
“We see the dawn of a new beginning for the people of Mindanao, a day when we welcome a unified Philippines,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, whose country has been facilitating the peace talks since 2001.
“We see the beginnings of a once-rended family that has finally come together as one — diverse in beliefs, passionate always, and perhaps, arguing all the time, but still a family resolved to face the future and all its challenges, together,” Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said.
“Today, a child will grow up in our generation embracing the identity of the Bangsamoro and grow up with pride in a political, cultural, and geographic identity respected in the four corners of the world,” she said.
“Most important document”
According to Murad, the FAB is the “most important document in the chapter of our history, a landmark document that restores to our people their Bangsamoro identity and their homeland, their right to govern themselves and the power to forge their destiny and their future with their very own hands.”
“Today we are here to put an end to the adversarial relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine nation. Today we extend our hands of friendship and partnership to the President and the Filipino people as we jointly embark on the historic journey to rebuild our homeland, institute justice , end occupation and the reign of violence and restore normalcy to the masses of our people in Mindanao and Sulu,” said the 64-year old Murad.
In his 12-minute speech, the President asked the entire nation and the entire world to join him in “imagining a Mindanao finally free from strife, where people achieve their fullest potential.”
“In full view of the Filipino people, and witnessed even by our friends from different parts of the world, we commit to peace,” the President told a jampacked crowd of government and non-government leaders, “bakwits” (internally displaced people) and Lumads (indigenous peoples), GPH and MILF peace panel members, former GPH peace panel chairs, the President’s Cabinet and the MILF’s Central Committee, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and field commanders of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, priests and aleem, the Malaysian Prime Minister and his Cabinet, the MILF chair, members of the diplomatic community, senators and congressmen, Mindanao governors and mayors, and his sisters Pinky, Viel and Kris.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte were also present to witness the signing, along with Mindanawon senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Three minutes and 1,354 days to go
The signing took all of three minutes and by 3:05 p.m., the 13-page Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, committed both the Philippine government and the MILF to work on the setting up of the Bangsamoro, the new political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by 2016.
On August 4 last year, Aquino and Murad agreed during a meeting in Japan , to fast-track the peace process and come up with a peace agreement within the first half of the President’s six-year term, so implementation can be done immediately.
The government and MILF have 1,354 days from Monday’s signing to June 30, 2016, when the President’s term ends.
No sooner had the ink dried, however, when Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) again criticized the Framework Agreement as a ”recipe for crisis.”
Misuari early this month filed his certificate of candidacy for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Murad in his speech appealed to “our MNLF brethren” to support the Framework Agreement, and “take this historic journey with us to rebuild our Bangsamoro Homeland on the gains given to us by this Agreement.”
“This is not the time for recriminations. This is the time for unity, the time for all of us to think, act and speak as one Bangsamoro as we summon all our strengths to face the daunting task of home rule,” he said.
A new history begins
The ARMM’s governors – OIC ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman, and provincial governors Jum Akbar of Basilan, Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao, Mamintal Adiong, Jr. of Lanao del Sur, Sakur Tan of Sulu and Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-tawi – were present at the signing.
And so were governors Emmylou Talino-Mendoza of North Cotabato, Miguel Rene Dominguez of Sarangani, Khalid Dimaporo of Lanao del Norte, Rodolfo del Rosario of Davao del Norte, and Adolph Edward Plaza of Agusan del Sur.
Also present were Upi mayor Ramon Piang, a member of the government peace panel; and North Cotabato mayors Loreto Cabaya of Aleosan town and Manuel Rabara of Midsayap.
Aside from the five ARMM provinces and two cities, the other areas proposed to be part of the Bangsamoro core territory are the six towns in Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela and 39 barangays in six towns in North Cotabato that also vote for inclusion in 2001, including three villages in Aleosan and 12 in Midsayap.
Mayor Lawrence Cruz of Iligan City also witnessed the signing along with Representatives Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao, Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato, Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, Leo Loreto Ocampos of Misamis Occidental.
Representatives of peace advocacy groups from various parts of Mindanao were also among the witnesses, many of them emerging from the signing teary-eyed.
Watching the live telecast from Malacanang in Iligan City, Rudy Rodil, former member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front and later with the MILF, said the Framework Agreement “straightens the ugly twists of history that created the Moro problem. Now a united Philippines begins a new history.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)